We understand parks from top to bottom, and back again.
We lead engagement programs that offer people meaningful opportunities to provide input, think more broadly about their park, and stay involved after the ribbon is cut. We shake up the consultation process by making engagement fun and informative, getting people outside the meeting room through walks, talks, and events.
Through community-based outreach, capacity building, and learning opportunities, Park People supports the growth and sustainability of Toronto’s park friends groups. These groups help animate and improve their local park through advocacy, programming, and stewardship. We have specifically worked outside of the downtown and in underserved neighbourhoods to support residents and organizations to get more involved in their park.
The number of park friends group has grown from under 40 mostly in the downtown to over 100 across every ward in the city. These groups support hundreds of activities each year and provide thousands of hours of volunteer time to animate and improve local parks.
Park People was hired by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to lead a community engagement exercise for the Meadoway, a vision to create a 16km linear park and trail in a hydro corridor. In order to engage people in this new largescale project and understand how it could connect in with people’s daily lives, we used community mapping to collect points of interest from residents on blown-up maps as well as an open digital map. This allowed us to collect where people spent time, their favourite routes, their local haunts, and more.
At 11 mapping events, Park People engaged with over 750 people who added approximately 300 data points. We produced an illustrated map of the key points of interest along the Meadoway which will be distributed to residents along the Meadoway as a way to show how their input was used and create a fun tool for residents to use to explore neighbourhoods along the route.
As part of the City of Toronto’s proposal to create a new signature 21-acre downtown park by decking over a rail corridor, Park People was hired to lead a series of public walks exploring signature parks, their importance, and their opportunities and challenges. The walks engaged people in the history and culture of large-scale park building in the city, situating Rail Deck Park within a larger context and spurring discussions about large park development.
Over 230 people were engaged on four walks that took place in the four districts of the city—downtown, North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough. A final report was produced for the City that compiled top comments and feedback heard on the walks, which was fed into the City’s Rail Deck Park planning process.
In order to solicit feedback both on the design and programming of a proposed new linear public space underneath an elevated highway, Park People was hired by Waterfront Toronto to lead engagement walks of the site and produce a blog series highlighting specific information. The walks were complimentary to other engagement Waterfront Toronto was leading, but differed by taking people out of meeting rooms and into the actual space to respond to questions and prompts.
Park People engaged over 200 people on four walks that included people of all ages and from all over the city. We produced a report for Waterfront Toronto that helped inform design and program planning.
We work with municipalities, community members, and other partners to design and deliver great programming that brings parks to life, with a particular focus on underserved communities. We have led and supported community programming such as movie nights, art festivals, nature walks, and more.
In order to create buzz and bring people out in winter to the King Street Transit Pilot area, Park People worked with the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services division to create a placemaking program that would animate new on-street public spaces created through the pilot. This included managing a pop-up curling rink and the creation of pop-up “living rooms” complete with wood burning stove and oven where we made baked treats right on the street.
Over a series of 12 animation days at 3 spots, Park People engaged with over 4,000 people who stopped by the animation sites and participated in activities.
Halloween doesn’t have to be over on November 1! Park People worked with the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry & Recreation division to promote and manage a series of community-led pumpkin parades. The program invited people to bring their carved pumpkins out to their local park for one last hurrah, the day after Halloween, helping to animate parks and ensure pumpkins were properly composted afterward. Park People co-created advertising materials, managed sponsorships, and an online portal which showed a map of all pumpkin parade locations.
Over 50 pumpkin parades were held on November 1, 2018 drawing an estimated 20,000 people out to parks around the city.
Park People was hired by the Toronto Arts Council to assist in the production of its signature Arts in the Parks program, which brings arts programming to parks outside the downtown core. We helped to manage the community engagement and outreach element of the programming, matching artists with park friends groups and community members in parks across the city.
Following a successful first season in 2016, Park People worked again with the Toronto Arts Council in 2017 and 2018 on an expanded program that saw arts programming in 55 parks across the city.
Working in partnership with local residents and the City of Toronto, Park People drove forward the creation of a new 5km linear park and trail through an urban hydro corridor. Park People created engaging programming and invested in placemaking projects that drew people to the Green Line, such as a pollinator parade, photo exhibit, harvest festival, gardens, murals, walking tours, and more.
Over 1,500 people have been directly engaged through Park People events and activities since 2014 and thousands more through online engagement in our newsletter and Twitter. Our work on the Green Line has led to significant investments from the City of Toronto, including over $1 million set aside for improvements and the creation of a Green Line Implementation Plan set to be approved in early 2019.
