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

Sparking Change explores the social impacts of communities in underserved neighbourhoods becoming involved in animating and improving their local park, and identifies common strategies taken by both community members and partner organizations to support this work.

The report tells the story of communities that have taken action through spearheading improvements, engaging diverse community members, and organizing events and activities that draw people into the park—a process we refer to as park engagement.

Through interviews with community volunteers, partner organizations, and city staff in seven different North American cities, including Toronto, we highlight five major social impacts of park engagement. Through stories, lessons, and strategies, the report explores how park engagement can:


  1. Create a sense of change and shared ownership
  2. Build confidence and inspire civic leaders
  3. Reduce social isolation and create inclusive communities
  4. Provide a place for diverse people to gather
  5. Support local economic development

Sparking Change Executive Summary

A brief overview of the main points in the Sparking Change report including its main themes and core strategies.

Sparking Change Literature Review

Sparking Change is based on a thorough review of academic literature exploring social and community impacts of parks, green spaces, and volunteering, with a specific focus on research based in underserved neighbourhoods, including areas with high populations of newcomers and people living on lower incomes. While the report contains much of this research, we also developed a separate literature review for those interested in reading a survey of the academic literature on the subject.

Sparking Change Evaluation Toolkit

To help measure the impact of this work, Park People developed the Sparking Change Evaluation Toolkit, which contains a logic model, measurement framework, and survey and evaluation tools. These are free to download and we encourage you to use, adapt, and distribute them.

We hope this report inspires a conversation about the social impacts of parks and encourage you to contact us with your feedback, comments, questions, stories, and strategies at

This research has been made possible through generous funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Thank you also to TD Bank Group for their additional support.