“Park People cannot achieve its mission to ‘activate the power of parks to improve quality of life in cities’ without acknowledging that systemic racism, oppression, and injustice are part of the daily lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people in parks and public spaces.”
In that statement, we committed to: “begin dismantling systemic racism as an organization.”
Today, more than a year after Floyd’s murder, the barricades at the intersection renamed George Floyd Square have been removed to, as city council members said in a recent article, “help restore and heal the community.”
The same week that flowers and artwork were being collected from George Floyd Square, Canadians laid down countless pairs of shoes in public spaces as a tangible display of deep sadness and horror at the discovery of 215 Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at a former Kamloops residential school.
Even more recently, an Islamophobic terrorist attack in London, Ontario targeted a family of five out for an evening stroll on a public street. The event highlights how a simple activity that has been so essential for many of us during the pandemic—getting out for a daily walk—entails risk and danger for many racialized communities.
With these devastating events in mind, we at Park People are providing an update on our ongoing journey to embed a culture of anti-racism in our organization and in our work in parks and public spaces. To date, our efforts have been deliberately focused on creating a shared, internal understanding of systemic racism and how we can begin to adopt an anti-racist approach.
We humbly share the steps we’ve taken so far.
Establish Leadership and Accountability
In the summer of 2020, Park People established an Anti-Racism and Equity Committee to support the development of an Anti-Racism and Equity Framework and Strategy for the organization. The Committee’s purpose is to establish internal accountability, ensure anti-racism is an organizational priority and create tangible, measurable actions we commit to in our work.
The Committee created a draft Anti-Racism and Equity Framework, soon to be reviewed by Park People’s Board of Directors. The Anti-Racism and Equity Framework establishes the principles, organizational values, and commitments that Park People will use to guide all of its work.
Embed Anti-Racism into Purpose and Plans
Park People is currently updating its Theory of Change, the critical document underpinning every aspect of our work. We’re using this opportunity to embed an intersectional, anti-racist lens into all of our programs, partnerships, and communications. This updated Theory of Change will embed anti-racism into our organization at a fundamental level.
Examine, Improve and Measure Efforts
Park People is working with an expert in Organizational Development and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) to support our internal equity efforts. So far, we have conducted an internal staff survey and a full audit of Park People’s operations. The survey and audit have given us a preliminary understanding of staff experiences and knowledge and allowed us to benchmark our efforts to date.
Coming out of the survey, we have identified tangible policies and practices to help us become a more inclusive organization. For example, the survey identified that staff lacked a shared understanding of key terms like inclusion, equity, diversity, and reconciliation. One outcome of the survey was to create staff-led definitions of terms that will support more productive dialogue on equity issues.
In addition, we recognize that Park People is a white-founded and white-led organization with disproportionately few Black, Indigenous, and people of colour on its staff and leadership teams.
We have taken steps to ensure our hiring and internal policies are equitable and are committed to having a staff team that is more representative of the diverse communities we serve going forward.
Adopting a Learning Culture
We have dedicated time, space, and resources to train and educate our staff and Board of Directors to better understand and address systemic racism and white supremacy in our organization and work.
By providing both formal and informal learning opportunities across the organization we are working to make equity, diversity and inclusion a live conversation. To do this, we’ve established staff training, shared resources, and created spaces for conversations on equity, diversity and inclusion issues.
As our Anti-Racism Framework lays out, Park People is committed to creating space for shared learning and welcomes challenging conversations about racism and white supremacy in our organization and work.
Being released this month, the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report centres on an equity perspective. In the report, we explore how racial inequities mediate access to the benefits of parks for everything from mental and physical health to climate resilience. In the report, we highlight and celebrate the work of communities of colour who, despite facing greater barriers to park use, continue to act as park advocates and stewards building more inclusive public spaces.
In short, this year’s report demonstrates how race and inequity are inseparable from parks and public spaces and points to anti-racist pathways forward. It’s a critical shift we look forward to sharing when we launch the report. We are committed to using the approach featured in the report to move towards embedding anti-racism into every aspect of our work and culture.
Park People recognizes that our work is still in its early stages and that we have a great deal of progress to make in addressing systemic racism and white supremacy. We are committed to addressing the enormity of the task at hand and accept that we will make mistakes in the process. We will continue to have courageous conversations with each other, hold ourselves accountable as we learn, and keep moving forward.
Reflections from the first Montreal Park Forum
The first Montreal Park Forum, a collaboration between Park People and Les amis de la montagne, brought together 150 participants – a combination of passionate residents, representatives from community organizations, municipal employees, and planning professionals. Although virtual, this first gathering proved that Montrealers are truly passionate about their parks.
