Putting people at the centre of parks and public spaces

When you put people at the centre of parks and public spaces you maximize the social, economic, health and environmental benefits for people, communities, and cities. 

Park People’s professional services build on our charitable work activating the power of parks. We help our clients engage communities, create quality programming, measure public space use, and apply innovative governance models and partnerships —all necessary ingredients to create dynamic parks in the 21st-century city.

We understand parks from top to bottom, and back again.

As Canada’s national city parks organization, Park People’s services and approach are rooted in our work leading research into park planning, policy, and engagement and our extensive network of cross-Canada park enthusiasts. Our broad definition of parks–from schoolyards to hydro corridors– and our experience with cross-sectoral partnerships help us think differently about what’s possible for parks and public spaces.

Our Services

Collaborative community engagement

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.

Placemaking 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 lead and supported community programming such as movie nights, art festivals, nature walks, and more.

Public life studies and park audits

In order to make a park great, you need to understand how people use it. Working with local community members, we design and manage public life studies that measure park use, leading to more informed designs and programming.

Creative park planning, governance and project management

With cities growing in density, there is a need to think creatively about parks and public spaces, including new governance models, philanthropic contributions, and partnerships. We work with municipal staff, designers, planners, and communities to devise practical and inspiring solutions to city park challenges, ensuring creative park projects realize their full potential.

Professional development and strategic advice

Whether you want to better understand how to work with underserved communities, manage philanthropic contributions, or just break outside the box to think differently about parks, our team can offer training sessions, workshops, and strategic advice that help address your needs. We have expertise in community engagement, partnership-building, philanthropic donation management, governance, and park planning and policy.

Our Projects

Signature Park Walks and Rail Deck Engagement

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 by the City to lead a series of public walks exploring signature parks around the city, their importance, and their opportunities and challenges. Park People also produced a blog series highlighting different aspects of the Rail Deck Park project.

Results: Over 230 people were engaged on four walks that took place in all 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. Back to top >>

TOcore Public Spaces Public Life Study

Park People worked with the City of Toronto and Gehl Studio to undertake Toronto’s first public life survey as part of the City’s overall TOcore downtown master plan process. Park People recruited more than 100 volunteer surveyors and coordinated and managed the study of people’s use 15 downtown public spaces. Park People trained volunteer surveyors to conduct behavioural observation surveys, pedestrian and cycling counts, as well as collect demographic information.

Results: 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. Back to top >>

The Bentway Governance Structure

     The Under Gardiner (now The Bentway) proposed to create 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 retained by Waterfront Toronto to devise a governance model for the park that could oversee programming, maintenance, and operations.

Results: 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.  Back to top >>

The Green Line

Working in partnership with local residents and the City of Toronto, Park People is driving forward the creation of this new 5km linear park and trail through an urban hydro corridor. We create engaging programming and invest in projects that draw people to the Green Line, such as a pollinator parade, harvest festival, gardens, murals, and walking tours.

Results: Over 1,000 people engaged through our events and activities since 2014. 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 in 2017. Back to top >>

TD Park Builders

Working with TD Bank Group, Park People delivers 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.

Results: Through this program, Park People has helped to build the capacity of 50 community members to organize 300 events drawing 18,000 people have helped create more vibrant park spaces in underserved neighbourhoods.

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The Bentway Engagement

     In order to solicit feedback both on the design and programming of a proposed new linear public space underneath an elevated highway (now The Bentway), Park People was hired by Waterfront Toronto to lead engagement walks of the site and produce a blog series highlighting specific topics and information about the project.

Results: Park People engaged over 200 people on four walks of the site that included people of all ages and from all over the city, producing a report for Waterfront Toronto that would help inform design and program planning. Back to top >>

Moonlight Movies in the Park

      In order to bring movies in the park to neighbourhoods outside the downtown core that don’t normally see this type of programming in green spaces, 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.

