Latest Press

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

Latest Reports

How do we pay for parks?

How do we pay for parks?

Exploring innovative and creative ideas for parks and public spaces–in how we design, manage, and program them–is important, but these discussions often end up with this question: “Sure it sounds great, but how are we actually going to pay for that?”

In Park People’s latest report, Financing City Parks in Canada: What Might Be Done?, author Harry Kitchen, professor emeritus at Trent University and an expert in Canadian municipal finance, delves into the world of park financing in Canada. Kitchen lays it all out on the table, assessing the benefits and drawbacks of different funding tools and how they could work (or not work) in Canada.

The paper is part of three park discussion papers that Park People developed as part of our Heart of the City conference in Calgary–the first national city parks conference in Canada.

As Kitchen points out, unfortunately, parks are often at the top of the pile when municipalities look for ways to wring more savings from their already extremely tight budgets. Unlike fire, police, water, and electricity, parks are not seen as an “essential” service and have no mandated service levels.

While Canada’s park funding scene is not as grim as the United States or Britain (where some municipalities have cut a staggering 90% from park budgets in recent years), we still find ourselves, year after year, often with flat or modest increases in park funding, just to keep up with the needs of growing populations. In short, we are treading water in many cases, keeping our heads afloat.

So the question of how we are going to pay for new, expanded, and improved park systems as we grow, is a critical one to answer.

As you can imagine, the answer is not easy (if it was we wouldn’t be having this conversation). But Kitchen does outline a number of tools that Canadian cities can take advantage of for both funding the capital construction of parks and their ongoing maintenance and programming.

A few points emphasized by Kitchen:

  • Growth pays for growth. Many Canadian municipalities use growth-related development levies to fund the acquiring and development of new parks. These include charges paid per unit by developers into a fund that builds and improves parks. In Toronto, for example, park acquisition and development is paid for through a park levy that has in the last ten years raised over $500 million for parks.
  • Park operations are squeezed. Park operations, however, are largely funded by property taxes. This workhorse of municipal finances is the most appropriate revenue source to fund park operations, Kitchen writes, because parks are shared spaces that are common and open to all and so commonly funding them through taxes makes sense (as opposed to a user fee, like garbage pick-up). However, the property tax is also a highly visible tax (people get a bill for it), making it politically difficult to raise–leading to budget squeezes each year as municipalities attempt to do more for less.
  • Creating a separate park fund could be a good practice. Creating a separate, dedicated property tax levy that goes specifically into a fund for park operations could be a way to raise support for better, stable funding for parks. Drawing a direct connection between the money paid through taxes and a special park fund can be a way to gain public support. In fact, Seattle recently created a park tax district that levies an additional percentage on the property tax for park purposes and was a voted in by residents.
  • Other funding tools are heavily context dependent. Tools like philanthropy, donations, and corporate sponsorships–which are sometimes managed through partnership-based governance models like park conservancies in the United States–are not widely used in Canada, but are a growing area. These are important tools for funding parks, but only work in specific larger, signature park spaces (like the conservancy that was created to operate, program, and raise funds for Toronto’s Bentway linear public space) and are not an overall strategy for funding a park system.

As Kitchen’s paper makes clear, there is no silver bullet for park funding. As our common grounds, public tax dollar funding is, and should remain, the key tool for paying for our parks, but there is room to experiment with different, creative funding tools where they make sense. Kitchen’s paper provides a crucial base from which to have deeper conversations about how we can sustainably fund park development and operations in Canada.

You can read Harry Kitchen’s full report here.

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.

Latest Blog Posts

The Bentway promised us a lot—and it’s delivering

The Bentway promised us a lot—and it’s delivering

When The Bentway (then Project: Under Gardiner) was announced back in the fall of 2015, people seemed to have one of two reactions.

The first was excitement about the idea of a new public space underneath the elevated Gardiner Expressway, energizing an area that had largely been just dirt before. The second was grumbling about who would want to hang out underneath a dark, loud expressway and joking about pieces of concrete falling onto people’s heads from above (the deck was fully rehabilitated last year by the City, so these jokes are now very tired, by the way).

When The Bentway was announced there was a lot of grand language about reinventing public space, providing an ever-evolving space for culture, and creating a place that was uniquely Toronto. We at Park People led walks for Waterfront Toronto, the organization heading up the planning and engagement process, taking over 200 people in and around the space to gather ideas and hopes and concerns. People had a lot they wanted the space to be.

It was a lot to live up to and I admit, as I watched the construction take place, I wondered how people would embrace it when it was finished.

Well, The Bentway has been partially open for months and just started its summer programming in earnest this past Sunday with the first of its weekly Sunday Socials—and I can tell you no one I saw was grumbling.

Who wants to hang out under an expressway? Turns out a lot of people, actually.

On this hot, sunny Sunday people—and, let’s be real, dogs—were chilling out in the shade from the massive roof overhead (the expressway), sipping tall cans of beer and listening to local musicians play on a bicycle powered sound system. Lights were strung above long communal wooden tables and loungers (they looked appealing, but alas, were all occupied). In between the live music, I could hear grinding from the skateboarders using the just completed pop-up skatepark (up until August 12).

The space has a unique, unvarnished cool-factor quality that you don’t often find in other new public spaces in Toronto where polish and high-design is the name of the game. We should strive for high-quality spaces, to be sure, but there’s something lovely and wonderful about the concrete and sand and raw wood and general half-built quality of The Bentway right now—it is a public space under an expressway after all. I’m sure some of that will change with time as the space continues to be built out (a new performance area near Strachan is set to open later in the summer), but I hope it remains a place that feels a bit unpolished.

It’s even…green. Things are growing underneath the Gardiner. So much for dark and gloomy. This section of the Gardiner is five-storeys high.

IMG_7178

I admit I hadn’t visited The Bentway much during the winter except for a few quick moments to see if people were actually there enjoying the linear skating rink that had opened in December (they were). I’m not a cold weather kind of guy, having only laced up skates once in the last 10+ years. But it’s great to see a space that is being programmed so thoughtfully in both summer and winter—something that we don’t often see in Toronto. It’s likely due to the model, new to Toronto, of a separate non-profit set up to program and operate the space: The Bentway Conservancy.

If they have hot spiked cider you might see me there in January. Until then, I’ll be back on future Sundays. Silent disco next week, anyone?

You can check out the full schedule of Sunday Social events here.

The park people have spoken!

The park people have spoken! Responses from last year’s Park People Survey guide our work as we continue to help you make awesome things happen in city parks. We hope that the survey will also help you to see your work in a broader context.  What do park groups see as...

read more

A Walk in the Park at Rowntree Mills

Park People recently launched A Walk in the Park, a program to establish community-led walking programs in parks across Toronto. The program will help train walk-leaders and support them in leading walks that connect older adults, seniors, and newcomers with easily...

read more

Park People Newsletter

Stay up to date with new developments in our parks by signing up for our free monthly newsletter below.

You can read past issues in our newsletter archive.

Instagram has returned invalid data.

How cities are finding solutions to combat scorching heat waves-- With practical strategies from @GlobalCoolCityt.co/SvjOqMR9jg

9 cities making polluted waterways into swimming hotspots including Montreal, Copenhagen and NYC via @curbedt.co/eexSVOKIKC

c