The collective passion for parks is not surprising when you consider that more than 60% of Montrealers do not have access to a backyard and that Montreal already has more than 70 park initiatives across its 19 boroughs.
The Forum was the official launch of the new Montreal Park People Network, a partnership between 4 organizations that share a commitment to activating the power of urban parks across Montreal. We’re pleased to share key learnings from the Forum and videos from the sessions to help you dive deeper into the Montreal Park Forum experience.
Meeting Montreal’s Park Enthusiasts
This first event of the Forum, the Early Bird Breakfast, brought together park enthusiasts from across Montreal who shared the opportunities and challenges they face in their local parks.
Based on input during this session, it’s clear that urban parks provide happiness, peace, connection with nature, and a much-needed sense of balance to Montrealers’ daily lives. These benefits were even more deeply felt during the pandemic.
The group discussions not only provided essential networking opportunities, but also helped highlight key issues that the Montreal Park People Network will need to address in its work: the importance of protecting biodiversity and natural environments, the need to balance park use with protection, the importance of parks that address community needs, the critical need to build connections between parks, and the value of underpinning park work with solid management and financing.
The Launch of the Montreal Park People Network
The Forum’s keynote presentation marked the official launch of theMontreal Park People Network. After welcome comments from all the Network’s partners and a warm word of support from the Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, Adrian Benepe, and Nathalie Boucher took participants from Montreal on a guided trip to New York, Madrid, Sydney, and Shanghai with a thought-provoking presentation on the power of urban parks.
Adrian Benepe, President, and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden provided a master class on the current “golden age” of urban parks worldwide, focusing on what’s happening in parks in the United States. Drawing on his extensive experience, including his role as the 14th NYC Parks Commissioner from 2002-2012, Benepe shared best practices in urban park management and funding, innovative solutions for growing and empowering urban parks around the world, and collaborative models from conservation organizations.
‘‘Partnerships are absolutely essential not only to create parks but also to maintain their sustainability and ensure that we don’t go into decline. There are a variety of public-private collaborative systems, and they all have their values. Partnerships can provide some resources that the city could not provide on its own. During the pandemic, when we needed the parks the most, the budgets also went down and that had a big impact.’’ – Adrian Benepe
Nathalie Boucher, Anthropologist, and Director of Respire, brought Forum participants back to Montreal and provided an Anthropologist’s lens on Montreal’s urban park culture. “Parks are wonderful windows onto culture,” she said.
Boucher broke the concept of culture down into four key dimensions – sociability, representation, appropriation and disruption.
Based on her 20 years of Anthropological research, Boucher made a powerful plea for people to recognize and value park’s critical role in building culture.
Going to a park, she emphasized, allows us to learn to see others who may be different from ourselves, and debunk the myths and beliefs that can create polarization and “othering” in our society.
“We need to develop parks everywhere, in all possible varieties. We need to diversify (in kind and number) the facilities, the furnishings, the access to accommodate all kinds of people and needs”. – Nathalie Boucher
Inspiring Conversations on Environmental Justice in Montreal Parks
The panel discussion on environmental justice in Montreal’s parks, moderated by Karel Mayrand, President and CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Société du Parc Jean-Drapeau, highlighted environmental justice work in Montreal’s parks.
Robert Beaudry, who is responsible for real estate management and planning, housing, large parks and Parc Jean-Drapeau, highlighted the City of Montreal’s new Nature and Sports Plan, which will provide $1.8 billion in support to Montreal’s parks in the next ten years. Beaudry highlighted the importance of parks’ role in environmental and health resillience, and the importance of continuing to invest in our park systems.
“The global impacts of climate change are reflected at the local level, right down to the parks, and it will be necessary to develop the parks accordingly. “Jérôme Dupras, professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics
“Parks are not simply expenses that are amortized in municipal budgets. They are investments that yield many quantifiable health benefits, including physical and mental health. “Anne Pelletier, Planning and Research Programming Officer, Urban Environment and Healthy Living Department, Direction régionale de santé publique du CIUSSS du Centre Sud de Montréal
“The design of parks should be approached as an opportunity for repair, allowing marginalized communities to regain their autonomy. “Lourdenie Jean, Founder of L’environnement, c’est intersectionnel
“Parks are friendly and welcoming spaces that are widely used where people of all generations and backgrounds gather. They are true tools for integration.” Michel Lafleur, President of the Coalition des amis du parc Jarry
It’s Your turn to Activate the Power of Parks!