Results: In 2016, 10 movies nights were held with a total attendance of over 1700 The program was so successful that Park People continued to do summer movies with a new partnership with the City of Toronto in 2017. Back to top >>

Scarborough Butterfly Trail

          In order to revitalize a stretch of trail in the Gatineau hydro corridor that runs through Scarborough in Toronto into a community and natural amenity, Park People worked with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority through a grant from the Weston Family Parks Challenge to create an 80-acre naturalized butterfly meadow along a 3.5km stretch of trail.

Results: An area that was once simply mowed grass is now alive with the buzz and tweets of pollinators and birds and has become a popular community amenity where local politicians host community walks. The butterfly meadow is now being expanded to other sections of the hydro corridor with the future vision of including the entire hydro corridor across Scarborough. Back to top >> 

Friends of Regent Park

      Through a grant supported by the Park People-administered Weston Family Parks Challenge, Park People worked with CRC in Regent Park to hire an outreach coordinator to help form the Friends of Regent Park—a volunteer group to improve and animate Regent Park.

Results: The group has grown to include membership from both social housing and market housing units within Regent Park and put on successful events, such as the Taste of Regent Park. Group members also operate the on-site bake oven in the park and train other community members on how to use it. Back to top >>

Arts in the Parks

      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. Park People 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.

Results: Following a successful first season in 2016, Park People worked again with the Toronto Arts Council in 2017 on an expanded program that saw arts programming in 55 parks across the city.  Back to top >>

Photo Credit: Sarah Gladki

Sparking Change: Catalyzing the Social Impacts of Parks in Underserved Neighbourhoods

Published in 2017, 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. 

Results: Park People presented the report at the Heart of the City national city parks conference it organized in early 2017 and launched an impact measurement toolkit that helps cities and organizations track the social impact of their work. Back to top >>

Making Connections: Planning Parks and Open Space Networks in Urban Neighbourhoods

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.

Results: Making Connections has been downloaded over 20,000 times and went on to be an influential document in TOcore’s parks and public realm plan as noted by Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat. Back to top >> 


Thriving Places A Toolkit of Urban Parks and Open Spaces in the Greater Golden Horseshoe

Funded through the Province of Ontario’s Places to Grow Implementation Fund, Park People produced a toolkit of new parks and open spaces for municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region that are undergoing urbanization processes. The toolkit focused on a range of different kinds 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. 

Results: 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. Back to top>>


Our People

Dave Harvey, Executive Director and Founder: dharvey@parkpeople.ca

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.

Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy and Planning Manager: jgarrett@parkpeople.ca

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.

Natalie Brown, Program Manager: nbrown@parkpeople.ca

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.

Minaz Asani-Kanji, Outreach Manager: masani@parkpeople.ca

Minaz brings her strong background in community capacity building to her work at Park People, seeking out new community partners and working with residents to ensure projects get off the ground and become sustainable. She leads Park People’s Sparking Change program, which focuses on working with residents in underserved neighbourhoods to realize the potential of parks as outdoor community hubs.

Jodi Lastman, Marketing & Sponsorship Manager: jlastman@parkpeople.ca

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.

Brianna Aspinall, Project Manager: baspinall@parkpeople.ca

Brianna works with our ever-growing network of park friends groups—residents who volunteer their time to improve and animate their park. Prior to working at Park People, Brianna led volunteer engagement at Evergreen Brick Works engaging 600 plus volunteers and collaborated on a climate action engagement strategy in Waterloo Region. She excels at volunteer outreach and engagement, helping to devise volunteer opportunities and programs that are supportive, manage burn-out, and are personally rewarding.

Building Solutions Stories:

Parks and the creation of social capital

I had a friend in university who would pass the same person each day. Their schedules just matched up so they walked by each other at the same time in the same spot. It got to the point where they would nod hello or say hi to each other—their only interaction. My...

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2018 Toronto parks budget proposes little change

Another year, another dollar. It’s budget time in the City of Toronto again and this year—an election year, mind you—we’re seeing another budget that keeps our heads above water, but doesn’t invest in new or enhanced services for our parks. The budget must still go...

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