An Elaborate Show and Tell: Learning from Marpole’s Seniors Skills Bank

In 2013, Marpole Oakridge Family Place, a Vancouver agency that primarily supports children’s literacy, was asked to step up when the Marpole Place Neighbourhood House, known as the community’s “living room” for local seniors, flooded and was rendered unusable. MOFP rose to the challenge and, with few resources, has created a valuable Seniors Skills Bank.

The Seniors Skills Bank is a way for the community to learn about its seniors and their skills so that those skills can be used to benefit the entire community. In the process, seniors have a chance to contribute and feel recognized for their knowledge and experience. Andrea Krombein, the Seniors Outreach Coordinator at MOFP, roots her community development work in the belief that “information should be available and accessible to everyone.” Andrea has been working with seniors to identify their skills and build a database. She wanted to take the concept to the community and was able to secure a TD Park People Grant to host a Seniors Skills Bank this year at her community’s annual Everything Marpole Festival.

As a way of testing the concept, Andrea invited seniors to host booths which were set up along the event route. The demonstrations were led by artist and teacher, Lynn Onely, who taught watercolour painting; Alice Ng, who taught cupcake decorating; artist and exhibitor Billy Morton, a talented painter and Shichun Li, a retired professor who uses storytelling and folklore to teach people how to master the Rubik’s Cube. All day long, people walked up to the booths and learned a new skill from one of the many talented seniors in the community. It was a busy and exhausting day, but the concept was a winner.

“This is a cost-effective way that residents, some of whom are very low income, can actually connect with each other and also resource the neighbourhood,” Krombein says.

A TD Park People Grant helped Marpole Oakridge Family Place test out the idea of a Seniors Skills Bank, and now, Andrea is more energized than ever to build a database that can provide value to the whole community.

 Cultivating a culture of teaching and learning

  “The whole project is kind of a very elaborate show and tell, ”Krombein says

Krombein is actively building a database which will feature a wide range of identified skills local seniors possess from creative pursuits like watercolour painting through to practical skills like driving and cooking. The Skills Bank also includes seniors with more niche interests like whiskey tastings and mastering the Rubik’s Cube.  By collecting this information, Andrea has a vision of establishing a vast skill-sharing network that will benefit the entire community. The Skills Bank will not only help seniors interact with one another, but will also facilitate seniors demonstrating their experience and knowledge to the community at large.

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Shichun Li, a retired professor who uses storytelling and folk-lore to teach people how to master the Rubik’s Cube.

Self-empowerment and confidence

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Billy Morton, Showing off his painting skills at the Seniors Skills Bank

 We live in a rapidly growing and changing world and without adequate opportunities for people to connect and engage, it can be very easy for people to feel like they have been left behind. Loneliness and social isolation are issues that need to be addressed for the senior members of our communities who often feel alienated, undervalued and alone. Andrea says that early on some seniors didn’t feel they had any experience worth sharing, but following the example of some of their bolder peers, more and more people gradually came forward.

“Some of the group members were a bit shy to begin with, sort of reticent and nervous, but once they saw that other people were teaching about things that were important to them, they wanted to contribute something as well.”

Creating a virtuous circle

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Alice Ng’s decorated cupcakes

Krombein says that she was absolutely delighted to learn that some of the seniors have moved beyond the Seniors Skills Bank to organize outings and programming on their own. “I’m always happy when they start to take it on for themselves,” she says. Shichun Li, has taken his Rubiks Cube lessons to local schools, helping others acquire math skills through play and keeping himself active and meaningfully engaged.

The Seniors Skills Bank pilot project demonstrates the power behind the idea. By stepping forward to showcase their skills, the seniors gain confidence in their abilities and build social connections. In that context, they are more willing to try new things. As their confidence grows, they become more active in their communities and more willing to participate and contribute. “It is evident to me that the magic formula is setting up places where people can learn, share and connect,” Krombein says.

The Seniors Bank highlights what indeed is possible when this virtuous circle is set in motion.

 

 

 

 

 

Help us define our 2018 Parks Platform

It’s hard to believe, but another Toronto municipal election is fast approaching.