Park People worked with the Toronto International Film Festival to produce a series of movies in the park in the summer of 2016 that focused on underserved neighbourhoods. The goal was to bring movies to parks in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, which don’t often see this type of programming in public spaces.
In 2016, 10 movies nights were held with a total attendance of over 1,700. The program was so successful that we continued to do summer movies with a new partnership with the City of Toronto in 2017.
Public life studies
In order to make a park great, you need to understand how people use it. Working with our clients and local community members, we lead every step of the public life study process—from design to volunteer recruitment to analysis and communicating results. Through behavioural observation, public life studies lead to more informed designs and programming and take the guesswork out of understanding park use.
Park Peopled was hired by the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services division to design, manage, and analyze the results of a public life study of the King Street Transit Pilot area. This pilot prioritized streetcar travel along King Street, but also created nearly 20 new public spaces within the street right-of-way. Dividing the street into eight study zones, Park People examined the numbers of people walking and biking, how many people spent time on the street, who they were, and what they did.
Over two study periods (warm and cold weather) and six total study days, Park People recruited and trained over 100 volunteers who captured over 700 hours of observational data. This data was then analyzed to understand how the new public spaces were performing, recommend changes, and inform the future of the pilot.
Park People worked with Sidewalk Labs and Gehl Institute to create a public life study app whose goal was to make public life studies more accessible to community groups and municipalities. Designed as open-source, the app created a digital tool for the counting of bikes and pedestrians and the stationary mapping of activities in public spaces. Park People tested the app through a partnership with the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee in RV Burgess Park, training seven neighbourhood residents.
Park People worked with the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee to analyze 32 hours of data. The analysis was used by TPWC to inform future programming and grant applications and was provided to the City to inform future designs of the park. An interactive exhibit was also created at 307, Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto office and public demonstration centre to allow people to learn about and use the tool.
Park People worked with the City of Toronto and Gehl Studio to undertake Toronto’s first public life study as part of the City’s TOcore downtown master plan process. Park People recruited more than 100 volunteer surveyors and coordinated and managed the study of people’s use in downtown public spaces. Park People trained volunteer surveyors to conduct behavioural observation surveys, pedestrian, and cycling counts, as well as collect demographic information through in-person surveys.
Park People leveraged our network to recruit over 100 volunteers who collected 700 hours of data at 15 public spaces across the downtown, which was used to inform the Parks and Public Realm Master Plan for the downtown core and lead to more strategic investments in park improvements.
Designed to spark community-driven projects, microgrants or project grants are a great way to get input from a variety of players, build relationships, and see results on the ground quickly. Park People works with clients to create grant programs focused on specific regions, populations, themes, or design challenge and we’ve been successful at involving unusual suspects and gaining widespread attention.
Funded by Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation, the Public Space Incubator provides funding and support for new and innovative projects in Toronto that reimagine how we inhabit and enliven underused public spaces. Five projects are given up to $50,000 in funding each year and the program includes mentorship and networking from Park People, the Greenbergs, and a jury of eight professionals from different backgrounds.
In 2018, five projects received funding, including a community park café, a pop-up plaza in a strip mall, a train watching platform along a rail corridor, an Indigenous art project, and a laneway revitalization.
With funding from TD Bank Group, Park People delivered micro-grants to community members in low-income communities to facilitate engagement in parks through activities and events, building the capacity of residents to take on larger projects. These events have included physical fitness programs, community gardening projects, and small festivals.
Through this program, Park People has helped to build the capacity of 50 community members to organize 300 events drawing 18,000 people who have helped create more vibrant parks in underserved neighbourhoods. Several groups have gone on to apply for additional funding from other sources to continue their work and scale it up.
Through a collaboration between the Greenbelt Foundation and Park People, the Greenbelt River Valley Connector Program provides funding to support place-based community projects that celebrate and enhance recently protected Urban River Valley Systems across the GTHA. Five projects are given up to $25,000 each year providing residents with an opportunity to enjoy the social, cultural and environmental significance of these unique areas.
In its inaugural year in 2018, the program provided over $97,000 in funds to support community-led stewardship and education initiatives, including a conservation youth leadership program, a native plant workshop series for newcomers; and guided forest therapy walks.
Working with $5 million in funding from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and an additional investment of $1.125 million by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Park People designed, launched, and managed a three-year grant program to fund innovative, community-driven park projects in Toronto.
