A Park Journey: Villa Borghese, Rome & Riverdale Park, Toronto

septembre 18, 2020

Dave Harvey

This contribution from Dave Harvey is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

I was just out of university when I got a chance to visit Rome. A lot of things were closed on Sunday so I decided to go to Villa Borghese which is a large park right in the centre of the city.

Villa Borghese in Rome

Villa Borghese was so different than the playgrounds, green lawns and sports fields of parks back in Canada. At Villa Borghese, there were beautiful green areas and gardens but also art galleries, boat rentals and cafes. What struck me most, however, was all the people. The park was absolutely packed. People playing soccer or gathered in groups listening to a match. Families, couples, young people, seniors, kids.

This is what you did on a Sunday in Rome – go to the park with everyone else – have a picnic, get a beer at the café, stroll, just be. I always thought of parks as a place you went to escape the city but here was a park where you went to celebrate life in the city. I loved it.

This passion for parks as community building spaces is a key reason I started Park People in 2011.


Dave Harvey, Founder and Executive Director of Park People, when he visited Rome 

Rome really sparked my interest in cities – it’s still my favourite city. But it also sparked an interest in parks and how these spaces are so often a direct expression of a city’s society, culture and essence.

One of my favourite urban thinkers, Alan Broadbent, said that “Parks, principal among public spaces, are a telling face to the world.”

I still love to travel to cities and my favourite places to visit are still parks. I’m missing that right now but I’m so lucky to live close to Riverdale Park in Toronto. I’m there two or three times a day with my dog Clarence.

Riverdale Park in Toronto. Photo credit: Jake Tobin Garrett

Riverdale is busier during this crisis than I’ve ever seen it before. Almost since the beginning of COVID, it’s been full of people, almost all respecting social distancing.

To me, it shows the great potential for parks to heal and places people who are instinctively pulled towards. Today, I’m drawn to the park both for a chance to escape the city and my currently isolated, restricted life, but also to be where other people are gathered and remind me that I’m not alone.

This is the kind of park everyone needs but we know not everyone has. When our parks are quality green spaces that are safe, animated and maintained they nourish us. Unfortunately, when parks are neglected and unsafe for people, they can repel rather than attract the people who need them. Ensuring that all Canadians feel welcome and safe in a great park that meets their community’s needs is at the core of Park People’s work. We have much more to do to make that a reality.

As you’ll experience in this series, if our parks are a “telling face to the world” they tell us much about the city we currently live in and the kind of city we want.

Cover photo credit: Fred Romero


About Dave Harvey 

Dave has decades of experience working in government on municipal and environmental issues, including as a senior policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario. He excels at bringing partners together and strategic thinking to overcome complex challenges. He is passionate about community involvement in parks, which is why he founded Park People in 2011 under the motto: when communities get involved, parks get better.


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This contribution from Dave Harvey is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.