This October people will be heading to the polls to mark an X next to who they want to be their local councillor and mayor. There are lots of issues at play–affordable housing, transit, and safer streets to name a few–but we wanted to ensure that parks and public spaces were part of the conversation. And to help that, we will release a Parks Platform in early September that will highlight the key issues and policy ideas to make our parks even better.

We’d love your help! Please take 5 minutes to fill out this survey and let us know what’s important to you.

Some of you may recall we did this back in 2014 for the municipal election (you can find our previous platform here). We asked candidates to steal our ideas—generated through community feedback and our own work—and were pleased to see many of them pop up in the campaigns of local councillor candidates and mayoral candidates like Olivia Chow and John Tory (you can view Tory’s platform here to compare–we saved it!)

We wanted to take a look back at our previous platform to see how Toronto did over the last four years. Here’s some highlights:

We advocated for removing park permit and insurance fees for local community groups putting on free, open events for their community.

In the last four years, new free permit categories have been created for things like movies, arts, and music in parks, making it easier and cheaper to put on these types of activities. We still think there is room for improvement here, but we’ve seen good progress.

We pushed for the completion of a citywide parks acquisition strategy to ensure our parks are keeping up with our growing population, and a downtown specific plan focused on this area of hyper-growth.

The TOcore parks and public realm plan was approved by City Council this year and the City is deep into its citywide Parkland Strategy that will set out priorities and strategies for acquisition. Next up: actually implementing these plans…

We advocated for new linear park and greenway projects that take advantage of our hydro and rail corridors to create a network of public spaces.

The City is finalizing the Green Line master plan to create a 5km linear park and trail through the Dupont hydro corridor and plans were just announced by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority for the Meadoway—a 16km linear park and trail through the Gatineau hydro corridor in Scarborough.

We advocated for new partnerships and governance models for parks, including exploring the opportunity of park conservancies.

The last four years have seen the development of new and more formalized governance models and community partnerships in parks, including the Friends of Allan Gardens, the Toronto Botanical Gardens in Edwards Gardens Park, and the creation of Toronto’s first park conservancy with The Bentway.

We advocated for stationed park managers in some of our most used parks and more of a focus on maintenance.

The freshly redesigned Grange Park has a stationed park manager, but that is not the norm for signature and well-used parks, which are looked after by park supervisors whose areas often cover two wards. This is something we continue to advocate for. We did see a bit of a bump in funding for maintenance during high-use times, but our parks operating budget continues to be strained by pressures to maintain parks in a growing city.

All in all, it was good to see a lot of improvement in the areas that we highlighted in 2014–but we know there is more to do and new pressures and ideas as we go into 2018. Make sure you fill out our Parks Platform 2018 survey to share your ideas with us before August 1, 2018.

TD Park People Grant Recipients: A Roundup

Today, more Canadians live alone than in any other time in our history. A recent Environics survey conducted by TD Bank Group found that 34% of Canadians don’t feel included in their communities. These figures show that we need to be more deliberate about fostering connections between people. What better place to do that than in our parks and public spaces?

The TD Park People Grants program was established to serve just this purpose. The $2,000 grants, awarded to 55 community groups, will help bring over 160 great events to city parks across Canada. These events range from a collective tea party for seniors at King George Park in Richmond, British Columbia, to a flash mob dance party in Montreal’s Parc Morgan:

Food is on the menu:

Many TD Park People Grants will support events where sharing food is the main course. Events range from picnics and BBQs using community garden harvests to Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community Association’s Stampede breakfasts, anticipating over 4000 hungry attendees.In total, twenty one community meals are taking place.

Wonderful winter wonderlands:

TD Park People events will continue right into December with several groups hosting winter events including Calgary’s Light Up Montgomery Christmas Lights Festival and a family-fun-filled day of sledding, skating, nature walks, maple-syrup making, s’mores and a bonfire in Montreal’s Centennial Park.