Park People handed out a total of 26 grants across Toronto, which involved 203 acres of green space improvements through planting 723,000 trees, plants, and shrubs. The program also involved over 10,000 volunteers that supported 86,000 program participants. The program spurred an additional $4.1 million in outside funding through over 400 partnerships that were developed.
Governance & strategy
With the growing complexity of today’s cities, it’s critical to explore new ideas for parks and public spaces, including responsible governance models. Park People works with a diversity of clients to create governance strategies and lead partnership and opportunity studies. This work informs new models that build on existing partner strengths, are rooted deeply in community involvement, and ensure partnerships are adding to—not replacing—the role of government.
Working with the Financial District BIA and its stakeholders, Park People undertook a partnership study of Cloud Gardens, a small public park in the financial district. The study included evaluating current park partnership models in Toronto and Canada, interviewing key stakeholders, and recommending a model for the Financial District BIA. This model provided recommendations on scale, governance, roles and responsibilities, funding opportunities, community engagement, and next steps.
The recommended approach was approved by the Financial District BIA’s board and the process of negotiating an agreement with the City was started. Full adoption of a partnership model is pending the revitalization of the park, set to reopen in 2022
Park People produced a strategy document for Metrolinx on greenspace opportunities for the agency related to their rail lines and upcoming rail projects. This work included examining rails-with-trails opportunities, grant programs to engage communities near station construction areas, and options to re-use felled trees in creative ways.
Park People presented the strategy document to Metrolinx staff to help inform future work within the agency.
The Bentway created a new linear public space beneath an elevated highway paid for by a private donation of $25 million. To ensure this unique space lived up to its potential, Park People and HR&A Advisors were hired by Waterfront Toronto to devise a governance model for the park that could oversee programming, maintenance, and operations. In this report, we explored existing Toronto park partnerships and the unique needs of The Bentway site in terms of arts and culture programming.
As recommended in the report, a new non-profit entity—the first conservancy in Toronto—was created to oversee The Bentway, passing unanimously at Toronto City Council.
Working with the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, Park People undertook a partnership and governance study for the Friends of Allan Gardens. Allan Gardens is a historic downtown garden park complete with a heritage conservatory. The study explored existing partnership models in Toronto and Canada, identified the opportunities of a partnership, and recommended an approach for the Friends of Allan Gardens that included focusing on a programming and engagement role.
The Friends of Allan Gardens hired a staff member to coordinate community engagement and volunteers in the park—a key recommendation coming out of our report. FOAG is now working towards a partnership agreement with the City of Toronto that will see the group expand its responsibilities to programming and animating the conservatory and its surrounding gardens.
Park People’s professional development workshops and training sessions will help your team develop skills, get inspired, and work through specific challenges related to your work in parks and public spaces.
Our engaging workshops are rooted in Park People’s experience in best in practice research, policy development, and on-the-ground public engagement in communities across Canada. These accredited workshops have been developed for municipal staff, landscape architects and designers, developers, urban planners, and non-profit and community development workers. Workshops are approximately 3 hours in length and can be tailored to meet your group’s needs and specific challenges. In-person workshops are currently available in the Greater Toronto Area, Greater Vancouver and Greater Montreal areas.
This workshop explores best practices for engaging communities in city parks to ensure parks are alive with programming that connect individuals in creative and meaningful ways. Learn more about:
In order to maximize the potential of city parks, we need to understand how people use them. This workshop will explore Park People’s process of designing and executing public life studies and how behavioural observations can lead to more informed investment, design and programming. This workshop will cover:
This workshop focuses on developing partnerships that support dynamic parks. Learn about various governance models for public spaces and explore the role philanthropy and private investment can play in parks. This workshop is ideal for individuals and teams tasked with developing funding or sponsorship strategies and looking to understand how to seek out and manage partnerships.
This workshop includes:
This workshop highlights the innovative use of public space city parks. We’ll highlight the full range of open and underused spaces available to municipalities including hydro corridors, schoolyards, streets and privately-owned publicly accessible spaces. This workshop is ideal for those responding to the challenges of creating parks in dense environments and developing creative urban park strategies.
This workshop includes:
Research & Reports
Parks and public spaces touch on so many aspects of our lives—our mental and physical health, our social connections and sense of community, the strength of our local economies, and the resilience of our environment. Park People leads the way in producing action-oriented Canadian research, combining our on-the-ground knowledge with our deep understanding of the current literature and access to content experts and case studies. The result is research that not only informs but points a way forward.
