Webinar Insights on Creative Activation of Public Spaces
Discover the 6 key insights from our webinar “The pivot toward parks: How can we sustain creative activation of our public spaces beyond the pandemic?”. This webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces.
On October 20th, Park People hosted a webinar titled “The pivot toward parks: How can we sustain creative activation of our public spaces beyond the pandemic?” This webinar sparked the key insights listed below, which we hope will get communities excited to collaborate with city staff in a new vision for park activation.
The webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces. The webinar panellists included Sabina Ali, Executive Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Sarah Common & Alice ‘Ali’ Kenny, Hives for Humanity Society, Leslie Campbell, Senior Coordinator of Special Projects, FoodShare Toronto, Rebecca Till, Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, Vancouver Park Board. The webinar was moderated by Adam Hasham, Research Assistant, Park People. This webinar was presented in partnership with The Canadian Urban Institute.
Basics Before Activation
Panellists spoke to the need for basic park infrastructure and amenities - such as benches, garbage bins and washrooms in order to activate a park or public space.
Without the basics, a community activation may fall flat - or only be accessible to some. A community market without a place or to sit or the absence of public washrooms may mean that some cannot participate.
Sabina spoke to the excitement of having garbage bins installed in Thorncliffe park and Sarah and Ali spoke of the joy at seeing benches being reinstalled at Cathedral Square - a small gesture, but one that spoke to the city’s support and a reflection of the work that these organizations have done to activate these underutilized public spaces. City staff can go a long way to support community-level activation by providing the basics - provide a place to sit and a few amenities, and they will come.
Food Insecurity + COVID
The economic impact of the pandemic has created food insecurity in low-income neighbourhoods.
Panellists highlighted the opportunity to leverage parks as key places to provide access to fresh food, such as Foodshare’s Good Food Market or community gardens.
Leslie urged urbanists to think beyond the current definition of parks and public spaces and reflect on underutilized green spaces that could be better put to use - such as government-owned golf courses - and to work with communities to better understand their needs and go from there.
City Staff Supporting Community Organizations
City staff can better support the community by providing adequate funding and resources to community organizations and look for opportunities to cut red tape around community activation.
Many community organizations and nonprofits have to balance their work on the ground with the constant fight for funding and resources.
City staff can better support community-level change through recurring funding programs, providing financial and in-kind resources to community organizations, reducing restrictions and supporting capacity building.
Panellists spoke to the need for cities to provide greater support, trust and lessening of permit restrictions to support community-centric activation.
During the session, Sabina recounted the installation of a Tandoori oven in Thorncliffe park - a project that took years to implement due to city permit restrictions.
Panellists recommended city staff adopt a more nuanced approach to permits and regulations that account for specific contexts, especially in the delivery of programs and projects that activate the community, such as ceremonial fires and leveraging local green spaces to grow food in food-insecure communities.
Meet People Where They’re at
Sarah and Ali emphasized the value of working alongside communities and developing relationships with community members to understand local strengths and needs.
Working alongside the residents of a local park encampment will provide insight into the needs and values of that community. That’s why, when Hives for Humanity supported the redesign of Cathedral Square, they ensured that areas were covered in wood chips.
Those areas were designed to make it easy for people to place their tent in the newly redesigned areas, and feel welcomed in the space.
Nature Can Bring People Together
Panellists spoke to the opportunity for green spaces and nature to act as catalysts for social connection.
Access to parks and public spaces provide a space to meet others, while also supporting stronger ecosystems.
Biodiversity initiatives such as planting pollinators and rewilding spaces can bring people together, increase community resilience and have long-lasting social and ecological impacts.
Watch the full webinar
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Cover photo credit: Toronto Arts Foundation for Arts in the Parks Toronto