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Let’s Get physical:

Many organizations are finding fun and joyous ways to get people out and active with two dozen dance, sport, and active play events. Three different Montreal groups will host dance flash mobs, a sun set swing dance and participatory hip-hop performances. There are skateboarding events planned in Toronto and Calgary, family game days hosted across the country and pop-up adventure playgrounds hosted by Montreal’s Le Lion et la Souris. Vancouver’s Powell Street Festival Society will host its massive Asahi Tribute baseball tournament honouring the legendary Japanese Canadian baseball team that was dis-banded pre-war because of Japanese internment.

Caring for environment and nature:

Many events are focused on enjoying and encouraging stewardship of our natural environment, with a dozen community clean-ups, some anticipating over two hundred participants. Vancouver’s Seymour Salmonid Society is hosting a family fishing day and estuary clean-up. Groups are hosting nature walks, plant identification, gardening and composting workshops, or planting and exchanging seeds and plants, and two kite festivals are getting people out enjoying the elements in Toronto and Calgary.

Connecting with seniors and older adults:

Seniors are highly engaged in activities from euchre tournaments, nature sketching, and storytelling to Marpole Oakridge’s Seniors’ Skills Bank in Vancouver and the Seniors Round Dance Troupe performance at Winston Heights’ Pre-Stampede BBQ in Calgary.

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A parade of festivals:

Communities will gather together and celebrate with over 3 dozen festivals planned across the country. Five different parades will feature giant puppets, celebrate pollinators, or honour cultural festivities like Ramadan and Dia de los Muertos.

Roll Camera!

Fourteen communities will host movie nights as a great way fill our parks with community well after dark.

Arts happening in parks:

Two dozen arts and culture events are funded through the TD Park People Grants. From concerts and local theatre, opera and Shakespeare in the park, to graffiti art, mosaic projects, art-in-the-park festivals and drawing classes. Cultural festivities will honour Indigenous heritage and celebrate Indigenous culture.

 

Among the applications to the TD Park People Grants program were beautiful expressions of what parks mean to communities across Canada.

“We are creating opportunities for connections that have the potential to impact community members on a daily basis – neighbours who check in when you are sick, check mail when you are away, and more.” Fraserview Community, Vancouver

More than 400 community park groups across Canada have signed on to the Park People Network. More than 240 groups applied to access TD Park People Grants. These numbers demonstrate that there is a critical mass of people dedicating their energy and passion to leveraging the power of parks to help people connect. It’s heartening to know that while the stats say we’re growing more and more isolated, there’s a strong and powerful counterforce working to keep us together.

Be sure to attend the TD Park People Grant funded events in your city and celebrate and bask in the hard work of passionate park people who make our parks, communities and cities awesome.

Thank you to our wonderful sponsors at TD Bank Group for supporting this incredible initiative. 

 

Park Summit 2018: A Serious Look at Play

Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he said: “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.” This year’s Park Summit presenters have this talent nailed down. Each has a unique ability to cultivate playfulness among targeted audiences to reach particular goals.

Yes, it can feel odd to speak so seriously about play, but creating intentional outcomes using play requires serious planning and consideration.  As speakers from both Montreal and Toronto demonstrated, it’s critical to determine what you want to achieve through play to deploy it most effectively. The presentations our Park Summit speakers shared offer many lessons for those of us trying to figure out how to use play to create impact-both among park and public space users and the key stakeholders who make decisions about how space does, and does not, get used.

 

The act of seduction

Marie-Hélène Roch, Founding Member of Ruelle No 13 project, a white laneway in Montreal’s Villeray neighbourhood, spoke about creating a space that entices people to play during cold winter months. She said:

“Together we’re trying to create a cocoon that’s conducive to gathering.”

Sometimes the snowy laneway is a cocoon formed of active play like hockey or fort-building, and other times it’s a cocoon of warm, delicious food that seduces people to leave their living rooms and come outside to break bread.

Laneway

Marie-Hélène highlighted the seductive powers of food in particular when discussing Ruelle No 13 project’s participation in Restaurant Day, a worldwide festival of people organizing their own pop up food events in shared spaces. Bringing Restaurant Day to the snowy laneway helped Ruelle No 13 lure people into the space to enjoy the benefits of gathering together and experiencing new possibilities for their shared, underused space.