In the wake of massive floods that caused the Toronto Islands to be closed for almost the entirety of the 2017 summer season, Park People published a “park solutions brief” that proposed five ideas for Toronto to use green infrastructure in parks to create a more climate resilient city. The report drew on leading research, international and local case studies, and content experts.
The report influenced public dialogue about the importance of green infrastructure in our parks, leading to several media stories. One of the five ideas in the report—to institute a stormwater management charge—was a key policy plank of 2018 mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat.
Sparking Change explored the social impacts of park engagement in underserved neighbourhoods and the strategies that volunteers, non-profits, and city staff are using to achieve those impacts. It offers important tips and stories to help people foster more inclusive and welcoming engagement practices and maximize the benefits of parks for social cohesion, civic engagement, and leadership building.
Park People presented the report at the Heart of the City national city parks conference we organized in early 2017, launched an impact measurement toolkit that helps cities and organizations track the social impact of their work, and designed a new program in underserved neighbourhoods in Toronto that implements the report’s recommendations.
Funded through the Province of Ontario’s Places to Grow Implementation Fund, Park People produced a toolkit of new parks and open spaces in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region in areas undergoing urbanization. The toolkit focused on a range of public spaces—from plazas to neighbourhood parks to linear parks—and showcased innovative tools and strategies to shift from a suburban model of park planning to a more urban one.
Park People has been invited to present the report multiple times, including to the staff at the City of Mississauga and at the 2016 Ontario Professional Planners Institute where it was included as a highlight projects by the Ontario Growth Secretariat.
In the lead up to the City of Toronto undertaking the creation of TOcore—a new downtown master plan—Park People released a report called Making Connections, which focused on creative strategies cities are using to create networks of parks and public spaces in urban neighbourhoods. The report proposed eight guiding principles for planning these public space systems, drawing on examples from cities such as New York, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Montreal.
Making Connections has been downloaded over 20,000 times and went on to be an influential document in the City of Toronto’s TOCore downtown parks and public realm plan, approved by City Council in 2018. The report also influenced the creation of Toronto’s Bentway, showcasing the potential for public space underneath the urban highway.
Park People401 Richmond Street West
Natalie leads Park People’s national network, building relationships across Canada with municipal staff, non-profits, and community members to grow the parks movement across the country. She has a keen understanding of cross-Canada park projects and strong project management skills. Natalie lead the development of Park People’s first national city parks conference in 2017, which brought over 100 park leaders and enthusiasts to Calgary.
Executive Director and Founder
Dave has decades of experience working in government on municipal and environmental issues, including as a senior policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario. He excels at bringing partners together and strategic thinking to overcome complex challenges. He is passionate about community involvement in parks, which is why he founded Park People in 2011 under the motto: when communities get involved, parks get better.
Jill is helping Park People build new partnerships and programs throughout the GTHA. With over 10 years experience in both the private and non-profit environmental sectors she has a strong passion for nature and community engagement. Prior to joining Park People, Jill lead community greening initiatives across York Region as a Project Manager with Evergreen.
Manager, Marketing & Communications
Jodi leads Park People’s communications and marketing, including our continuously growing social media presence, newsletters, and sponsorship relationships. Jodi curates and writes content for Park People’s blog to keep park people coming back to our website to engage with meaningful stories that keeps them inspired.
Development Lead for Montreal
Caroline is the Park People Development Lead for Montreal. Caroline brings a deep knowledge of Montreal’s professional, municipal and community networks as well as over ten years of multi-disciplinary urban design experience to the Park People team. She was the development coordinator for the Champ des Possibles for 5 years. Caroline graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design from the University of Quebec in Montreal and a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Université de Montréal.
Mash is the Program Coordinator for Park People in BC. She graduated in 2016 with her BSc in Ecological Restoration and a Diploma of Technology in Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation from BCIT. She has a passion for bringing nature and people together in a way that is sustainable for the long term. Before starting her role at Park People, she worked as a park patroller for the Metro Vancouver Regional District, educating visitors on the trails about the local wildlife.
Jake Tobin Garrett
Policy and Planning Manager
With his background in journalism and Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto, Jake leads Park People’s research, policy development, and community engagement work. This includes writing Park People’s research reports, leading public walks, and managing projects such as the City of Toronto’s first downtown public life study. He is a strong public speaker, writer, and is passionate about pushing the boundaries of parks as places of physical and social connection.