Join Park People and the global climate strike on September 27

Months ago, I signed on to receive updates from my local chapter of Fridays for Future, a global movement that started in August 2018, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis.  My goal was to take some time away from work on a few Fridays to join  youth, including my two teenage daughters, at Queen’s Park on Fridays to connect with others and form a collective sense of urgency and action for climate change.

I’m ashamed to say, I have not gone once.

Like many, I live in two worlds: one where daily to-do lists keep me focused on the present, while horrible existential dread about climate crisis makes me feel overwhelmed and afraid. 

Greta explained her rationale for striking from school this way:

“Why study for a future that isn’t there? Why spend effort becoming educated when the government doesn’t listen to or behave like the educated?”

Of course, the same can be said about work. I remember turning to my husband a few years ago, saying, “if what they’re saying about the climate crisis is true, why don’t we all stop everything, stop working, and put all of our energy into saving ourselves?” This is what Greta was brave and smart enough to do when she stopped going to school.

Now it’s our turn to take a stand with kids and youth like her and put human life and the life of species that share this planet before our daily work lives. In Greta’s own words:

“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope, but I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”

It’s scary, but she’s right. And we support her and all of the other youth who face a scary and uncertain future. 

In our weekly staff meeting last week, two of my brave and smart colleagues encouraged us to strike together and walk out of our offices on September 27th because our house is on fire. Our Founder and management agreed.  That’s why I, along with all of my Park People colleagues will stop work on September 27th and walk out in solidarity with students all across Canada who will strike from school to express the urgent need to address the climate crisis. 

Park People’s work is strongly connected to the environmental movement. We know that many of our community park groups focus on environmental stewardship and have a deep love of nature. But more than that, all of us are humans who want to continue living on this planet and sharing it with other species, and we know that we must act now.

 

We hope you’ll join us in your communities and Strike for the Climate on September 27th. 

 

Here are ways you can get involved: 

If you can’t strike: Check out Global Climate Strike to find other ways to participate,  including a digital strike.

Public toilets in parks: can we make them less crappy?

The topic may, at first blush, seem unimportant. But, make no mistake about it, public toilets are a major public health issue. In an excellent article, The Globe & Mail’s Andre Picard commented that:

“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.

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we spoke to five park people from across Canada to get their take on how public toilets could be less crappy.

 

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Lezlie Lowe, The Journalist

Halifax Journalist Lezlie Lowe is literally writing the book on public toilets in Canada. She was inspired to write the book when she became a mother, spending time in Halifax’s Common, Canada’s oldest urban park. “The only bathroom on the premises was in a basement where I couldn’t take the stroller and the public bathroom was often locked.” This caused her to contemplate the politics of public bathrooms.

Lowe’s way of moving through the city changed because, as the parent of two daughters, her needs had shifted. What she’s discovered through this new lens is that it’s challenging to try and fix the lack of access to public bathrooms, particularly if you’re not a person of privilege.

“If you have compromised access to public bathrooms and you don’t have a voice, it’s hard to get things changed.”

Lowe points to the particular challenges of homeless, trans and disabled people who face unique challenges when accessing public bathrooms.

“Public bathrooms are supposed to be for anybody. But that access is compromised if there are activities deemed “anti-social” going on in public bathrooms. When that happens,  instead of fixing the challenge, bathrooms are simply shut down.”

Lowe points to the fact that while most public bathrooms are divided 50/50 for men and women, women actually need more bathrooms than men do. First, women tend to use bathrooms more frequently. Also, because women are more often the caregivers of children and seniors, they have others who accompany them on their bathroom visits. That explains why there’s always a lineup for the women’s bathroom.

Watch out for Lowe’s book No Place To Go, being released by Coach House books in September, 2018.

 

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Joan Kuyek, The Advocate

An Ottawa Civics Bootcamp gave birth to an organization that advocates for public toilets. At the session, Joan Kuyek and her team developed a 5 minute pitch that was so well received that it led to GottaGo!, a campaign for safe, clean, accessible and easy to find toilets in Ottawa.