 

Be present for play

Janelle, from Green Change at Toronto’s Jane-Finch Community Centre, has her own take on what it takes to entice people to play together. In short, Janelle’s strategy is: just keep showing up. When Janelle was trying to activate Oakdale Park, a large, but underused park in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, she made a point of being consistently present in the park. Being in the park, day in and day out, allowed people in the neighbourhood to get to know Janelle, and eventually engage in conversations and build trust.

Gradually, Janelle was able to connect with neighbourhood kids who had a vested interest in the park’s success. The kids collectively worked on securing a shade structure for their park. With Janelle’s guidance, the kids collected data, built prototypes and spoke to the local City Councillor to advocate for the shade structure. Spoiler alert: they got it!!

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Janelle treats children like “park royalty” because they know their park and understand its inner workings more than we ever give them credit for. This approach to kids allows Janelle to tap-into their wisdom, energy and unique perspective, and harness it to make the park better for the entire community.

 

Building home through p

Lisa Dietrich, a volunteer with CultureLink’s NEATWalks (Newcomers Explore and Appreciate Toronto) program, focused on the importance of active engagement in public spaces to build a sense of belonging among newcomers. As Lisa said:

As soon as we physically engage with –maybe even shape– our environment, it changes our relationship with this space. Active engagement creates a sense of control over our environment. And with this control comes a sense of security, of ownership, of belonging.

As Lisa emphasized, “active engagement” can be as simple as throwing rocks or as complex as an organized scavenger hunt. These experiences help build newcomers’ relationship to a new geography and establish a new sense of home.

 

Making the pitch for play

Caroline Magar, Development Coordinator at Montreal’s Les Amis du Champs des Possibles, had advice on how park groups can “play well with others.” In particular, Caroline’s presentation underscored the importance of understanding how to influence stakeholders and build a shared vision of a public space.

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Les Amis du Champ des Possibles has transformed a Montreal rail line into a semi-wild place where people can experience nature in a high-density neighbourhood. However, historical contamination has limited the groups ability to host formal events in the space.

Caroline has taken it upon herself to become an expert on contamination issues and how to remediate the land in order to have credibility among key stakeholders and make informed decisions about the land’s future. Embracing the more scientific and technical dimensions of the project has been a tremendous help in turning an unusual and inspiring space into a public place where people can safely experience the wild.

 

Help people see themselves in play

 

Finally, in her keynote presentation, Mouna Andraos, co-founder of design studio daily tous les jours, shared how her projects deliberately diverge from conventional ideas of play in order to appeal to audiences who may otherwise be reluctant to join in the fun.

In fact, Mouna specifically took aim at the word ‘play’ because it’s a term that is generally associated with children. In her experience, the term can undermine the seriousness of creative endeavours, like those of her firm. The large, public installations that Mouna and her team create using cutting edge technology in public spaces utilize unexpected adult colours and are situated in public places not generally associated with play. These interactive installations are able to seduce adult audiences because they are unlike other objects we conventionally associate with play.

For example, one of the firm’s installations, entitled Hello Trees!, invites people walking along a busy promenade to stop and send a message to nature that is then translated into beautiful sound and light patterns travelling along arches that connect the trees above, providing a canopy for participants below.  As explained on their website:

The result is an immersive, light animated, crowd-sourced concerto. It is a poetic exercise that encourages slowing down and engaging all the senses with the nature that surrounds us.

 

Hello trees! from Daily tous les jours on Vimeo.

Mouna’s presentation highlighted that creating new ways to play requires having systems in place that support creative exploration and collaboration. She specifically pointed to the Quartier des Spectacles district in Montreal, which created a centralized permitting department to provide a one-stop-shop for artists, park groups and community groups to secure the permits and permissions necessary to activate the space. The simplicity of this model allows groups who may not otherwise be willing or able to go through multiple bureaucratic processes to bring their vision to life.

 

All in all it was an awesome Park Summit. Thank you to the 400+ people who attended and who work diligently to activate the power of parks in Toronto, Montreal, and across Canada. Also, thanks to the many presenters and our moderator Christina Hug, who made us look so good.