We closed out the first Montreal Park Forum with a relaxed, cocktail party atmosphere. Chantal Rouleau, the Minister responsible for Transportation and the Metropolis and the Montreal region, highlighted the $223,100 investment that allowed for the creation of the Montreal Park People Network.
Participants joined break-out rooms with a drink in hand to discuss key issues we could implement in Montreal’s parks. Accessibility, inclusivity, park design that supports nature and neighbourhoods, and the need for education were among the important issues addressed in the breakout rooms. All of the participants believed that support for community park groups, environmental stewardship programs, and the creation of new green spaces and ecological corridors were among the priority actions identified by participants. There was also broad support for the development of a master plan for Montreal’s parks.
Participants emphasized the importance of collaboration and putting community members at the heart of the process.
Priority actions identified in the 3 discussion groups:
Green Parks: “Knowing and recognizing the value of natural environments in our parks is essential to the protection of Montreal’s biodiversity. “
Social Parks: “Community involvement is the key to creating places that bring people together.
Park of the Future: “To respond to climate issues, in addition to conserving environments of high ecological value, the parks of the future will have to protect the natural world urban dwellers interact within their daily lives.”
Growing the Movement
The Montreal Park Forum, most of all, underscored Montrealers’ passion for their parks. We’re grateful to have heard from so many participants about the issues, needs, actions and perspectives that the Montreal Park People Network will need to address going forward.
Thank you for joining and being part of this powerful event on behalf of Park People, Les amis de la montagne and the Montreal Park People Network partners.
The Montreal Park People Forum is an annual gathering, so we look forward to seeing you next year!
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Generously supported by:
Park People takes part in a new Healthy Communities Initiative
COVID-19 has seriously impacted our access to and use of public spaces. This is especially true in communities that are already experiencing systemic inequalities.
The Healthy Communities Initiative is a $31 million investment from the Government of Canada to support communities as they create and adapt public spaces to respond to the new realities of COVID-19. Projects funded through the Healthy Communities Initiative will create safe and vibrant public spaces, improve mobility options and provide innovative digital solutions to connect people and improve health.
Photo credit: Wex POPS. This photo was taken in 2018.
Organizations have shown tremendous creativity and resourcefulness in developing temporary and longer-lasting solutions that enable people to connect and access public spaces safely while still respecting public health measures. In a recent Community Mobilization Session, Park People highlighted some inspiring projects we have seen in recent years.
These can inspire project submissions
Red Embers– Indigenous weaving and art installation on gates in a city park
Flemo Farm– A 2-acre community food garden in a hydro corridor
MABELLEpantry– A food security program in response to the COVID-19 shutdown emergency
WexPOPS–Temporary seating and native gardens in a parking lot
Park Ave Community Bake oven-Volunteer-run, wood-fired community oven that is located inside a custom-built structure that transforms into a food preparation area, alongside a community garden and orchard
The projects linked here are provided as to sources of inspiration. For eligibility details, please be sure to check specifics on the Community Foundation website.
With funding between $5,000 and $250,000, the Healthy Communities Initiative aims to support local efforts to develop small-scale infrastructure solutions, programming and services for communities across Canada. Local governments, charities, Indigenous communities and nonprofits are all welcome to apply for funding.
Funding can be used for adapting public spaces, or for programming or services that respond to COVID-19 and serve the public or a community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Organizations are encouraged to engage the community when designing their projects.
Watch our webinar on Simple ways to create vibrant and safe spaces during COVID-19
Community Connections to Nature focus of TD Park People Grant Recipients
Together, Park People and TD Bank Group launched the TD Park People Grants program to help communities better connect to nature and each other. Since 2016, the grants have been awarded, through the TD Ready Commitment, to 365 grassroots community groups and community-based non-profits –the groups that know their communities best. This year, TD Park People Grants were awarded to 72 community park groups in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Greater Toronto Area, National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau), Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax Regional Municipality.
Photo credit: Richmond Nature Park Vancouver
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been particularly proud to continue supporting impactful events that demonstrate the tremendous creative capacity that lives at the heart of our communities. At a time when many people are understanding and experiencing the benefits of parks more than ever, we have continued to support a National Network of community park groups that nourish the vital connections between people and nature.
Since the program’s launch, Park People and TD have prioritized equity-seeking groups in the outreach and granting process. This year, we established a focus on these groups, ensuring that 50% of TD Park People Grants are dedicated to equity-seeking groups in cities across Canada.
Photo credit: Neighbours of Meadowvale Park
This approach has resulted in outstanding environmental education, sustainability, and stewardship programs in communities across Canada. Among the groups awarded TD Park People Grants this year are those serving people with disabilities, Latin American and Chinese populations, Indigenous communities, Black-led organizations as well as groups representing people experiencing homelessness, seniors, and many others.
