New Greenbelt & Park People collaboration to realize the potential of newly protected Greenbelt urban river valleys

The Greenbelt Foundation and Park People have launched a new funding program to help connect people and communities to protected urban river valley (URVs) systems throughout the GTHA. The Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program will provide $100,000 in funding, to be matched one to one, to support five or more place-based projects a year that will help people explore, celebrate and enhance their local urban river valleys that are often undiscovered and underused.

In 2017, the Greenbelt was expanded to protect 21 major urban river valleys and associated coastal wetlands across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.  The newly ‘Greenbelted’ URVs connect watersheds in the Greenbelt with the Great Lakes as part of the regional water system.  Extending the Greenbelt into our urban centres provides people with a greater opportunity to enjoy the cultural and natural heritage of these unique areas in their own communities.


“The Greenbelt protects vital farmland, green spaces, and water systems across our region as we continue to experience tremendous population growth,” said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. “Celebrating the protection of urban river valleys, the new Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program will build and deepen people’s connection to these valuable waterways within their own communities as well as the broader Greenbelt.”

The Greenbelt Foundation is working in collaboration with Park People. Park People’s Executive Director Dave Harvey shared his enthusiasm for the collaboration:

“Communities across the GTHA will have more reason than ever to explore and experience their urban river valleys. We look forward to seeing place-based proposals that activate these important spaces by connecting people to art, recreation, gardening, food, citizen science projects and more in their own urban river valleys.”

Community-based organizations including Conservation Authorities, social service agencies, local schools, non-profits and Indigenous communities are encouraged to apply to receive up to $25,000 in funding. Submissions for 2018 are due Friday, June 1st by 5pm. The Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program will run for three years.


Public Space Incubator FAQ

Our Public Space Incubator has been out in the world for about two weeks now and since then we’ve gotten a great response from people who are excited about the program and want to learn more. Here’s a few of the Frequently Asked Questions we’ve received so far. We’ll continue to update this as needed.

Visit the program website for all the details on eligibility and requirements. If you have a question about the program, you can always email us at

Do I need a charitable trustee for the letter of intent? What role do they play?

Yes all project applicants, if they are not already a registered charity, must include a charitable trustee as a partner on their application.The trustee is required for the administration of funds, but does not need to play a programming role.

How can I find a charitable trustee?

There is often a variety of charitable organizations that could be potential trustees in different neighbourhoods across the city that you could partner with. Potential charitable trustees could be a local Business Improvement Area, a university, faith organization, and community health centre. For more information on finding a charitable trustee, read our resource page.

What needs to be in the “high level” budget for the LOI?

Simply the requested amount from the Public Space Incubator and any potential or already secured funds from other sources. If you’re invited to submit to the full application round, we will require a more detailed budget breakdown by category, such as capital, programming, engagement, etc.

If I apply for funding in this round, can I do my project in 2020? What are the timelines for project completion?

As noted on the website, projects funded in the 2019 round of funding can take place up until fall 2020. We understand some projects may be complex and so we are allowing more than a year for implementation from when we announce grant recipients in June 2019.

Can I apply with more than one project?

We are not limiting you to one project idea, but you must prepare a separate letter of intent for each idea. We encourage you to focus on your best ideas.

I have a cool idea. Can I just apply by myself?

We require all applicants to have a charitable trustee, if they are not already a registered charity. Also, note that one of the core principles of the program is “community-driven”, which speaks to building local partnerships. We see collaboration and working with partners as a key part of a successful project.

Do I need to have permission in the spot where I want to do the project before applying? Do I need to get a permit?

No, we do not require you to have already obtained permissions for your project for the letter of intent. However, the more information you can provide, the better. Please note that part of the letter of intent is detailing how your project could be realistically implemented, so it’s important to think through any permissions that would be required. As part of the incubator process, we would be available to connect successful applicants to the right City officials to work through implementation.

Do I need to say exactly where I want to do my project?

Though we do not require you to indicate in which exact location your project would take place for the letter of intent stage, the more specific information you can provide, the better. We also encourage you to think through the type of public space (school, park, street, laneway, etc.) that you are applying to do your project in and why.

Can my project be a study or community consultation about an idea?

Projects can include research and community consultation as a part of the project development, but every project must result in a tangible pilot project in a physical space.

Can my project take place in multiple public spaces?

If you can make a compelling case for how your project will activate more than one public space, then you can apply for a project that includes more than one location or for a project that moves around.

Ideas to spark your imagination for Public Space Incubator

Since we announced our Public Space Incubator Program last week, we know that ideas for how to re-imagine public space in Toronto have been bubbling up in the minds of people across the city.

But just in case you need some inspiration for how to bring people together in public space in innovative, creative, and even radically new ways, we wanted to assemble a few examples of existing projects in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver that have sparked our own imaginations.

These projects—done in laneways, parks, and community housing land—include a wide variety of focuses: winter programming, food, arts and performance, local economic development, cultural exchanges, and more. But what they all share in common are new ways of inhabiting and enlivening public space to promote social connections, share experiences, and foster a sense of belonging.

