Park People Parks Platform 2022: Vancouver Parks as Core Urban Infrastructure

septembre 9, 2022
Park People

Parks are not “nice to haves,” they are critical social, health, and environmental infrastructure. City parks are lifelines in extreme heat waves. Social connectors in an age of increasing polarization. Keepers of biodiversity despite ever fragmenting urban landscapes.

To meet the biggest challenges we face—climate change, biodiversity loss, social polarization, rising inequality—we need an ambitious approach to planning, designing, managing, programming, and governing parks.

Credit: Hadden Park Vancouver. Publik Secrets

This shift requires doing things differently. It requires ensuring proper funding, sharing decision-making power, addressing inequities head-on, and prioritizing action on truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Municipal elections are around the corner, and Vancouverites will be hitting the polls soon to vote for their preferred city councillors, school board trustees and Park Board commissioners. Vancouver is the only major city in the country with an elected park board. This unique structure has allowed for some progressive moves that have positioned Vancouver as a leader in city parks. The Colonial Audit, Equity Zones in VanPlay, and the creation of a Trans* & Gender Variant Inclusion Work Group were all motions approved by previous boards that have gone on to lead the city. Whether or not you agree that the Park Board should continue to exist, it’s clear that the Park Board election is important to watch.

The incoming Board will need to work together to champion and build on the impressive work that Park Board staff and previous boards have begun. We urge candidates for municipal office to accelerate the transition to a more equitable, resilient future for city parks by working with us on the ideas presented in this platform.

Money Matters

All of the ideas in this platform require us to invest more time and money into parks. In our 2022 survey, 87% of residents of Canadian cities said they support more investment in parks.

Responsible for 60% of Canada’s infrastructure, municipalities like Vancouver receive only 10 cents on every tax dollar. Our three levels of government, which all have responsibilities for our natural environment and human health, need to come to the table.

This is easier said than done. The multiple benefits of parks—health, environmental, social, economic—can actually make it harder to invest at the scale we need to. The benefits of investing in parks are distributed across many different ministries and government departments, each of which are accountable for their own budget and plans. That is why we need to support governments to pursue an ambitious, whole-of-government approach to investment in Vancouver parks. The integrated vision of the Vancouver Plan points us in the right direction – now we need to work together to find the resources to make it a reality.

Investing more in city parks is not an imposition or an obligation. It is an opportunity to transform Vancouver for the better.

Fund core amenities and prioritize equity-denied communities

What we Know: Parks in Vancouver’s Historically Equity-Denied Communities are Under-Resourced

There is a clear disparity in who has access to quality green spaces in Vancouver. As COVID laid bare, equity-denied communities face complex, interrelated health crises. Cities must recognize how race, income and the built environment conspire to make parks a pressing environmental justice issue in cities.

  • Park planning has long tracked development growth to guide investment. This has led to a growing disparity between who has access to quality green spaces and who does not. For example, while over 90% of people in Vancouver live within a five-minute walk of green space, communities like the Downtown Eastside have been shown to get hotter due to a lack of tree canopy and green space.
  • The Vancouver Park Board is leading the way with its VanPlay Master Plan, which acknowledges historic underinvestment in equity-denied neighbourhoods. This decision-making tool directs park investments to under-resourced geographic areas.

Park Policy Directions

  • Increase funding for park programming in equity-denied communities by supporting initiatives like Team UP which collaborate with communities and partners to activate spaces in the DTES through arts, recreation, connection to nature and stewardship.
  • Update the Initiative Zones’ equity-focused investment framework in VanPlay as a publicly available online tool that includes metrics such as:
    • Socioeconomic status (e.g., income)
    • Race and ethnicity (e.g., the proportion of racialized residents)
    • Climate justice (e.g., tree canopy coverage, urban heat islands)
    • Public health (e.g., chronic disease prevalence, mental health indicators)
    • Housing type/tenure (e.g., apartments, single-family houses)

What we Know: Lack of Basic Amenities in Vancouver Parks Restricts Use

Credit: Richmond Nature Park Vancouver, 2021

Usable parks are the bar for entry. There’s an urgent need to increase park operating budgets to ensure basic amenities like bathrooms and water are the standard in every single Vancouver park.

Park Policy Directions

It is basic: amenities like bathrooms, rain shelters, and water must be the standard in every single Vancouver park, with a priority focus on equity-denied and high-use parks. Vancouver is known for its rainy weather but we only have a dozen sheltered areas in our entire park system.

Investments in basic amenities that promote park use must include:

  • All-season washroom access with longer open hours
  • More water fountains & bottle fill-up stations
  • Rain-shelter and shade structures to support all-weather use
  • Urban agriculture (e.g., community gardens)
  • Daily maintenance (e.g., garbage removal, basic repairs)
  • Extended park hours
  • Extend the Alcohol in Parks pilot project. With 62% of Vancouverites living in apartments, people need outdoor spaces where they can spend time with friends without needing to spend money in a pub or restaurant.

Further reading

Invest in the co-benefits of parks for climate resilience and adaptation, nature connection, and biodiversity

What we Know: Parks Mitigate Climate Impacts and are key to Vancouver Climate Adaptation

Credit: Sea Level Rise Sign in Vancouver, Chad Townsend

People living in Vancouver will need to adapt to hotter, wetter and more unpredictable climates. Climate change is here and is already impacting our city. With the right investment, parks can serve as climate infrastructure and provide people with critical places of refuge in hot, dense cities where a major health crisis is looming.