Some of the projects funded with a 2021 TD Park People Grant include:
Based out of Vancouver, Accessible Nature Wellness Programs Inclusive of People with Disabilities identified that people with significant levels of physical disability experience reduced access to community programs including those taking place in parks and green spaces in the Metro Vancouver area. With support from TD Park People Grants, they are hosting several two-hour virtual sessions for people with disabilities to experience forest bathing and nature-based mindfulness right from home.
Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton is hosting an event inviting five cultural groups (Chinese/East Asian, Indigenous, African, South Asian and Middle Eastern) to reflect on and share the role of parks and green spaces in their cultural communities. Other events include a virtual ravine heritage tour and workshop on park stewardship with a focus on Edmonton’s Chinese Garden which houses Chinese architecture, sculptures and horticulture.
An inspiring youth organization in Montreal’s Pointe-Aux-Trembles, Les Ballons Intensifs, has a vision to create “a world without psychological, socio-economic and identity barriers.” To help youth leaders become engaged and create change in their community they’re adding green leadership training involving gardening and public consultations on their local green spaces to their basketball training camps.
Join us for more than 216 events hosted by TD Park People Grants, which are taking place from April 17 through December 31. 2021. Visit the TD Park People Grants page to learn about events happening in your community.
Feature photo credit: Yoga in Riley Park – Water for Riley.
Thank you to our generous supporters:
Montreal Forum in Focus: The power of Montreal’s city parks
Take a moment to think about what places brought you the most joy, peace, or escape during the pandemic. Does your local park come to mind? Your daily walk through the shaded trees? Seeing your neighbours, friends, and community enjoying the sun on a scorching summer day or a cold winter one? Perhaps seeing dogs run after a frisbee, unaware of the global crisis? Or hearing kids laugh on the playground, unfazed by it all?
City parks were a central part of our communities, neighbourhoods, and daily lives long before the pandemic began. However, this past year has really shone a light on how essential they are for our well-being.
At the Montreal Park Forum, we’re inviting park enthusiasts, community park groups, urban planning and park professionals and non-profit organizations dedicated to city parks to come together to promote, protect and activate the power of Montreal’s awesome green spaces.
What’s on the Agenda?
The Forum will feature a keynote presentation from Adrian Benepe and Nathalie Boucher on the power of city parks. You can also attend a powerful panel highlighting multiple perspectives on environmental justice. Finally, attendees can participate in several engaging networking sessions connecting Montrealers to the park issues they care about and the people who make up the Montreal park movement.
The panel discussion focuses on equity in city parks, from both environmental and social perspectives. The panellists include Anne Pelletier from the Public Health of Quebec, Jérôme Dupras, Director of the Laboratory of Ecological Economy at the Institute of Temperate Forest Sciences, Michel Lafleur, President of the citizens’ group Les Amis du CAP Jarry, and Lourdenie Jean, founder of “L’Environnement, C’est Intersectionnel” (The environment is intersectional).
Lourdenie Jean, fondatrice de «L’environnement, c’est intersectionnel»
Lourdenie Jean has long been a leader and advocates for intersectionality in the environmental movement. Two years ago, she created the initiative “L’Environnement, C’est Intersectionnel” (ECI) in order to deepen and inform the discourse on environmentalism including removing barriers to participating in the movement, how environmental impacts are differently experienced by marginalized communities and how to avoid reproducing power problematic structures.
“Environmentalism is an intersectional issue. Often, ecological crises result in a loss of autonomy for marginalized communities,” Lourdenie explains. She researches how ecological crises do not impact communities equally. People, living in more marginalized, less well-served urban developments with less green space, are more likely to face other, related issues: “I talk about how racialized neighbourhoods, where developments are made out of concrete, are spaces where racialized people are far more likely to experience police brutality and domestic violence.”
Anne Pelletier, Regional Program and Research Coordinator of Public Health at the CIUSSS du Center-Sud de Montréal echoes Jean’s perspective: “Having green spaces in urban areas increases our resilience in times of crisis.” Indeed, it has been proven that in addition to being beneficial for our mental health, parks build social connections in our communities.
Pelletier’s research also shows the links between lack of green space, climate change and health. For example, in cities, the loss of the urban tree canopy creates urban heat islands and increased pollution, which can have devastating health consequences in vulnerable communities, explains Pelletier.
“The pandemic has allowed us to make connections, and deepen our approach to the concept of resilience in times of crisis and how it particularly impacts vulnerable populations. Above all, it showed us how parks build both social and environmental resilience”.