A very special thank you is owed to our Presenting Sponsor, TD Bank Group, who has supported the Park Summit from the start and makes it possible for us to host this incredible event.

 

You can access available presentations and relevant media below:

Thank you to the Park Summit Presenting Sponsor

 

Thank you to our Sparking Change supporters for helping underserved park groups attend the Park Summit

 

 

TD Park People Grants Provide Support for Park Events Across Canada

Parks that bustle with activity have an energy you can feel. Busy, animated parks help make people happier, communities more connected and make cities thrive. But how do you create a lively city park? Park groups create awesome events that help people discover the potential of parks. Movie nights, park cleanups and festivals often provide people with a first glimpse of what’s possible for their park. However, park groups have repeatedly told us that there are few resources available to support the park events that make such an important impact.

Park People community event

That’s why Park People and TD Bank Group are thrilled to announce the new TD Park People Grants program which will provide essential funding to support park group events in parks and green spaces in cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. TD is providing funding as part of their TD Common Ground Project, which is dedicated to creating a legacy of healthy, vibrant and inclusive green spaces across CanadaPark groups are encouraged to apply to receive a $2,000 grant to host three events in their local parks between Earth Day (April 22) and New Year’s Eve 2018. Park People has put together park event ideas on topics to inspire groups to host events like movie nights, nature walks, pumpkin parades or an end of school party. See the TD Park People Grants program to learn more and apply.  Applications are due March 5, 2018.

A huge thanks to TD Bank Group for being our partners in bringing these events to Canada’s city parks.

 

The Heart of MacGregor Park: Kristen Fahrig

We were very sad to hear of the passing of a dedicated park person and friend, Kristen Fahrig, who was indeed the Heart of MacGregor Park. Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, Councillor, Ward 18, Davenport expressed our shared sadness at the loss, stating:

“I had the pleasure and humbling opportunity to work with Kristen Fahrig over the years. She was a passionate artist and community member who poured her heart and spirit into the MacGregor Park community. Her vibrancy and deep care for nature and creativity will live on for years to come.”

Anna Hill a former Park People employee who worked with Kristen through the Weston Family Parks Challenge wrote a few words reflecting on Kristen. 

Kristen Fahrig was a special kind of park hero in that she recognized the potential of an underutilized park to become a vibrant community green space. She galvanized both organizations and individuals around her vision of MacGregor Playground as a centre for artists and community gardeners. Founder of the Botanicus Art Ensemble, which grew out of the MacGregor Park Art Club. Kristen formed partnerships with organizations like the Dovercourt Boys and Girls Club to engage local youth in hands-on environmental programs in three new teaching gardens. She worked closely with her councillor, civil servants and local residents to ensure that park programs responded to the needs of the neighbourhood. The renovation of the MacGregor Fieldhouse into an all-season facility, a project Kristen kick-started by funding a feasibility study through a Trillium grant she obtained, will continue to completion next year through our Capital Projects staff, supported by the Councillor.

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A working artist with a studio at 401 Richmond, Kristen’s many years of artistic practice informed her approach to community development. Keenly aware of how art can heal the lives of people living on the margins, Kristen made people from all walks of life feel welcome. Whether launching a non-profit, welding a wrought iron gate, or saving seeds, Kristen brought great determination and creativity to the task at hand. Kristen will be remembered as a true Toronto Park Hero for transforming McGregor Park into the heart of her community. A honey locust tree has been planted in the park in her honour and a plaque will be installed there and in the Teaching Garden.

An exhibition of Kristen’s last body of work will be held from February 3rd to 25th at Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West. Further details will be posted to loopgallery.ca. In lieu of flowers, please send tax-deductible donations to the charity CELOS, the Center for Local Research into Public Space, specifying that the donation is intended to be used to complete the MacGregor Park Arbor/Archway. Initial forging workshops and the design for the arch can be seen at www.botanicusart.com

A Big Park People Thank You!

