Heart of the City puts urgent issues at the centre of urban park work

août 16, 2019

Clemence Marcastel

From reconciliation to climate change to equity, the most pressing and poignant social and environmental issues were at the forefront of Park People’s 2019 Heart of the City Conference in Montreal.


This biennial gathering of over 200 park professionals and community leaders not only allowed attendees to connect around our shared challenges and opportunities in making parks the heart of our cities but even more, it helped us move forward our goal to collectively realize the power of parks. Parks are not only places where community is built, but as spaces where we can begin, as communities, to coalesce around solutions and take action on major issues that affect us locally, personally, and as global citizens.

Rena Soutar unsettles Heart of the City delegates and encourages us all to embark on a colonial audit.

The Conference’s opening keynote, Rena Soutar, is Vancouver Park Board’s first Reconciliation Planner.

Soutar approaches parks as sites of conflict and as such places where we can begin to shift our worldview.

For Soutar the practice of converting rich landscapes into highly maintained lawns and gardens is a profound metaphor for the imposed colonial structures that have systematically severed Indigenous people from their rich land, cultures and communities and reestablished the lands for public use, imposing strict protocols around how the land may be used and by whom.

“Decolonization isn’t a theoretical exercise,” says Rena.

It is very layered, both historically, politically and personally. In her talk she challenged us all to embark on a colonial audit of both our personal perspectives and our institutions, to see where bias and lack of understanding perpetuate colonial attitudes, assumptions and enforcement of unjust systems. You can explore some of the Vancouver Park Board’s initial work here and connect about other great recommended reading through Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor and activist Pam Palmaters’ national reconciliation bookclub here.

Val T. Vint engages conference delegates in Indigenous teachings – Photo Charles Olivier Bourque.

Jérôme Dupras, the bassist for the Cowboys Fringants and President of the Fondation pour la Protection de l’Environnement (Foundation for the Protection of the Environment), has dedicated his musical career and life work to the protection of our environment.

He spoke to the power of parks and especially trees, to both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help adapt to the ever-more prominent impacts of climate change in the form of floods and extreme heat. His painstaking scientific work has valourized parks, trees, and green infrastructure in a way that raises the profile of and supports investment in expanded green spaces in our densifying cities. 

At the same time through his music career, he has inspired a whole new generation with his message about the importance and value of preserving and enhancing nature.

Jérôme Dupras’ inspiring keynote address Trees, Science and Rock n’ Roll  – Photo Charles Olivier Bourque.

This year’s conference saw the launch of a Canadian City Parks Report, the first report of its kind highlighting the trends, challenges, and leading practices in 23 Canadian cities. The goal of the report and the panel discussion featured at the Conference is to inspire action, share learning, and track progress in city parks across the country.  

The 20+ diverse workshops and tours provided insights and generated conversations around subjects as diverse as how the state of our public washrooms reflect equitable access to our public realm, to the design, programming, management and culture of our city parks. With several receptions and networking events, Heart of the City is the place to build relationships and share experiences with park and public space advocates to improve all of our work building great places to share our public life.

Explore the dozens of extraordinary presentations from Heart of the City 2019 here.

Tour of Mount Royal with Les amis de la montagne Photo Charles Olivier Bourque.

One clear message emerging from the conference was the desire to create more opportunities to continue to connect with and learn from park leaders and champions from across the country. We’ve heard you and hope you’ll subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on upcoming conferences, socials, workshops and more.


Thank you to our presenting sponsor: 



The Conference is generously supported by TD Bank Group, through its corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment. Through this platform, TD is helping to open doors for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow so that people feel more confident – not just about their finances, but also in their ability to achieve their personal goals in a changing world. As part of this, TD is committed to helping elevate the quality of the environment so that people and economies can thrive, by growing and enhancing green spaces and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. To learn more about The Ready Commitment visit