As Montrealers, we’re proud of our green spaces. From the smallest parkette to the most majestic large urban park, we identify with our green spaces. Parks are spaces that Parks are where we have meetings, exercise, escape, find peace and connect with nature. Now, more than just spaces for our health, we see the role of city parks in addressing social cohesion, equity and well-being.
On an early spring day in Calgary, Flyover Park buzzes with activity and playful laughter. Surrounded by friends, a couple of teens sway off a face-to-face swing, while tweens leap through a bamboo jungle (a three-dimensional climbing course not for the faint of heart).
Sheltered by the shade of a flyover above, a family competes in a fierce ping-pong game while, behind them, a mother helps her youngest go up the hillside playground. An assortment of languages fills the air: English, French, Spanish.
In this context, it can be hard to believe that just three years ago this space was a dingy field of gravel. “It was full of litter, graffiti, needles, people’s clothes—it was just not safe,” says Ali McMillan, planning director at the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association (BRCA).
Built in 2020 with funds sourced by Calgary’s Parks Foundation, a non-profit whose mandate is to support the creation of new parks for the enjoyment of all Calgarians, Flyover Park materializes the vision of a group of engaged residents who dared to think outside the box and reclaim an underutilized space full of potential.
“We didn’t really have an idea where it was going to go,” McMillan says about the group’s initial vision. “We wanted to do some tactical urbanism to basically get people’s minds thinking differently about the area,” she explains.
Launched by residents as a small intervention, the project would morph into a lasting change for the community—and the first project of its kind in Alberta.
“Bamboo” climbing poles. Photo by Ximena Gonzalez.
Residents reclaim a ‘left-over’ space
Located at the south end of Bridgeland, between the neighbourhood and the Bow River, Flyover Park sits under an overpass known as the 4th Avenue flyover. It’s part of a complicated interchange of roads and bridges that connects Calgary’s northeast across the river to the city’s downtown and East Village.
The site where Flyover Park is today sat empty for nearly two decades. “A lot of us didn’t know that the flyover was even there,” says Miles Bazay, a student who used to go to Langevin School, a K-9 school located just 300 metres north of the site.
“This is the first thing a lot of people see when they come from downtown into our community, and the impression was not good because it was just basically a dirt patch,” McMillan says. This unsightly welcome didn’t reflect the unique character of the neighbourhood.
Filled with homes that predate the 1960s, modern multi-family buildings, and an assortment of locally-owned shops and restaurants, Bridgeland-Riverside is one of Calgary’s most vibrant inner-city communities. These characteristics have attracted a young and diverse population to the neighbourhood.
Despite this connectivity potential, the City of Calgary had no plans to activate the space. But in 2016, inspired by the work of Jason Roberts’s Better Block Foundation, McMillan decided to spearhead her own tactical urbanism intervention.
“[Tactical urbanism] opens your eyes to how you see your community and that your voice matters,” she says.
The power of small interventions
Tactical urbanism is a citizen-led movement that gained force in the 2010s. The movement encourages residents to test ideas that reclaim and transform forgotten public places into vibrant community hubs—one temporary intervention at a time.
Installing pop-up parks in neglected spaces is a common tactic used by residents to test their ideas, and many of these projects lead to permanent upgrades. Flyover Park would become Calgary’s first tactical intervention to become permanent.
The goal of this plan was “to design an enjoyable public environment” and “to create a gateway into the community of Bridgeland-Riverside.” This thorough document outlined the design considerations and aesthetics that would guide the project through completion.
But despite the successful precedents, getting the project off the ground was no easy feat.
“It’s a really unique site there—we have not done an urban park in the ‘left-over’ transportation infrastructure anywhere in Alberta,” McMillan says, emphasizing the initial skepticism from a number of stakeholders, including the neighbours themselves. “A lot of people couldn’t see past what the area actually was… It was a lot of fighting perception and trying to show people it could be different.”
In 2017, McMillan and the task force carried out the first tactical intervention in the space.
“The first thing we did was a windmill garden. We put like 20 windmills—just stuck them in the ground in the middle of winter,” McMillan recalls. It helped catch the attention of future partners.
Over the course of a year, these kinds of small interventions led the BRCA to partnerships with the City of Calgary, Bridgeland’s Langevin School Grade 6 students, and the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. The inclusion of the Grade 6 students in the project would prove to be integral to the development of the project—and an educational opportunity not just for the children, but for everyone involved.
Early conceptual image based on student ideas. Courtesy of the City of Calgary.