The power of parks is created by park people, like you, who are committed to making a real, lasting difference in their community and city. Park Groups create vibrant parks that create an energy you can feel.

As we get closer to the end of the year, our Park People team wanted to say a big THANK YOU to all the individuals and groups that make awesome things happen in our parks.

We put our creativity to work by playing with plasticine and created two versions of a park–one that has dedicated people activating the park and one that doesn’t.

Scroll through to read why we are so thankful for park groups, like yours!

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“I am thankful for people who don’t sit back and complain about their park, instead they step up and make a positive difference in their community”

 

“I’m grateful for the park groups that try new things they have never done before in parks: nature walks, native plant gardens, pumpkin parades, Arts in the Parks, movie night etc. etc”

 

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“I am grateful to all the park groups that hosted Pumpkin Parades this Halloween (47 in all!!)”

 

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“I am thankful to park groups for planting native plants, removing invasive species & improving the biodiversity of our cities”

 

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“I am thankful for all the people who water the newly planted trees to make sure our trees grow big and strong in our parks”

 

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“I am grateful for all those Friends who take the time and make the effort to grow food in their parks. Urban agriculture does so much for the community: it’s social, it’s environmental; it’s delicious!”

 

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“I am thankful to all the park groups that put on delicious food events in parks (because I love to eat)”

 

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“I am thankful to park group that hold movies in parks”

 

“I am thankful for the arts events in parks”

 

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“I am grateful for Park Friends Groups that take the time to host events in their park to help bring community together”

Whatever your role, if you contribute to making your park awesome,  we thank you for all your work, big or small. It adds up to great parks and quality of life in our communities and cities.

 

What Ping-Pong can tell us about city parks

In 2012, Dianne Moore, a long time Rotary Club volunteer, was fortuitously seated next to Park People’s Executive Director Dave Harvey at a community meeting. It was there that Dianne shared her idea with Dave: What if we could get outdoor ping pong tables into Toronto parks? Inspired by a love of ping pong she cultivated by playing daily with her dad as a child in Windsor, Dianne had been noodling the idea around for some time. Dave’s advice was simple. He said: “Go for it.” And, Dianne did. With gusto.

At last count, Dianne’s model for concrete outdoor ping pong tables is in 106 parks, most of which are in Toronto. A recent article highlighting Vancouver’s emerging ping pong scene admits:

“The game has become the hip new urban trend in Vancouver – belatedly.”

The popularity of outdoor ping pong and our conversation with Dianne got us thinking about what’s really behind the table tennis trend? What can we learn from ping-pong that we can apply to city parks across Canada, to help them engage more people with amenities and programming? Here’s what we discovered.

Keep it Cheap & Cheerful: 

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Ping Pong Table at Mel Lastman Square

You don’t need lessons, don’t need to join a league and there’s no fancy equipment required to play ping pong. This is definitely contributing to its spreading appeal. In fact, a recent Statistics Canada report shows that ping pong’s exploding growth is consistent with trends across the country:

“Canadians are moving away from organized sports to informal sports activity in their leisure time.”

Some experts hypothesize that the rising costs of organized sports and intense competition may be turning some people off traditional, competitive activities like soccer.  At the same time, activities like walking and jogging are on the rise. Cities can respond to this very real shift in behaviours and interests by making it easier for people to engage in informal activities that boost their health and well being. Investments like ping pong tables and walking loops help make it possible for people to engage in fun, healthy activities when they want, where they want, and with very little cost.

It’s About the Social, Silly:

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Stanley Park Ping-Pong Table

Dianne believes that the increasing number of high-density apartments and condominiums has left many people looking for ways to connect with one-another in pretty traditional, face-to-face, ways. As a person who lives in a multi-story building Dianne says

“there are so many people I would never have met without ping pong,” adding “really, nothing compares to it.”

As we’ve highlighted in a previous post dedicated to parks’ impact on social isolation, more and more people are living alone and reports highlight that it’s deadly. Instead of trying to persuade people to live together, journalist Erik Kleinberg suggests, “we’d all be better off accepting that going solo is a new norm and doing whatever we can to make it a safer, healthier and more social experience.”