  • British Columbia’s 2021 heat dome event resulted in 619 heat-related deaths. The majority of the victims — 98%— died indoors. Most of the people who perished were elderly, vulnerable and lived in buildings without air conditioning or an adequate cooling system, according to the review by the B.C. Coroners Service.

At the same time, people are seeking out nature more for its mental and physical health benefits. People want more places to experience nature close to home: 71% of respondents to the 2022 Canadian City Parks Report survey said they value visiting naturalized spaces within a 10-minute walk of homes, such as a native plant garden or small meadow. In fact, 87% of respondents said they were in favour of more native plant species within parks–the second most requested amenity after public washrooms.

Policy Directions:

Invest in the co-benefits of naturalized spaces as climate resilience infrastructure, urban biodiversity habitat and vital nature connections in Vancouver.

  • Adopt publicly available climate resilient standards as part of every municipal Request for Proposals for new or redesigned Vancouver parks. Standards must include:
    • Standards for rainwater capture and reuse (e.g., bioswales, permeable pavers).
    • Percentage of naturalized space, tree canopy coverage, and native plants.
    • On-site educational opportunities (e.g., signage, programming).
    • Funding for stewardship and educational opportunities in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and organizations who hold knowledge about these plants and how they fit into a larger kinship network of species.
    • Prioritization for investments in equity-denied neighbourhoods that have lower levels of green space and tree canopy.
  • Vancouver’s low-mow meadow pilot is a great start, but more public education and programming are needed to ensure people understand these projects and don’t view them simply as areas where the city abdicated maintenance.
  • Prioritize park development projects around interactions with water, such as fast-tracking daylighting stream projects (e.g. St George Rainway project) and redesigning waterfront parks to better prepare for and protect against sea level rise.

Further reading

Updated Park Governance is Key to Inclusive Parks

There is an urgent need for new models of Vancouver park governance rooted in shared decision-making power. We need new ways of managing city parks that are more inclusive, and community-focused, and respect the land rights of Indigenous peoples and the knowledge of communities. We also need our leaders to work across government silos and prioritize cross-departmental and partner collaborations.

What we Know: Unhoused Vancouver Constituents Deserve Humane Treatment in Parks

  • There is no easy answer to park encampments, but we know there are alternatives to violent encampment clearances. We found that nearly two-thirds of city residents who noticed a park encampment did not feel it negatively impacted their personal use of parks. Vancouver took a positive step forward with the hiring of Betty Lepps, the first person to hold the role of Director of Urban Relationships, but more can be done.

Policy Directions:

  • Develop a Vancouver encampment strategy, in collaboration with unhoused residents and community partners to guide decision-making on park issues affecting unhoused communities, that:
    • Identifies core values such as harm reduction, reconciliation, and leadership of people with lived experience.
    • Ensures the strategy, at minimum fulfills, the city’s human rights obligations to people sheltering in parks as outlined in the UN National Protocol for Encampments in Canada.
    • Considers social well-being through community programming opportunities that promote social inclusion.

What we Know: Truth and reconciliation Must be Advanced in Vancouver Parks

Credit: Vancouver Strathcona Park, Mash Salehomoum

  • We need to act on commitments to truth and reconciliation. Vancouver has been a leader on this within Canada by undertaking a “colonial audit” of its park system and policies as well as voting to explore co-management with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.
  • While the process was far from perfect, the opening of sθәqәlxenәm ts’exwts’áxwi7, a new downtown park, and the first to be gifted a name by the three host Nations was also a positive step, with many learnings for the future.

Policy Directions:

  • Continue the 2022 Park Board commitment to discussions with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, urban Indigenous communities and organizations on co-management and collaborative governance opportunities, including funding for this work.

What we Know: Power Sharing Impacts Communities

Over the past several years, communities have been actively working to decentralize power in institutional spaces. It is time for Vancouver to give communities more decision-making power on the park issues that affect them most, particularly in historically equity-denied communities.

  • A dismal 22% of residents of Canadian cities said they felt they had a voice in influencing decision-making about their local park.
  • New strategies are needed to ensure people feel able to get involved, including overhauling confusing and costly permits for community programming.
  • Approving the Local Food Action Plan resulted in an approach to accessing food in our parks system that is well-rounded and equitable. But, it’s just the beginning and more can be done.

Policy Directions:

  • Break down barriers for community programming and offer more targeted support, including:
    • Simplify permit processes and remove park permit fees for equity-denied communities as well as for Indigenous programming and cultural ceremonies.
    • Designate a staff contact for engagement with community park groups to facilitate programming opportunities.
    • Reduce barriers to community-based economic development in parks (e.g., local markets, fresh food stands, culturally responsive food kiosks/cafes) through grants, reduced permits, or free/reduced leases. The Fieldhouse program is a great resource on how this can be achieved.
  • Deepen engagement opportunities and longer-term community involvement:
    • Incorporate discussions of social life and cultural practices into park consultations.
    • Employ local residents to co-lead engagement processes.
    • Fund a community programming plan for after the ribbon is cut.


Read the Constituents’ Guide


List of Vancouver Park Board Candidates