An all-around learning experience
In 2017, the transportation department at the City of Calgary had just completed the city’s pedestrian strategy, but while the council hadn’t yet allocated any funding to it, the department was keen to support a low-budget grassroots initiative.
When Jen Malzer, a transportation engineer at the City of Calgary, learned about the BRCA’s efforts to transform the space under the 4th Avenue flyover and connect Bridgeland to the river pathway, she and her team seized the opportunity.
“We didn’t have funding to hire consultants, which is normally how we might approach a project,” Malzer says. Having the Langevin School Grade 6 students and the University of Calgary landscape architecture master’s degree students on board, Malzer’s team took a different approach. “We could just enable students to dream about the parts of the project and give expertise where we could,” she says—an unusual role for city staff.
Accustomed to the back-and-forth of stakeholder engagement sessions, for Malzer’s team this project was an opportunity to “give up some of the control.”
Furthermore, as part of the pedestrian strategy, the city was developing a tactical urbanism program; participating in the flyover project helped city staff gain an in-depth understanding of the process.
“This really gave us a good insight into what the city’s role should be when we’re working with communities,” Malzer says. “We learned about the power of elevating different voices.”
And in this case, it was the voices of the Grade 6 students. While children are always welcome to join engagement activities led by the city, Malzer says, they rarely actually do so. The Grade 6 students would become front and centre for the project. “It was a really cool experience. I never thought that we could get to do something like that,” says Bazay, who was part of the class.
Sixty Langevin School Grade 6 students were able to take part in this project thanks to the foresight of their teachers. “[Ali McMillan] was looking for some students to be involved in working with the city and just talking about areas of Bridgeland that are a little bit neglected,” recalls Kate Logan, one of the teachers. She and Elaine Hordo, her partner teacher, jumped at the opportunity. “We were looking for something to get these kids involved in some kind of action project, something to make a difference in the community,” Logan adds.
Excited about the potential of the space and the learning opportunities for the students, Malzer helped coordinate educational sessions with an assortment of city departments, giving students a solid background that would inform their vision for the space. “I was able to bring in a lot of different experts: urban foresters, designers, water engineers, to give students a little bit of context about what are some of the things to think about,” Malzer says.
This experience enabled the children to think about the possibilities for the space.
“We spent a lot of time at the flyover site, just looking around,” Logan says. They also visited other parts of the city and observed the different uses a vacant space could be given to revitalize it and build community.“Our class decided to do something with that space,” Bazay says. “It was a really good space, it just wasn’t being used in the right way.”
When the University of Calgary graduate students led a design charrette in the spring of 2017, the children were more than ready to provide their input. During the initial design session, Ben Hettinga, then one of the University of Calgary students, recalls being impressed by the ideas of the Grade 6 students. “There were normal kid things like playgrounds and fun pieces, but their focus also seemed to be on making the space welcoming and safe for everyone.” This sentiment is echoed by Malzer, “the students were really clear that the project should make play fun for everyone, not just kids.”
Integrating all of the students’ knowledge and ideas, the design produced by the landscape architecture students went on to earn an honourable mention at Calgary’s Mayor Urban Design Awards and win a National Urban Design Award. “We were just having fun with it—ideas that we thought would just brighten up the space,” Bazay says humbly. “We never really thought that it would get built but then we got funding and it was really exciting for our class.”
Through this experience, the Grade 6 students learned valuable lessons on city building, an opportunity few Calgarians get to experience at such a young age. According to Logan, this project taught her students about the importance of civic engagement, “knowing that as a citizen you have a responsibility for yourself and others and that the decisions you make impact others.”
The involvement of the Langevin School was also key to gaining momentum, McMillan says, as the participation of the Grade 6 students led to project seed funding from the Calgary Foundation. “With this funding, we painted the road and bought chairs and picnic tables; we built planters and that sort of thing,” she says.
And this action was key, as it was an opportunity to test their ideas and to prove the community’s interest in such a space. The success of the temporary improvements in the summer of 2017 solidified the partnership with the Parks Foundation and led to further improvements such as the painting of a mural and the installation of a ping-pong table.
Painting the road as a tactical intervention, 2017. Photo courtesy of Ali McMillan.
Materializing the community’s dreams
In the spring of 2019, Calgary’s Parks Foundation announced the construction of a permanent urban park was moving forward thanks to a donation from the Alberta government.
“I never thought that we could have such a big impact in the community,” Bazay says.
Although the design of the space went through several subsequent iterations, and a number of features were scrapped at the construction stage, Flyover Park does capture the essence of the youth who helped propel the project.
“It’s not your typical playground. We tried to design something for everyone in some of those groups that didn’t have a place to be,” McMillan says.