We hope these projects get your own brain juices flowing and we’d love if you were to share some of your own examples, from Toronto or other cities, in the comments or with us on Twitter at @Park_People.

Alley Oop 2_Modacity

Bright, back alley basketball brings a laneway to life

This fun project, spearheaded by a downtown Vancouver BIA and supported by the City of Vancouver, spiced up an otherwise drab downtown laneway with bright paint, decorative lighting, basketball hoops, and programming to create a new type of gathering space for people. Laneway projects can seem complex with all the access and loading issues that come with them, so it’s nice to see how something simple like bright colours can make a big difference.

But it’s not just about the physical transformation—the space has become home to fun pop-up events like a dance party done by an event collective, Public Disco, which invited people to dress up and dance together in public space. (photos by Modacity)


Thriving public market and tandoor oven sparks change in a park

Step into R. V. Burgess Park in the middle of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood on a Friday afternoon in the summer and you’ll be treated to a park transformed into a thriving bazaar with North America’s first tandoor oven in a park serving up fresh naan.

Organized by Sabina Ali of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, the bazaar and the oven support other activities in the space, like kid’s entertainment, that have helped bring this important central green space to life through community animation. The bazaar is particularly innovative—creating a space for people, many of them newcomer women in the neighbourhood, to sell food, jewelry, and clothing.


Community-run container café creates a new, tasty focal point

Food and parks go well together, but if you forgot to pack your own picnic lunch it can often be difficult to find a place to quiet your rumbling stomach. One local community group, the Friends of McCormick Park, worked with their city councillor to solve that problem by outfitting a shipping container café as a community café in their local green space.

The café is run by a non-profit organization and serves fresh, affordable food and drink to hungry and parched park goers. The café helps support programming and activity in the park, providing a focal point for local residents and offering up shared experiences like $5 Friday night dinners.


Inter-cultural exchange brings people together

Arts organization MABELLEarts, working with local community members, has helped transform a Toronto Community Housing green space into a collective gathering space and a site for cultural exchange. Throughout 2017, the group hosted Iftar nights—the breaking of the Ramadan fast—on several Thursday evenings in the green space. They also worked with organizations such as the Arab Community Centre of Toronto and COSTI to bus in newcomers and refugees to Canada to take part in the celebrations. (photo by Liam Coo for MABELLEarts)


Winter laneway wonderlands celebrate the cold

Spring and summer-time activities are lovely, but we can’t forget about winter! We can take some inspiration from Montreal’s green laneways, which invite community members to reimagine laneways as social gathering spaces in the city.

One young women, Marie-Hélène Roch (who spoke at our recent Park Summit) has worked to transform her laneway into a “white” laneway that invites people to connect during the colder months through food events and decorations. Other winter laneway activations in Montreal include dog-sledding activities, ice rinks, snow castle building, and warming stations.

The deadline for Letters of Intent for applying to Public Space Incubator is Thursday, March 29th at 5pm. Check the program website for more information. 

Thank you to Eti and Ken Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation for generously funding the Public Space Incubator. 


With our new Public Space Incubator, we invite you to surprise us

Park People is excited to launch our Public Space Incubator—a program made possible through the generosity of Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation.

With this program we hope to spark new, creative, and even radical ideas for inhabiting and enlivening our public spaces—whether those are in parks, plazas, schoolyards, tower green spaces, streets, laneways or any other publicly accessible open space—by offering up to $50,000 in funding for 5 projects in 2018 and again in 2019. For the full eligibility requirements and program details, check out the program website.

We’ve all had those public space experiences—whether in Toronto or travelling—stumbling across something that makes us smile and stay awhile. Maybe it was the musical swings in downtown Montreal. Or the thriving Thorncliffe Market in R. V. Burgess Park here in Toronto. Or maybe it was a laneway serving coffee and scones in San Francisco. These projects bring people together in new and unusual ways.

Park People is all about helping people activate the power of public spaces. We hope the Public Space Incubator provides the tools and resources for people with big ideas to do big things in our public spaces in Toronto.

As the name implies, we’ve designed the program with a supportive network built into it to help successful applicants realize their projects on the ground. These people include designers, city staff, community organizers, environmentalists, policy wonks, and more.

The program is designed to be broad enough to welcome a vast array of types of projects without being too prescriptive. However, we do have a set of core principles that each project must show how they achieve.


Public Space Incubator is not set up to fund “business as usual” projects. We’re interested in projects that push the boundaries of what’s possible, propose things that haven’t yet been tried, and create moments of delight and surprise. Think outside the box. Think collaboratively.


We’re looking for projects that are built from the ground-up in local communities—not something that is parachuted in from afar. Strong community partnerships and an inclusive and accessible approach is key to the success of these projects. What need is your project serving and how are you involving the local community?


Great design is key, but design alone cannot truly bring a space to life. We want to see projects that include a programmable aspect that shows intentional thought in how a space can be used and activated to bring in a diverse range of people. How is your project welcoming people to participate in the space?


