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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.

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Latest Blog Posts

It’s the last weekend of summer, so here’s what to do in parks

It’s the last weekend of summer, so here’s what to do in parks

It’s going to be beautiful, hot, and sunny–basically the summer we didn’t really have all crammed into the last two weekend days before Autumn starts. We were on Metro Morning today to talk about how to make the most of this gorgeous weekend by exploring Toronto’s parks. Missed the interview? No problem, we’ve also compiled a list that includes what we talked about–and a bit more we didn’t get to mention.

Guild Park & Gardens, Scarborough

Part outdoor sculpture museum, part nature trail, part historic building and restaurant, Guild Park is one of Toronto’s most unique parks. Formerly an artist colony, it features remnants of 19th and 20th century buildings demolished in Toronto before we decided to protect little things like heritage. You can see the columns from the Bank of Toronto building, demolished to make way for the modernist TD Centre, reconfigured as a greek theatre. Well worth a visit.

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Rouge Beach, Scarborough

Toronto is a waterfront city. Don’t believe us? Check out one of the amazing parks and beaches along our huge stretch of lakefront. Rouge Beach, right at the border with Pickering and at the mouth of the Rouge River, is a great one to explore. Just a short walk from the Rouge Hill GO Station, you’ll find trails, rocky breakwaters, bricks rolled smooth by the lake, and a nice sandy beach. Bring your sunscreen.

Humber River Trail, Etobicoke

If you want to stay cool, there’s no better way that dipping down into one of Toronto’s many ravines and going for a walk in a shady green tunnel. The trail along the Humber River is one of our favourites because it takes you top to bottom in Toronto, with only a few interruptions in the trail along the way. Lace up your walking shoes or bump up your bike tires and head out.

Edwards Gardens, North York

One of the city’s stunning garden parks (the others are Allan Gardens and Rosetta McClain Gardens), Edwards Gardens is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll through a manicured landscape. It also houses the Toronto Botanical Gardens and has a cafe on site in case you get peckish.

Scarborough Butterfly Trail, Scarborough 

This 80-acre butterfly meadow was created by the TRCA through a grant from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, a program Park People administered. It’s a beautiful naturalization of a hydro corridor trail and it’s the perfect time to go to see a bunch of Monarch butterflies flitting around. If you want a bit of a tour, you’re in luck. You can join a walk with MP Salma Zahid on Saturday, September 16 from 11am – 1pm. Register here.

Trillium Park, downtown 

Toronto’s newest waterfront park is also one of its most stunning, with beautiful views of downtown Toronto and grassy hillsides to lounge on. It’s also one of, if not the only, waterfront park near the downtown where you can actually get down close to the water. It’s connected to the Martin Goodman Trail, so it’s a perfect pitstop on a larger waterfront bike ride.

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Grange Park, downtown

A well-worth-the-wait revitalization of this park was just unveiled this summer and it’s everything we could have hoped for and more. With the AGO as a dramatic blue sky backdrop, this is the perfect spot for a green reprieve from a day of downtown shopping. The park also features one of the coolest playgrounds in Toronto, which looks like its own art piece to accompany the Henry Moore sculpture that now lives in the park.

 

Events

 

If more structured fun is what you’re after, then there’s a host of amazing events and activities that are happening around the city. Here’s a few of our favourites.

City Cider, Spadina House (Sept 17, 12pm – 5pm)

A fundraiser for the lovely non-profit Not Far From the Tree, which salvages our city’s fruits, this event features live music, food, games for kids, and of course fresh-pressed cider — both alcoholic and non. Also included are tours of Spadina House, one of the city’s heritage sites.

On Common Ground, Fort York Historic Site & The Bentway (Sept 15 – 17)

A mutli-cultural fest at the Fort York Historic Site and the forthcoming Bentway — one of Toronto’s most creative public space projects that will create repurpose space under the Gardiner Expressway as a linear public space. The festival features, dance, music, food, and of course tours of The Bentway.

OpenStreetsTO, Yonge & Bloor Streets (Sept 17, 10am – 2pm)

Bike, run, walk, roll, jump, skip, and play in the middle of Bloor and Yonge Street as the streets are closed to cars and opened up to people from 10am until 2pm on Sunday, August 17. Experience the city in a way that you never have before.

Butterflyway Parade, Kew Beach (Sept 17, 1pm – 6pm)

Celebrate our pollinator friends at this parade and party along the Beach boardwalk from Woodbine to Kew Gardens. This event is put on by the David Suzuki Foundation as part of their Butterflyway Project, which seeks to create more natural habitat for pollinators in cities. There will be music, crafts, food, a short film, and, of course, a parade.

What TOcore means for downtown parks and public spaces

Years of work on TOcore, a new downtown Toronto master plan, are coming to fruition, including a new parks and public realm plan that will guide development of parks and public space in the downtown for years to come. The draft plan was released last week--and there's...

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  • A repost from @greatlakeswaterwalk: "We've partnered with @shorelinecleanup and @parkppl to clean up the shorelines this weekend along Lake Ontario in advance of the Great Lakes Water Walk #GLWW17 on Sept 24 and we're looking for VOLUNTEERS! Want to help us clean up and care for Lake Ontario? You can join us for one (or more) clean up times/locations:
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🔹Friday September 22nd: 3pm-5pm Location: Rouge Beach
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🔹Saturday September 23rd: 12:00pm Location: west side of Humber Bay Arch Bridge along the arch to the east side of the Arch Bridge
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🔹Saturday, September 23rd: 12:00pm Location: Marilyn Bell Park
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🔹Saturday, September 23rd: 12:00pm Location: Colonel Samuel Smith Park
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🔹Saturday, September 23rd: 12:00pm Location: J. C. Saddington Park
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When showing up for a cleanup, look for people wearing the bright yellow t-shirt with the Great Lakes Water Walk logo on it. All details available on our Facebook event page." (via #InstaRepost @AppsKottage)

Oct 1 is Salmon Festival. We're hosting with @TRCA_Events feat music, food, games,& self guided tours.… t.co/jRmgxqQYZF

Oct 1 is Salmon Festival. We're hosting with @TRCA_Eventsfeat music, food, games,& self guided tours.… t.co/aFIgLmdNsu

Looks like a great discussion. t.co/VpYYt8JtMB

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