Kuyek believes that public toilets suffer under a veil of silence that needs to be broken. She likens breaking the stigma around public toilets to Margaret Mitchell’s pronouncements about domestic abuse in the House of Commons in 1983. “It’s time to let go of the stigma, shame and silence that gets in the way of providing publicly accessible toilets,” says Kuyek. Gottago! does just that.

Ottawa’s highly trafficked Dundonald Park was recently renovated, without the inclusion of a publically accessible toilet. What are the practical implications? “The seniors who used to do Tai Chi in the park can no longer get together there. Not without a bathroom,” says Kuyek. We know that only 5% of seniors use parks. Kuyek believes this number would be much higher if we provided basic facilities that would make it easier for seniors to venture out without worrying about how they’ll be able to find a bathroom should they need one.

Kuyek acknowledges that building new public toilets is expensive. Installing and maintaining a new bathroom is somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 dollars. In the interim, she welcomes the use of porta potties, but doesn’t see that as a suitable long term solution.

Montreal has installed composting toilets that cost in the neighbourhood of $30,000 to $40,000 dollars, which Kuyek sees as the best solution for everyone.  A typical composting toilet is completely waterless and the waste from composting toilets is processed on-site.  

“Every park needs a public bathroom. Otherwise the amenities created for people simply can’t be used by many. If we want the health benefits of parks, we have to provide bathrooms.”

Most importantly, we need to have the conversation about public toilets in a way that reduces the stigma associated with bodily functions. “It can’t be hidden away anymore.”

 

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Jason Singh, The Disruptor

Living with Crohn’s or Colitis can mean upwards of 20 urgent bathroom trips a day. It’s a huge issue for the 250,000 Canadians who have Crohn’s or Colitis and face serious social isolation without enough access to public bathrooms. That’s why Crohn’s and Colitis Canada developed the GoHere Washroom Access Initiative which is based on three key components:

  1. Local businesses and organizations sign on to the program and display a decal letting people know their bathrooms are open to those in need-no questions asked
  2. There’s a mobile app that helps people find the closest available washroom registered with the GoHere initiative
  3. A GoHere card (both printed and virtual versions) acts as a safeguard for people facing emergencies and needing access to a location. It’s a shorthand that helps people explain their need without having to speak about it in public.

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is actively working with a number of municipalities such as Toronto, Mississauga, Calgary and Stratford to open up washroom access at city operated facilities such as civic and community centres, helping to make communities more accessible.

“All people should be in a position to venture out without anxiety,” says Jason Singh Manager, Innovative Health Initiatives with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. “This is a hidden disease that affects so many Canadians. When our constituents have the right accommodations, everyone benefits.”

 

 

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Rebecca Pinkus, The Urbanist

“I’ve been a park person for the better part of my life,” says Rebecca Pinkus. And she means it. Pinkus is an “”Olmsted groupie” who focused her masters research on the history of engineering green space, and she is deeply interested in the role of urban parks on mental health. Her park-time increased last year when she got an allotment garden in High Park, a 109 plot garden in Toronto’s biggest park. In her section of the park, a porta potty has been provided by the City and is used by the gardeners who often work on-site for several hours. It’s also used by dog walkers, runners and the general park population.

Rebecca finds that the porta potties do the trick, as they are generally well maintained and clean. In fact, she sent a thank you note to the City when they replaced the free standing flush-model unit that people had trouble using with a standard no-flush model.

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Photo Credit: Rebecca Pinkus

However, Pinkus worries that the porta potties aren’t accessible to people in wheelchairs and mobility devices. Also, she says, there have been times when the lock has been broken and fellow gardeners have had to stand watch while others used the facilities.

Rebecca understands the risks and costs associated with installing bathrooms. City workers need to address issues such as drug use, vandalism and misuse of the space. However, she wonders whether compost toilets might be a better long term, year-round solution. “I’ve used them at Everdale Farm and they’re amazing,” she says. “I wish the city would consider installing them in places like High Park.”

