Webinar Insights on Park People’s Community Resilience Program
On November 10th, Park People hosted a webinar titled “Park Animators: How to Inspire Safe, Community-led park animation and build community resilience.” This webinar sparked the key insights listed below which we hope will get communities and organizations excited to explore and activate their own communities.
The webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces. The webinar featured Park People’s Community Resilience Project and panellists included Reiko Ema, Community Resilience Project Coordinator at Park People, Abdul Rashid Athar, Park Animator for Park People at Flemingdon Park and Hanbo Jia, Park Animator for Park People in the Agincourt neighbourhood in North Scarborough, Toronto. This webinar was moderated by Stephanie Stanov, Program Coordinator at Park People.
People living in underserved neighbourhoods, which are often COVID-19 hotspots, are rightfully concerned about venturing outdoors. As a result, they are experiencing an increased risk of social isolation and related mental and physical health challenges.
In an attempt to address these challenges, and get more people active and outdoors, Park People launched the Community Resilience Project – a pilot program to help people living in underserved communities safely access the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Webinar Insights on Wellbeing and Park Investment
On October 22nd, Park People hosted a webinar titled “Healthy parks and healthy people: A (not boring) conversation about the future of park investment”. This webinar sparked the key insights listed below, which we hope will get communities and city staff excited about the connection between parks and wellbeing.
Webinar Insights on Creative Activation of 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.
Pumpkin Parades started in Toronto in 2004. They’ve not only grown in popularity locally but have spread right across the country, landing in cities like Vancouver. Held on November 1st each year, the City of Toronto has historically provided free park permits and provided on-site pumpkin composting at the end of the night.
This year under the gloomy shadow of the second wave of COVID 19, the City of Toronto did not issue Pumpkin Parade permits.
Even though in-person Pumpkin Parades were canceled, through Park People’s Sparking Change and Community Resilience programs, Park People helped make virtual and safe in-person Halloween-related events happen in underserved communities. We positioned the events as “Fall Fests” in order to include those who have not traditionally celebrated Halloween. In fact, we learned that almost ½ of the people in attendance had never carved a pumpkin before.
These “Fall Fest” events included:
A series of free pumpkin giveaways in parks,
A virtual pumpkin carving demonstration and
Safe, in person and virtual pumpkin parades.
The popularity of these Fall Fest events show that people are looking for social connection now, more than ever. For example, we saw newcomers taking a risk and participating in new ways because they were craving activities that would make them feel like part of the community. The Fall Fest was a success because it created a safe space for people to once again feel a sense of community.
Fall Fest by the numbers.
250: The number of pumpkins given away by communities
184: The people that attended “Fall Fest” events
32: the number of communities represented at the events
20: The number of pumpkin events during our “Fall Fest”
10: number of communities where we gave away free pumpkins
5: the number of communities that hosted live or social distanced pumpkin carving events
4: the number of communities that hosted live or social distanced pumpkin parades
Here are key lessons from the Fall Fest events:
Give it away now:
We quickly saw how critical the pumpkin giveaways were to participation. In these communities where many people had never participated in Halloween events, pumpkins are not a priority item to purchase. Also, try lugging a pumpkin on public transit along with other groceries. You get the idea. The free pumpkin giveaways in parks got people excited to engage in and embrace a new creative activity.
Consider your position:
Rather than theming these events as Halloween activities, we called the events “Fall Fests.” This positioning was critical to the events’ success. Newcomers may not be familiar with the North American concept of Halloween and using that terminology may be intimidating or foreign. Using seasonal language helped make the event more inclusive and feel welcoming to those who were carving and displaying pumpkins for the very first time.
Show me the way:
The pumpkin carving demonstrations and virtual events helped people get involved in a low-risk way.
The virtual pumpkin carving session not only provided creative inspiration for pumpkins but also featured live music, storytelling, and activities.
The demonstration helped people become inspired to participate for the first time. Also, the virtual format made the event accessible to many, like seniors, who may not have been able to participate in person. Don’t think for a minute that pumpkin carving is just for kids. Seniors in these communities loved having the opportunity to make a gooey mess for the first time.
The ‘Fall Fest’ events helped Sparking Change and Community Resilience leaders develop new skills by hosting a small scale event and seeing how their efforts paid off. The Fall Fest event provided a great opportunity for park leaders and animators to build skills and confidence necessary to make great things happen in communities.
Make a contest of it
People love a good contest- but not if it’s too competitive. The contest aspect of the Pumpkin Parade helped motivate more people to participate and to bring all their creativity to the process. However, it’s important to make everyone feel like they have a chance to win. You can do that by creating multiple categories of ‘winners’ that meet different criteria.
Mix it up
Including artists and storytelling into the virtual pumpkin carving event was a great way to keep the event lively. When you’re planning your event, remember that it can be challenging for people to hold their focus on a single thing for a long time. It’s good to mix up the program and offer a bit of something for everyone. It’s also an opportunity to invite artists and other guests from the community to show off their talents on a whole new stage for new, local audiences.