Besides playground equipment for all ages, the design layout includes an esplanade to accommodate food trucks and outdoor events, providing recreation opportunities for adults and kids alike and reflecting the spirit of inclusiveness shown by the Langevin School students.
The tactical nature of the project also helped it move forward swiftly. By contrast, the Bow to Bluff corridor in Sunnyside, a similar project in Calgary’s inner-city also spearheaded by community residents but taking a more conventional approach, has taken nearly a decade to materialize.
These tactical interventions have also helped inform other city-led improvements for the community’s main streets, such as the 1st Avenue NE Streetscape Master Plan, which aims to improve the pedestrian and cycling experience and connect Bridgeland’s amenities, including Flyover Park, with the Bow River Pathway.
But ultimately, the BRCA did more than transform an empty space into a vibrant community hub—the efforts of the community also helped empower a young generation of city-builders.
“I think we definitely learned a lot about what we can actually do to change our communities,” Bazay says. “And if more students could get involved with projects like this, I think that would be really great for the community.”
About Ximena González
Ximena González is a freelance writer and editor based in Calgary. Her work has appeared in The Sprawl, The Tyee and The Globe and Mail.
As Park People expanded its national programs and launched the first Canadian City Parks Report, we learned of the immense impact of these groups. For example, while four million people visit Banff National Park every year, over 8 million visit Mont-Royal – 30,000 times more visitors per acre of parkland. In fact, taken together, these three large urban parks see more than 17 million visitors every year.
Over the course of the pandemic, Park People began hosting a series of virtual “cinq a sept” sessions with large urban park organizations to delve deeper into how we could best serve these groups so they could, in turn, maximize solutions to make our cities greener and more resilient in the face of a changing climate. We learned that these large urban parks need recognition and funding to support their immense contribution to climate change and community resilience.
During the pandemic, Canadians flocked to Mount Royal, Stanley Park and High Park in never-before-seen numbers. In Park People’s own survey, we found that almost three-quarters (70%) of Canadians said their appreciation for parks and green spaces has increased during COVID-19. It’s clear that even as vaccines bring the end of the pandemic into view, there will continue to be unprecedented pressures on the unique ecosystems found in these parks.
Credit photo: Les amis de la montagne, Camp de jou, Freddy Arciniegas, 2019
Today, Park People is excited to be launching Cornerstone Parks, the first-of-its-kind national collaboration to revitalize the green infrastructure of the country’s largest urban parks and celebrate their incomparable value to overall wellbeing. We call them ‘Cornerstone Parks’ to express how central they are to our cities.
A Cornerstone Park is defined as a large urban green space that contributes biodiversity, ecosystem services, and multiple parks uses to the community at large. In these parks, City staff, local and park-based NGOs, and community leaders facilitate activities focused on environmental education and stewardship, to engage people from diverse backgrounds in connecting to nature and to each other. These Cornerstone Parks provide invaluable environmental and social benefits to our urban environments that make our communities healthier and more resilient to the effects of climate change.
In the first year, Park People is bringing these three groups together to support their ecosystem revitalization efforts. In Toronto’s High Park, funding will improve wetland health and restore the globally rare Black Oak Savanna habitat by removing invasive species. Efforts in Montreal’s Mont-Royal will likewise mutually benefit the park’s forests and wetlands. Through planting and stewardship work, the restored marsh will be better able to absorb stormwater thus improving groundwater quality and the habitat for species. This will reduce erosion and surface water runoff that damages the forest. In Stanley Park, by planting 500 native trees and shrubs and removing 10,000 square metres of invasive species, efforts will enhance the health of this coastal temperate rainforest that serves as a powerful carbon store and wildlife habitat in downtown Vancouver.
Sara Street, Executive Director of High Park Nature Centre says: “Today, we understand nature’s role in restoring our sense of well-being. We need to go further and take a bigger view on how restoring nature actually makes our cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”
In addition to supporting critical restoration work, Cornerstone Parks will act as a backbone to connect these large urban park NGOs together to establish a forum for the exchange of knowledge and sharing of best practices. The Cornerstone Parks program will be underpinned by a rigorous impact evaluation to measure and amplify learnings about the value of large urban parks for community well-being and ecosystems.
Credit photo: Stanley Park Ecology Society
Dylan Rawlyk, Executive Director at Stanley Park Ecology Society says:
“By working as a group, we can make a greater difference, scale up our work and tell our collective story in a way that none of us can do alone.”
