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.

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

Plant an urban fruit orchard, grow a vibrant city

As we’ve talked about before, the positive impact of people sharing food in public space simply can’t be overstated. Many park people across Canada have introduced fruit orchards into public spaces to improve food security, promote food literacy, reach environmental goals and increase community cohesion. This summer I spoke with Anita Georgy, Executive Director of Richmond Food Security Society, and Catherine Falk, Community Greening Coordinator at the City of Edmonton, about their on-the-ground experiences running programs that utilize urban fruit trees for public benefit.

Community food growing contributes to food security and food literacy

Food grown on public lands can play a huge role in building the ‘food security continuum,’ a term Anita uses. The term describes a range of positivie food-related interventions from giving food to people to food system re-design and systems change. Community food growing like fruit orchards can provide numerous roles along the specrtum: from providing food to neighbours in need to greatly advancing food literacy for a whole neighbourhood.  

Anita has an eye-opening way of explaining the different impacts vegetables and perennial fruit crops can have in public space.

“You can think of your vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, kale) as a cash bank account you can withdraw from regularly. A food forest produces more and more food over time. You can think of it as an RRSP. Planting perennial vines and fruit is a solid long term investment in food security.”

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Fruit tree recovery responds to food waste and addresses food security

One of the biggest complaints about fruit trees is that if the fruit’s not picked, the fallen fruit creates a mess surrounding the trees. The good news is that there are now many fruit recovery programs in cities across Canada. Organizations, such as the Richmond Food Security Society, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, Hidden Harvest Ottawa, Not Far From the Tree and Found Forgotten Food Nova Scotia are helping to glean excess fruit from privately owned trees and share the would-be-wasted fruit with food banks, volunteers and the owners of the tree. This keeps the fruit off the ground and puts it into the hands of people who can really use it. 

Planting fruit-bearing perennials in parks can help municipalities reach canopy goals

In 2013, the City of Edmonton launched the Root for Trees campaign to establish a 20% canopy cover over 10 years while engaging and educating the community. The program is focused on increasing the canopy with native species only. Fruit-bearing plants like cranberry and serviceberry are regularly planted as part of the program.

Catherine, who coordinates the Root for Trees program explains, planting a food forest helps the city satisfy habitat planting goals while contributing to food security. The Food Forest is located along a busy river valley trail system and because of that, it is available for anyone to utilize the growing bounty of fresh berries. Because the fruit-bearing perennials they plant are native to the region,  the project worked as a restoration project and provide food to passersby.

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Photo Credit: Blackberries, Stephanie Overton 

When there’s food involved, community members want to be a part of it

The initial idea for the Edmonton Food Forest planting came when a local school teacher with a strong interest in urban agriculture approached the city with an idea to include only food-bearing native plants in the river valley.  Since the initial food forest planting in 2014, over 4,000 fruit-producing shrubs have been planted and the city has expanded the food forest to 1/4 hectare. The Forest brings people to the space and fosters awareness of watersheds and environmental stewardship while improving food security.

There is a large community interest in the Food Forest planting that has attracted volunteer planters from as far away as Calgary to join in on the project. Neighbourhoods across Edmonton are now requesting their own food forests. If you are interested in volunteering  with Root for Trees to plant at the Food Forest or another event, you can register on our webpage, www.rootfortrees.ca.

If you want to learn more about starting an urban food forest in your community read our blog Planting a Food Forest: 4 tips from an expert.

Improving parks is not always about the money

The benefits of spending time in parks are well-documented. And as anyone who has struggled for a square inch of grass to lay down their picnic blanket at Parc Lafontaine or woven between thousands of cyclists and pedestrians on the Vancouver Seawall knows, big signature parks generally have no problems attracting users.

But for the vast majority of urban-dwellers, trips to large parks are an occasional treat. It is the smaller neighbourhood parks dotted throughout our cities that are the backbone of the park system. These parks are often simply designed, with limited amenities. But since these smaller neighbourhood parks are the green spaces that are most often within walking distance of where we live, are there ways we can maximize their benefits to the community?

What the data tells us about neighbourhood parks

The researchers behind the U.S. National Study of Neighbourhood Parks were intent on finding out. They looked at how neighbourhood parks were actually being used, and by whom, in U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more. Neighbourhood parks were defined as 3- to 20-acre parks used mostly by people in the immediate vicinity and managed by city parks and recreation departments.