 

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Stuart Mackinnon, The Commissioner

Stuart Mackinnon is a Commissioner of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Mackinnon’s long been an advocate for public bathrooms across Vancouver. He is adamant that “”publicly accessible bathrooms need to be approached as a public health issue.” This issue is particularly urgent as the population ages, he says.

Mackinnon was pleased to see that Vancouver’s recent capital plan included $12.3 million to maintain and renovate publicly accessible washrooms which include washrooms in field houses and concession stands.  Even though that’s a big investment, Mackinnon admits, “it’s very expensive to put in a public bathroom.” Those capital costs include building the infrastructure to pipe in water.

“No one really likes porta potties,” says Mackinnon, “they’re ugly, smelly and community members complain about them.”

One solution to the lack of publicly accessible bathrooms is mixed use development, which Mackinnon says is “just good design.” Once the city is investing in infrastructure for new seniors or daycare centres or community centres, they also build publicly accessible bathrooms outside the building when they’re located adjacent to parks. It’s a solution Mackinnon would like to see spread around his city, and across Canada.

Also, during his term as Commissioner Mackinnon has championed the availability of hand soap. It seems obvious, but before 2010 many public bathrooms did not provide soap because there had been issues of soap being misused and soap dispensers being pulled off the wall.

As a public school teacher, he knows how hard the government has worked to inform people about the importance of hand washing as a critical method of avoiding communicable ailments like the flu. “Dealing with this kind of stuff is just the cost of running public services,” says Mackinnon, “and the cost of not providing soap, from a public health standpoint, is much higher”

 

Pot in the Parks: What city builders across Canada say about what the legalization of marijuana will mean for public spaces

With pot smoking set to become legal in Canada on October 17, we’ve been wondering what legalization might mean for parks and public places which are the living rooms and backyards of city dwellers coast to coast.

Chances are you’ve sniffed pot wafting through the park more and more lately. Of course city bylaws make it illegal to puff in our parks, but apparently, not everyone’s received the memo. We spoke to three city builders in three of Canada’s key cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary,  to get their opinion about what the legalization of pot smoking will mean for the use of parks and public spaces and the people who love them.

A Vancouver Perspective: Mitchell Reardon

“Public pot smoking has been widespread in Vancouver for several decades. The city has changed a lot since the Gastown Riots in 1971,” says Mitchell Reardon, who is Experiments Lead & Urban Planning and Design Lead at Happy City, a Vancouver firm that “uses lessons from psychology and public health to design happiness into neighbourhoods and cities around the world.”

Reardon emphasizes that, like most west coast cities, Vancouver tends to have a “live and let live” vibe which extends to the general feeling about pot smoking in parks and public spaces. However, just because the wafting smell of pot isn’t shocking to Vancouver’s residents, don’t assume that public pot smoking isn’t a budding issue in the city.

Reardon thinks that visible pot smoking could be used as a political wedge issue, used to roll back progress on issues like the pedestrianization of urban streets.  Vancouver’s Robson Square is a car-free space that has been opposed on the basis that cannabis vendors have popped up in the square. A 2016 article features the headline “Local businesses rethink Robson Square plans after police raid marijuana market.” Reardon thinks that if pot sales become visible in public spaces, it might be used as a tactic to undermine innovative projects like the pedestrianization of Robson Square.

“My biggest concern is that legalization is used as a wedge issue to block public space” says Reardon.

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Photo Credit: Nathaniel F, Robson Square

Ultimately Reardon believes that existing smoking by-laws, as well as those regarding public safety and anti-social behaviour can be applied to the challenges  that might arise from pot smoking in Vancouver parks.  Otherwise, it’s not an issue he thinks is deeply concerning. He adds, “In a city where nearly 500 people died of drug overdoses in 2017, and where needles are a common site in many Vancouver neighbourhoods, the public space concerns associated with pot use are dwarfed by our crippling opioid crisis.”