Mediated shared experiences like ping pong help people socialize with each other without the awkwardness of a cocktail party. Somehow having a ball and a net between you creates a safe, shared space that helps make engagement comfortable for people who may not otherwise be inclined to socialize.

Low Barrier:

Nearly anyone can play ping pong. You can play it regardless of age, it’s relevant to numerous cultures and it’s suitable for people with differing abilities. Dianne has witnessed people running from their offices to catch a round of ping-pong over their lunch hour, and has seen kids and adults playing together much like she did with her dad.

“You don’t even need a common language to play together,” Dianne asserts.

Dianne has shared the designs for her concrete outdoor ping pong table with a visitor from Pakistan who saw them in Toronto and has since had three tables built in parks there. Dianne’s Rotary Club also donated two ping pong tables to the Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba as a gesture of friendship and support. We know quality amenities help get more people to parks. A recent study of parks in the US found that “most parks are geared toward youth rather than adults.” The popularity of outdoor ping pong tables shows that adults, as well as kids, need meaningful ways to engage in our parks, helping them build the social infrastructure that’s needed to keep people healthier and happier.

So, More Ping-Pong Anyone?

Yes, of course, more ping-pong . But the ping-pong phenomenon really tells us that we need to ensure that parks foster social connections and fun, physical activities for people of all ages, abilities and income levels. The classic play structure you see in parks across Canada only targets one population-kids. There are opportunities to attract more adults into our parks and, at the same time, keep them more physically fit and mentally healthy.

Also, this ping-pong tale reminds us that people like Diane have had great success bringing their ideas to life in parks. With a lot of tenacity and innovation, anything’s possible in a park.

Four years ago, we made a great little video to celebrate the first ping-pong table being unveiled at Mel Lastman square. It hits on many of the themes, and even features Diane Moore.

 

 

A community-first approach to establishing your park group

The scariest time for community park groups is the beginning. When you’re just one person with a good idea about the potential of your park, there’s no knowing whether other people will ‘show up’ to make it happen. Faced with this possibility, Ana Cuciureanu parked her park dreams in the background, and gave her full attention to connecting with her community. How she did this, and the underpinning convictions behind her approach, are worth sharing.

Prioritize Community

After signing up for her City Councillor’s (Shelley Carroll) newsletter, Ana signed on to every event that came her way. In fact, she went out to ‘about’ 15 events in under three months. Ana found herself in knitting groups, ESL workshops, public events, library meetings, budget sessions and resident gatherings in every corner of her community. This whirlwind of community immersion shaped Ana’s vision of what her park, and park group could be.

“Make time to talk to people,” Ana says. “Not to poach them for your own purposes, but to authentically connect.” This was the first lesson she learned from attending a whirlwind of community gatherings. “I was a nobody and yet everyone invited me to every meeting and they were so transparent,” she says. Seeing this made Ana realize that her priority was connecting to the community. The park group, though still important, was secondary.

Be Open to Learning

In the community meetings she attended, Ana learned about her communities needs. The process wasn’t linear, but she emphasizes “no time is ever wasted time if you’re listening.”

In one meeting, Ana heard that seniors in her neighbourhood were advocating for transit because they couldn’t walk up a steep hill on Sheppard Ave. In another, she learned that the school environmental club needed access to outdoor space. Another showed her that activities like knitting engage newcomers because the activity doesn’t require access to a shared language.

Listening gave Ana clues that helped her form ideas about how she could best serve local seniors, kids, different language groups and a host of others through her park group. These nuances simply would not have been available to her had she not been present and listening wholeheartedly.

New Possibilities through Connectedness

Ana’s approach to partnership is the opposite of a transaction or business deal.  The question: “What do you need. How can I support you?” is the question that she consistently heard around the table at various meetings. She understands that this question helps eliminate hierarchy and helps people find the authentic places where there interests intersect.

Ana gives the example of walking through her park and seeing pockets of people hanging out together, but separated from others they don’t already know.  Ana always has a desire to pull groups together because that’s where magic happens. “If they get connected,” she says,” new possibilities are created that weren’t there before.” That’s her approach to partnership. New possibilities created through connections.