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Example of ‘park mapping’ used to manage data collection. Photo credit Deborah Cohen, RAND Corporation

Data collectors used the SOPARC methodology to observe park users in different areas. SOPARC is a direct observation tool for assessing park and recreation areas, including park users’ physical activity levels, gender, activity modes/types, and estimated age and ethnicity groupings (Active Living Research). The researchers also interviewed adult park users and surveyed city park staff about their management practices. One of their goals was to figure out what park amenities seemed to increase or decrease park usage among different groups of people.

Their compelling results can help shape how we invest in parks:

Three proven low-cost ways to increase park use:

If you work with a municipality, non-profit or community organization looking to get more people into our parks, here are three ideas for how you could use this data to make the most impact:

  1. Invest in great signage and bulletin boards: The data is clear – welcoming and informative signage is one of the most cost-effective ways to dramatically increase park usage.  Although great signage isn’t free,  it’s a lot less than a new play structure or washroom building and can make a big impact, correlating with a 62% increase in park activity according to the study.
  1. Create programming targeted to people who are not in the park: Park People recently launched a walking program aimed at newcomers, older adults and seniors in Toronto’s suburbs. One participant (full disclosure – my mother-in-law!) made immediate connections with other walkers, including a Spanish-speaking senior who was delighted to have someone to talk to in Spanish, and a woman who lived a few streets over that she had never met. The physical and emotional benefits of spending time in parks are significant, and simple programming, combined with amenities such as walking loops, can make a tremendous difference in addressing the under-use of parks among seniors, girls, and adults, as identified in the study.
  1. Bring existing programming into parks: Who says the offerings of a recreation centre or social agency have to stay within four walls? Municipal park departments and community groups can work with these organizations to bring arts, recreation and health programming into the park, attracting new users while providing the enhanced benefits of green space to existing participants.

Many cities are already taking these findings to heart by investing in new signage, targeting new populations in their programming, and bringing existing programs into the parks.

Both the City of Toronto and the City of Edmonton are making major investments in new way-finding signage, while large urban parks like Vancouver’s Hastings Park and Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Forest are developing unique visual identities that are both beautiful and useful.

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Signage in Vancouver’s Hastings Park helps visitors access its many amenities.
Photo credit: PUBLIC Design

In Richmond Hill, the Artist in Residence pilot program provided an artist with an opportunity to develop new work to animate and engage residents in six public spaces. This program echoes the successful Arts in the Parks initiative in Toronto, which Park People has helped the Toronto Arts Council bring to 35 parks over the past two years.

We are also seeing the expansion of the SOPARC methodology into Canada. The Vancouver Park Board is using it, with tweaks to suit the local context, to collect park user data as part of their VanPlay strategy, a new 25-year parks and rec master plan.

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Vancouver’s VanPlay strategy is tackling the future of parks and recreation in the city. Image credit: Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

SOPARC is open and free for anyone to use – you can even find training for the data collectors on YouTube. I would love to see how people are adapting it to help them better understand usage in their own parks, and whether a simplified version could help community groups gather data about their parks and build the case for investments.

Meanwhile, Park People will continue to explore ways to make use of park data and to support community and city-led initiatives to improve our neighbourhood parks. If you know of projects happening across Canada that we can showcase and support, please let us know.

 

Planting a Food Forest? 4 tips from an expert

 

When asked about fruit trees many urbanites will list problems with messy fruit, wasp allergies, and wildlife bandits. In spite of this, edible parks and public food forests have been popping up in urban centers and small cities alike. This new perennial community gardening trend has taken off across the world from the Canada, to the US to New Zealand.

What makes edible forests, and edible hedges, so attractive to these groups? I spoke with Nicola Thomas who, inspired by her experience growing up in England where berries were readily available to pick and eat while walking through the neighborhood, founded a community organization called Grand River Food Forestry. Nicola has spent the last 3 years planting six community food hedges throughout the Waterloo region, with eight more to be installed this year.