Thanks to our generous supporters
The Balsam Foundation
Why We Must Make Parks Safe and Welcoming this Winter
During the first wave of COVID-19, Park People’s survey of 1600 Canadians found almost three-quarters reported that their appreciation for parks and green spaces had increased. Also, 82% of Canadians reported that parks have become more important to their mental health during COVID.
Since the start of the pandemic, city parks have played a key role in keeping Canadians safe, connected, and happy. Now, with winter nearly upon us, we must work together to identify and implement policies and programs that support Canadians’ ability to safely access the city parks that allow us to connect to nature and each other.
Photo credit: Ksenja Hotic
In a CBC article, Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist with the Sinai Health System and University Health Network in Toronto underscores that getting outdoors is not just a nice to have, it is vital to supporting Canadians’ mental and physical health. Dr. Morris says that this winter,
“We need to be changing all aspects of our life, and we need to get back to really encouraging more outdoor life and outdoor recreation.”
It’s undeniable that Canada is a winter nation, even though we may experience different winter climates. That’s why Park People has always encouraged people to experience the full potential of our city parks during our colder months. Our resources and research highlight that there’s no shortage of creative ways to get people outside and moving around all winter long.
This winter, Park People already has several wonderful winter programs underway that showcase creative possibilities. For example, this winter, TD Park People Winter Grants will support community park groups to safely host winter activities in parks across Canada. Also, this winter Park People’s Community Resilience Projectwill support local Park Animators who will help parks feel more safe and accessible for people living in Toronto’s underserved communities.
In Canada and around the world, people are coming together to find creative, safe ways to make parks welcoming this winter.
For example, in Toronto, a community rallied together to delay plans to renovate the ice rink at Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park so that skating would continue for one more (very important!) skating season before renovations begin. If the equipment fails, the city is creatively prepared to step in and provide a natural ice rink, as long as weather permits.
Park People strongly believes that cities across Canada need to do all they can to ensure parks are safe and welcoming this winter. This is especially true for people living in underserved neighbourhoods, seniors, and youth in our cities. People living in underserved neighbourhoods, which are often COVID-19 hotspots, are rightfully concerned about venturing outdoors. As a result, they are experiencing an increased risk of social isolation and related mental and physical health challenges.
Canadian cities did an outstanding job helping people get outside this summer – we need an even stronger effort this winter. The following are some priority areas Park People has identified that would make a profound impact on Canadians’ mental and physical health this winter:
“In Canada, we behave as if urination, defecation and menstruation are not routine bodily functions, but are somehow optional if we are away from our homes.” Adding that: “The answer is not to refuse to build public bathrooms, it is to value and maintain them as any other public infrastructure.”
This winter, getting people outdoors will require a comprehensive plan to help people have access to public bathrooms in parks. We encourage cities to open winterized bathrooms and provide portable toilets and handwashing stations in parks wherever possible.
Providing access to simple exercise will be key to promoting people’s health and wellbeing this winter. Without cleared park pathways, people simply cannot safely walk outdoors. This winter, it will be critical for cities to develop snow clearing plans for all paved pedestrian and cycling pathways in city parks. Without a comprehensive plan to clear park pathways, our seniors particularly face a heightened risk of compromised mental and physical health.
Safe Park Programming:
Finally, research hasshown that each additional supervised activity in a park leads to a 48% increase in park use. As winter’s chill coaxes us to stay inside, funding safe, socially distanced, park events will help draw people outdoors where they can connect with nature and each other.
For example, through its Winter Cities program, Edmonton actively promotes and runs a variety of winter programming—from snowshoeing to winter picnicking—to invite people outdoors. A recent survey by the city found 44% of residents said they had a more positive perception of winter since the program.
Also, Charlottetown hosts WinterlovePEI every February, which is put on by a grassroots organization that promotes cold-loving events like “snoga in the park.” This kind of creativity will draw people out into parks and support people’s mental and physical health.
Park People is eager to support cities and communities to make winter warmer. We’ll continue to share ideas and best practices and learn from leading jurisdictions to make the most of winter. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on what’s happening this winter, and email us if you know of a program that is helping to create a safe, healthy and beautiful winter in Canada.
Our October 5, our webinar titled “Past, Present, Future: Who gets to write urbanism’s next chapter?” inspired the six key insights below, which we hope will help shape identified conventional policies and practices that need to be addressed and offer a vision for the future of urbanism.
Webinar Insights on Reimagining Public Engagement in Parks and Public Spaces
Our September 30, our webinar titled “Don’t just tick the box, think outside it: Reimagining public engagement in parks and public spaces” inspired the seven key insights below, which we hope will help shape new creative and community-centric approaches to community engagement that happen long before park designs are rendered and long after the ribbon is cut.
The webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces. The webinar panellists were Nakuset, Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and Matthew Huxley, Chair of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness Lived Experience Working Group.
7 Questions: Perspectives on the future of parks and public spaces – A webinar series
This webinar series was created to directly address these questions. In the series, you’ll learn about park-based solutions to address the urgent and immediate needs arising out of Covid-19 and parks’ role in creating a more inclusive and sustainable future.
The series is ticket-based with a pay-what-you-can structure. All donations will go directly to support Park People’s programs and initiatives.
The webinars are in English but a number of the sessions will offer simultaneous French interpretation. View the specific webinar links to find out more.