Projects need to make sense within their local context, but we’re also looking for projects that test ideas that have the potential to be scaled up across the city in the future. What might this look like? What would need to happen?


While funding and support through the Public Space Incubator is a great start, we’re looking for projects that reach beyond the program to invite investment and partnerships with other organizations, funders, and groups. How does your project build in those partnerships to support growth and sustainability?

Be bold. Be creative. Surprise us.

Making Magic in Thorncliffe Park

I could tell you about the TAG Café, a café and a beacon that uses food and music to bring people and vibrant culture to Thorncliffe’s R.V Burgess park. I could also tell you about a community-build for the café that incorporated hand-woven panels of vibrant red, yellow, and orange fabric, creating a beautiful manifestation of a collaboration between Diasporic Genius, Thorncliffe Action Group (TAG) and ERA Architects, with funding from Park People’s TD Park Builder’s program. But instead, I’m going focus on something much more effusive–magic, and how it found it’s way into RV Burgess Park, and what we can learn to produce more magic in more community parks

Prioritize the Process:

“Artists know how to make something out of nothing,” says David Buchbinder, Artisitc Director of Diaporic Genius. David has applied an artist’s playful and open concept of creativity to the act of city building. When he first connected with Thorncliffe Park residents at a Creativity Centre in the East York Town Centre Mall, he trusted that they could access their own creative processes to reimagine a city that reflected their lived experiences. TAG members told their stories and engaged in mural-making, singing, drumming, dancing and crafts to bring those stories to life. The process of making and doing that was valued as an end in itself. There wasn’t an event in mind. There was just faith that a group of people could work together to create something that was theirs.

Treasure Diversity.

What TAG members know, their various lived experiences from their cultures of origin, are seen as rich and powerful sources of wisdom for reimagining Toronto’s public spaces. Cultural differences can be a source of conflict in creating park events. Diaporic Genius and TAG create connections across boundaries. This interculturality was made manifest in “cross-cultural” food featured at the TAG Café, but it started by valuing difference, right from the start. As Buchbinder says:

Toronto has the greatest population of diasporic peoples of any city; it is a microcosm of the world’s culture and wisdom. Now is the time to make the most of this unique gift, as we help reshape Toronto into a more liveable, engaged and connected city.

It’s the idea at the core of Diasporic Genius’ 21st Century Village Square framework which imagines new public spaces that embody and value the unique needs of different communities.

Listen More (and then more still)

What Diaporic Genius’ rootedness in storytelling really highlights is what it means to listen, and to feel heard. TAG members’ stories about conflict, celebrations, food ultimately led to the creation of the TAG Café and a Harvest Festival that welcomed 250 Thorncliffe Park residents to the park.  But before all of that, it started with listening to the community.  We know that parks best serve communities when community voices are built into for every stage of park and public space planning, design and programming.  Diasporatic Genius’ collaboration with TAG demonstrates that really listening creates not just impactful, but magical results.

TIFF In Your Park in 2015

This summer Park People and TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) piloted TIFF in Your Park, an event series celebrating TIFF’s 40th anniversary, in collaboration with ten community groups across the GTA to bring movie nights to parks via Community Games Festivals. Each Festival consisted of a variety activities promoting healthy and active living as well as showcasing current park programming initiatives within each community. The summer long event series totalled over 3000 attendees and concluded on September 4th at Prairie Drive Park.

David Carey, Director of Government & Foundation Relations and Philanthropy at TIFF, noted the importance of teaming up with local partners for this project: “like Park People, we think that when communities get involved, parks get better. There’s something very special about watching a film outdoors; sharing a communal cinematic experience with your neighbours. In addition to acting as meeting places and recreation hubs, Toronto’s parks and green spaces make for pretty great cinemas too”.

To complete the Community Games Festivals experience, attendees were also given a staple movie snack – popcorn! For Joseph Villegas, owner of the Toronto Popcorn Company, it was important to be involved: “Toronto Popcorn Company is a business that was inspired by our dear city’s diversity. Being an immigrant myself, I am very fortunate to have been able to be given the opportunity to jump start a small business It’s our own little way of reciprocating the warmth and acceptance that this wonderful city has offered us”.

Overall, the program has received positive response throughout. In addition to providing local residents the experience of a new type of park programming, it also allowed them the opportunity to build a sense of community. Anthony Rampersad, a Community Leader of Scarborough Village, said: “Apart from looking at concrete walls and sitting at home all day we were able to experience engaging with the community, being outside enjoying nature and experience what the community has to offer. Having this event makes you understand who you are living next to. It gives you a connection. I feel being in a community of apartments it limits you because you cannot go and meet people and build relationships. This event does that.”

Finally, we would like to thank the Toronto Popcorn Company, Kernels Popcorn Limited, Toronto Foundation, Friends of the Games, and the Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF in Your Park returns in 2016. Stay tuned for details on how you can get your community involved by joining our mailing list.

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