Nicola told me about her experiences in helping communities to build food hedges (coined “fedges”) and here is what I learned:

Identifying a community champion is critical

Nicola believes that if you don’t see the neighbors come out to help install a project, you’ve failed. You need to get the community out to the planting day and make sure that the involved group reflects your community’s diversity. In her experience, unless people are involved right from the project installation, it’s difficult to recruit volunteers later.

 

When someone asks the question: What if people come and pick all the fruit? Nicola replies  “Then there’s obviously a need, and we need to plant more!”

 

Patience, patience, and then more patience

When working with municipalities and granting organizations, expect long timelines. The buzz around local food projects has created congestion in the bureaucracy, which Nicola says is her greatest barrier:

 

“Volume! It’s tough for the city to keep up with the volume of requests for a new trend like community food hedges. Working together with (the city) is important. If it is particularly frustrating, know that you are blazing a trail for the next person who requests a similar project. The reason that they are taking so long is because they’ve never seen a request like this before, or so many requests at one time, they don’t have the processes in place to accommodate.”

 

Keep it low maintenance

Nicola advocates for permaculture because it is pretty much self-sufficient. She describes it as working on a model of biomimicry: “A permaculture hedge or forest is planned to mimic a mature forest. Once you plant a permaculture food hedge you can count on it to still be there in 7 generations with little to no maintenance if the plants are selected appropriately.” Nicola makes the distinction that permaculture is not a “sustainable system, sustainable systems can still be bad systems, it’s a restorative and regenerative practice. Restorative to the soil and ecosystem.”

 

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” – Bill Mollison

 

Don’t get discouraged

Nicola describes a time when a community wasn’t able to install a food hedge because of contamination at a site. In lieu of a food hedge, they chose to plant a pollinator hedge. Instead of accepting the defeat, Nicola sees the bigger picture and explains, “A pollinator hedge can provide food and habitat for pollinators and wildlife that will ultimately benefit the food gardens that may exist in the neighbourhoods nearby.”

Read more about Nicola’s food forest projects on Grand River Food Forestry’s website: grandriverfoodforestry.com

 

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.

People of Parks: Anita Georgy of Richmond Food Security Society

In this special series, Park People explores the people who activate the power of parks across Canada. This issue features Anita Georgy, Executive Director of Richmond Food Security Society, an organization that uses education, advocacy, and community building initiatives to build a robust food system in B.C’s fourth largest city. The organization manages all of the City of Richmond’s community gardens, has a seed library, a community kitchen, fruit recovery program and youth leadership initiative.

 

How did your involvement with parks begin?

My very first job was in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. I was just out of university and led a youth camping trips with Stanley Park Ecology Society. In Richmond, the issue of food security is in the Parks Department. So, when I joined Richmond Food Security Society, our offices were in a park called Terra Nova Farm Park, and we run all of the City’s community gardens.

The relationship between food security and parks runs deep for me, and for the organization.

What makes parks better?

Food makes parks better. Outside cities, there’s a fine balance between people and the nature that must be kept to preserve wild places. But, urban parks are for people. Whether it’s a public BBQ, picnic benches or community gardens, food brings people into parks and brings them together. Cities need parks to be places of engagement, and food creates that.

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Photo credit: Brian Grover

What’s your dream for Richmond’s parks?

Our parks have to be places where all different kinds of people can come together and connect with the natural world and each other. If we lose that connection, it’ll be disastrous for us as a society.

My dream is for people to use parks to be connected to the planet-even if that means lying on the grass and looking up at the stars.

As we are increasingly urban, food is something that draws us closer to the natural world that we’re all a part of.

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What’s your biggest triumph?

My biggest triumph hasn’t happened yet, but it’s in the process of becoming reality. We’re working on becoming a partner in Garden City Lands, a 136-acre park in the middle of the city. Being connected to the community gardens and programming around food will help us serve our food security mission on a whole new scale.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened?

 It’s not that crazy, but what comes to mind was when I was leading a girls’ private school group through ponds, looking for aquatic invertebrates and one of the girls tumbled right into the pond. That was an up close encounter with the natural world.

What advice would you give?

Share your ideas. There will always be people interested in good ideas. There’s opportunity for anyone to do something that makes a difference. It takes people like you, with passion and enthusiasm to make things happen. Go for it!   Cover image credit: Don Enright  

Read the Last Chapter First: 3 Ways to Build Succession Planning into your Park Group

I need to break some news to you: It’s pretty much inevitable that core members of your park group will eventually move on. You already knew this, right? So why are we all so determined to avoid thinking and planning for the end of a volunteer’s engagement, right from day one? 