Ask “Who is Not There” and “Why”

When Jay Pitter spoke at Park People’s National Conference, she asked participants to always remind themselves to look around the table and ask: “Who is not there, and why.” This resonated with Ana who sees power in bringing people together in new ways and public space’s potential to offer creative solutions to existing challenges.

Ana gives the example of connecting to Toronto North Local Immigration Partnership (TNLIP), Working Women Community Centre, and Centre for Immigrant and Community Services. Meeting and engaging with these newcomer organizations helped Ana learn that in many cases, isolation keeps newcomers from accessing programs and services that are available to them when they first arrive in the community. Ana started to consider how the park could create a bridge between newcomers to the services they need.

The next group Ana is focused on connecting with is the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, just down the street from the park. She has recently received a grant to lead nature walks and workshops on using native plants found in the park as natural remedies. This will help connect the park and the community to this 40-year-old institution in the neighbourhood.

Authentic Curiosity is the Spark

In the last six months, Ana’s park group has grown to 7 committed core volunteers. A recent Arts in the Parks event brought out 250 community members. There’s no doubt that Ana’s approach brought returns. However, what’s most clear is that returns were not the real-end game in her whirlwind tour of community meetings. After five years living in her neighbourhood, Ana has established reciprocal trust, but also a sense of how the park group can serve the community. It’s a journey fuelled by Ana’s authentic curiosity to know her neighbours. As such, the possibilities are endless.

Roll Credits!

In true Ana style, she would like to acknowledge a celebrate many amazing people who have helped make Friends of Parkway Forest such a success. In my back-and-forth for this post, Ana always emphasized the people who have been working with her, every step of the way.  There’s important learning in Ana’s commitment to highlighting the people who have supported Friends of Parkway Forest. In short, make sure you take every opportunity to acknowledge the people who are with you on this journey. Now, let’s roll credits:

Mentor: Minaz Asani Kanji (Park People 🙂 )

Volunteers:
Ali Abdelaly
Kiran Asrani
Jack Mar
Arleen Mar
Anne Butt
Radmila Rakas
Vahagn Stepanian
Officer Russ
 
 
Partners:
Lubna Daniyal (Forest Manor School Parent Council Chair)

Alifia Yusuf (Forest Manor School Parent Council Chair)

Jawed Akhter (Forest Manor School – CICS)

Mark McKay (Parkway Forest Community Centre – Community Recreation Programmer)

Derek Vandervecht (Park Supervisor)

Sheeba Calvine (TNLIP)
Elmira Galiyeva (TNLIP)
Lucy Fitzpatrick (Working Women)
Diana Moran de Monges (Working Women)

How to Organize a Shoreline Cleanup: A Quick Start Guide for Your Park

Since 1994, there have been 19,400 cleanups that have collected more than 1.2 million kg of trash across Canada’s shorelines.

Organizing a shoreline cleanup is an easy first event for a park group, and many long-term groups do cleanups every year.  Your shoreline cleanup won’t just reduce pollution that reaches our lakes and oceans – it will also help you build relationships and foster community pride. Also, you’ll help raise awareness of the major sources of litter in your community by keeping a record of what you collect. By leading cleanups, you can be part of the solution.

Last year more than 35,000 tiny plastic pieces and 38,000 plastic bags were collected across Canada, which shows our connection to the global issue of plastic pollution.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a nationwide conservation initiative supported by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and WWF-Canada. They offer support to anyone who would like to coordinate a shoreline cleanup, including free promotional templates, guides, checklists, profile and national litter data tracking.

What if my park is not on a lake or a river?

If your park connects with water in any way (including creeks, streams, marshes and even storm drains!) then you’ve got a shoreline and you can take part in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

Here are some tips from the Shoreline Cleanup to get you started:

Before the Cleanup:

During the Cleanup:

After the Cleanup:

 

For more details on how to lead a cleanup in your community park as Site Coordinator, and for other great resources visit shorelinecleanup.ca/cleanups/getinvolved. Sign up for their e-newsletter here.

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