Hélène Panaioti, executive director of Les amis de la montagne echoes this sentiment:
“Cornerstone Parks recognizes we have so much to share with, and so much to learn from, our fellow non-governmental parks organizations across the country. Park People is bringing much-needed awareness to how important these green spaces are, and providing us with the necessary framework to revitalize the ecosystems.”
The long-term vision of the program is to ensure that there is an ecologically and socially vibrant Cornerstone park within reach of every urban Canadian. Park People’s Program Director Natalie Brown says,
“Large urban parks offer so much value for cities. Park People’s providing a backbone to strengthen their work and galvanize support for more large urban parks. There’s no question that there are large-scale precious landscapes that could serve climate change and community goals. We couldn’t be more excited to help make it happen.”
Through its National Network, Park People will identify other large parks across Canada where investments and a connection to the network will provide maximum ecological and community benefits.
Made possible by the generous support of
an anonymous donor
Ten years together in city parks
It’s hard to believe, but Park People is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year. Our very first Toronto Park Summit happened on April 12, 2011.
We are delighted to celebrate Park People’s tenth anniversary with you this year. Back then, Park People had a small and passionate staff who, in the start, quickly created a meeting place for those who cared about parks. It was simple, but that’s how it started. We would never have imagined ten years later how much we would grow.
As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we celebrate the partnerships, friendships, and connections we’ve made over the years in city parks across Canada.
Your support has been invaluable to us making this milestone.
We know city parks have a remarkable capacity to enhance our cities, connect our communities, improve the quality of life for citizens of all ages. COVID has shone a light on parks’ role in, preventing social isolation and loneliness and providing people with a renewed appreciation for nature’s healing properties.
Today, our National Network comprises 1,055 park groups in 95 Canadian cities representing every Canadian province. We deliver a wide range of innovative and supportive programming in underserved communities fostering a sense of belonging. With strong community partnerships, research, services and outreach, we encourage creative park projects and events and community engagement across Canada, reaching over 50,000 people a year!
But we never could have accomplished any of this without you!
This spring, we aim to raise $10,000 to celebrate ten years of Park People and look to the next decade in city parks. We are reaching out to you and the nearest and dearest members of our network for support. Your donation to Park People will directly impact our work as we continue to grow Nationally and advocate and enhance urban parks across Canada at a local level.
Please donate today and help us celebrate ten years of Park People. To make a donation please visit our website at www.parkpeople.ca/donate. If you have any questions regarding your support please contact Michelle Cutts, Development Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As long-standing winter ice melts away, our rivers flow with the promise of spring and a reminder of water’s role as the lifeblood of our landscapes and our very existence. March recognizes the centrality of water to our lives with World Water Day (March 22) and International Day of Action on Rivers (March 14).
Park People and the Greenbelt Foundation are helping to promote stewardship and awareness of our need to protect and enhance the 21 urban river valleys that flow through our cities and into Lake Ontario with three wonderful short videos. These videos are a celebration of these wonderful spaces and the culmination of all of the amazing work being done to protect them by great organizations including the recipients of our Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program grants.
There is over 1,000 km of river valleys flowing from their headwaters in the Greenbelt, bringing fresh water and green ribbons of nature close to home in our communities. These vital corridors are incredible places to explore nature nearby, and they provide important habitat for the plants, animals and ecosystems that keep these spaces healthy, providing us with clean air and fresh water.
“Preserving our urban river valleys is essential to the health of both people and wildlife, and the efforts of The Riverwood Conservancy’s volunteers are pivotal in our conservation projects. With the help of our diverse community of volunteers, we continue to protect our local ecosystems, and offer opportunities for people of all cultures, ages, and abilities to connect with nature.”
— Derek Stone, Conservation and Program Manager, Riverwood Conservancy
As temperatures rise and our communities become hotter, these Greenbelt Protected urban river valleys can make the air feel 11 degrees cooler. As extreme weather hits more often, natural spaces absorb rainwater like sponges and slowly release fresh water into our creek’s streams and river valleys helping to prevent flooding. Learn more about why natural systems matter and how to protect them.
“For over 30 years, Evergreen has been deeply connected to the ravines, engaging with the community through hikes, rides, public markets, stewardship efforts, and public art installation. We have experienced first-hand how the urban ravine system plays a vital role in city life and that the work to protect, maintain, and improve one of Ontario’s biggest assets is a group effort.”
— Orit Sarfaty, Chief Program Officer, Evergreen
Black Creek Community Farm
There are dozens of organizations and community groups working to help protect these important landscapes from erosion, invasive species and misuse through plantings, education, shoreline stewardship and trail making. Find your closest stewardship group to get involved. It’s our job to protect our urban river valleys so that they can protect us.