Diane Dalkin, President of Calgary’s Friends of Reader Rock Garden Society (FoRRGS) has made a point of planning for the next volunteer board President, long before she’s ready to step away from her role with the non-profit volunteer advisory group.

Diane shared her candid advice on succession planning.

Keep the end top of mind:

From day one, Diane operated under the principle that her time at FoRRGS is finite. She openly discussed this with the Board of Directors and has used it as a guiding principle in her role.

Diane admits that this approach fundamentally changed how her group operates. Built-in succession planning pushed her team to be deliberate about codifying practices and documenting historical information. For example, FoRRGS had a long-standing verbal agreement with the City of Calgary whereby the City provides the group with free access to space and marketing materials and in return, FoRRGS leads educational programs on the site and helps raise funds for the park.

Soon after starting, Diane requested that this verbal agreement be formalized with the City and suggested an annual Letter of Understanding with the City, to ensure that future members of the group and City staff could understand and benefit from the mutual agreement, regardless of staffing changes.

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Historical Photo from Reader Rock Garden

Create multiple entry points for new members:

Diane believes that leadership potential can come from anywhere in the organization and that welcoming new people is key to succession planning. That’s why she implemented strategies that made it easier for people to join Friends of Reader Rock Garden Society. Here’s her advice:

Build institutional knowledge:

Diane has put practices in place to ensure that important information exists in more than one person’s institutional memory.  For example, team members are encouraged to work in pairs, with a focus on information sharing. This way one member mentors the other in a particular skill. And, if one person can no longer commit to the volunteer group, someone else is prepared to step in and keep projects moving forward.  

“It is always important to periodically review, reaffirm and revise strategies for plans to work – adaptability is key”, she says.

Of course, no one likes to think of endings. But, by building the end into the beginning of your volunteer role, you can make sure that the final chapter is a happy, successful one, for everyone. 

You can learn more tips on volunteering in our recent volunteer recruitment blog.

 

Ottawa’s Park Summit Drives 3 Key Lessons Home

Whether you’re 5 or 55,  when you move to a new place, one of your first thoughts is about the people you’ll find: “Will I be able to make new friends? Will they get me?”

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Park People’s first Park Summit in a new city happened on Earth Day with Ecology Ottawa. We knew from our experience hosting our national conference in March, that there’s something about “park people” that makes for easy connections. However, we were elated and, frankly, moved to see 125 incredible Ottawans gathered together for their first-ever Park Summit. While we’ve hosted six Toronto Park Summits in the past, this event in a new space gave us fresh perspective on what happens when you put park people in a room together. Here’s some of what we learned.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Our goals out of the gate were ambitious but achievable. Ecology Ottawa and the steering committee organizing the Summit hoped that 80 people would turn up for this inaugural Park Summit. After all, it was the first-ever city parks event in Ottawa. Also, it was being held on Earth Day, a day chock-a-block with environmental and community events. We were overwhelmed to find that 125 people showed up. This felt like a strong signal that people across Canada want to talk parks and connect around the issues connected to their public spaces.

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The 125 people at the Ottawa Park Summit represented 50 different community organizations active in parks. Some groups were ‘park friends’ similar to the model in Toronto, but most were not. Ottawa has a very vibrant network of citizens’ associations, community garden groups and ‘adopt a park’ groups that were well represented at the event.  It was cool to learn about these different models and methods that Ottawans use to engage in and steward their parks and public spaces. For example, some citizens’ associations have a parks and green space chair on their board. This person is responsible for thinking about all of the parks and green space in the whole neighbourhood from a citizen perspective. They organise park adoptions, tree planting and events, as well as advocating the city and developers to protect and enhance parks and green space.

Small is beautiful

The Ottawa Park Summit was full of opportunities for interactive participation and networking, including a ‘world café’ showcasing citizen-led park projects from around Ottawa, like a community garden by and for children, a park revitalization project rooted in inclusion, and a biodome! Attendees had the chance to connect and learn in small groups, leading to meaningful connections and conversations, and they got to vote with their feet by visiting the café stations that featured topics they were most interested in. While the Toronto Park Summit brings a grassroots focus to park work in the city, the world café was more intimate and helped create new connections among attendees. This point was noted and will definitely inform our approach to future park events.

Park people need connection:

By the end of the Summit, it was clear that Ottawa’s park enthusiasts were determined to keep the conversation going. The group talked about establishing a local city parks network newsletter similar to Park People’s local newsletter, more face-to-face gatherings, online resources, a councillor relations strategy, and an awards program to recognize great work in local city parks.

The experience of launching a Park Summit in Ottawa not only reminded us that there are Park People in cities across Canada, but that there’s a collective need to recognize and strengthen the work that’s already happening in our city parks.

Read more about Park People’s Ottawa adventures:

 

3 Creative Stewardship Ideas for Your Park

Every autumn, the people of the Renfrew Ravine neighbourhood in Vancouver are busy crafting lanterns for the annual Moon Festival. Under the stewardship of the Still Moon Arts Society, the park is lit up with lanterns and filled with community-led art projects. The Still Moon Arts Society celebrates and stewards the Still Creek watershed in Vancouver, using art to convene community members in this beautiful green space.

This is just one example of a creative approach to stewardship, which Rewilding Vancouver: An Environmental Education and Stewardship Action plan defines as a:

‘Commitment to take active responsibility for human and ecosystem health.’

This can include a wide range of actions by individuals, communities and organizations working alone or together to promote, monitor, conserve and restore ecosystems. The Moon Festival provides a memorable, engaging experience in the Renfrew Ravine to inspire and nurture the community’s passion for nature and to see their role in creating and maintaining the splendor of the space.

Cities and communities are taking astoundingly creative approaches to cultivating relationships between communities and their natural environments. Here are some of our favourites from across the country.

Weaving Art into Stewardship in Vancouver

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Credit: Sharon Kallis

Like the Still Moon Arts Society,  the Vancouver Park Board uses art to engage people in stewardship.The Urban Weaver Project, a partnership between The Park Board,  Stanley Park Ecology Society, artists and community volunteers, transforms invasive ivy pulled from steep forested slopes into crocheted mats. The woven ivy mats, when dried, are laid on the forest floor to suppress the growth of invasive species. This project lives at the intersection of art,community-building and nature, which is fertile ground upon which stewardship traditions can start and grow.

What It Demonstrates:  Participating in stewardship activities helps build and strengthen social ties within communities, and meaningful stewardship programs can give community members a strong sense of personal investment in their parks and green spaces.

Building in Capacity-Building in Montreal

 

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Credit: Matthieu Guyonnet-Duluc

In Montreal, the Ruelles Vertes or ‘green alleys’ program is an incredible collaboration between government and communities. Local governments provide funding to communities to green their alleyways by planting trees and gardens. One of the main criteria for receiving funding, however,  is the formation of a strong citizen’s committee. Communities have to demonstrate strong commitment because they are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the green alleys. In other words, by helping grow citizen committees alongside green alleys, the projects continue to flourish. A stroll through Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood makes it clear how much pride community members take in maintaining these green oases.

What it Demonstrates: Stewardship needs committed support to be sustainable. Consistent City support for and investment in these programs are critical to their success. Cities must be ready to commit to cultivate and sustain long-term partnerships with communities. When municipalities across Canada strive to create strong support systems for community stewardship, parks and communities thrive.

Tapping into Civic Pride in Mississauga

 

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Photo Credit: Gary J. Wood

In Mississauga, the Riverwood Conservancy has an operational agreement with the City of Mississauga to offer programming and coordinate volunteer stewardship in a beautiful section of the Credit River Valley, and the Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens Stewardship Committee stewards one of Canada’s largest collections of rhododendrons. This year, the City of Mississauga will begin developing a Stewardship Plan for volunteerism and community engagement, working with existing partners and exploring relationships with potential new partners through the process.

What It Demonstrates: Collaborative projects between cities and local residents help the city to get out of its four walls and into the community. The can also be an effective way for the city to deliver some services and programs in ways that are more tailored and relevant to the community. On the flip side, the specialised knowledge and passion of volunteers can lend tremendous value to the public’s experience of a park.

 

Jiya Benni is an urban designer and aspiring writer based in Toronto

 

 

 

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