A Toronto Perspective: Carolyn Wong

About five years ago Trinity Bellwoods became the park to be seen hanging out in during the warm summer months. Even the New York Times highlighted the park in their 36 Hours in Toronto feature. Drinking and pot smoking had become so commonplace in the park that a heated community meeting was called to address the growing frustration of local residents. There are about five dispensaries within a short walk of Trinity Bellwoods and, in some ways, it has become ground zero for recreational weed consumption in public spaces in Toronto.

Recently, a Facebook event popped up for a party in Trinity Bellwoods called “First Legal Smoke in Trinity Bellwoods” and dated October 17th, the day pot is set to become legalized. Quickly, the event filled up with comments from local residents including one that read:

“I’m happy that weed is going to be legal but please stay away from the playground and dog bowl. Keep in mind that TB [Trinity Bellwoods]  is a place many go to escape the city in the city. Getting smoked out is not going to be nice for anyone other than you. Please consider your neighbours just trying to enjoy the park.”

Carolyn Wong, a member of Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park and manager of the weekly Farmer’s Market, is pretty chill about the whole pot in parks issue. But, she makes an important point: “Pot smell is thick and it hangs in the air. Not everyone wants to smell it.” When she smells pot at the Tuesday Farmers Market, she generally requests that the smoker take a moment to step away from shoppers so as not to invade other’s space.

Similarly, Wong notes, recently pot smokers who lit up during a movie night in the dog bowl were politely asked by other movie watchers to move away from the crowd gathered to see the show. As far as Carolyn is concerned, if people just applied the basic rules of common sense and courtesy,  legalization wouldn’t be a big challenge to park groups.

Wong would love to see a public campaign that reminds people to keep the smoke away from others in the park. She points to the old Ben Wicks “Be Nice, and Clear Your Ice” television campaign which reminded Torontonians to clean up the ice around their home and businesses for the safety of others: “A campaign reminding people to be courteous about smoking in general would be great,” she says.

A Calgary Perspective: Druh Farrell

Druh Farrell, a city councillor in Calgary’s Ward 7 is taking a “wait and see” approach to the issue of pot smoking in parks. She’s encountered the increased use of recreational drugs in Calgary’s large urban parks like Prince’s Island and Riley Park. But is it a concern? “Only time will tell,” she says.

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Photo Credit: Prince’s Island, Wendy Cutler

Farrell believes that there will be a lot to learn once cannabis is legalized, but she’s confident because “Calgary has done a good job of researching other cities and has come up with a balanced approach.”

On the question of Cannabis Tourism, which could see people visiting Canadian cities in order to enjoy the benefits of pot legalization, Farrell admits that visitors may be inclined to visit Calgary and partake in public spaces without much thought to existing bylaws. However, Farrell believes that the city will need to be nimble and react to the realities of pot use in public rather than create policies based on issues that may never come to pass.

Like Carolyn Wong, however, Farrell believes that it wouldn’t hurt to remind Canadians of their responsibility to other park and public space users.

 

 

 

It’s Spring in Your Park: What you Need to Get Started

Spring has sprung. And with it, a new feature on Park People’s website.

We’ve created an entire library of park resources to give you free access a tips, tools on topics from organizing events in parks to working with your city councillor. It’s also where you’ll find all of Park People’s own research reports. 

When you see people in their winter coats, faces turned to the sun, you know park season is ready for its season opener. Here are the must-read resources that you’ll want to check-out as park season starts to unfold.

Park Cleanups

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The debris that accumulated during the winter makes your park look like it’s in a major slump instead of primed and ready for warm weather. Fear not,  a park clean-up is a perfect way to kick start your park group’s annual event line-up and get the community members involved in taking direct ownership over their community park

Here are two resources to get you started planning your park cleanup:

Here are the dates and links to cleanups key Canadian cities:

 

Jane’s Walks

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May 4th, 5th, and 6th, participate in this global festival of citizen-led walks. Now in over 40 Canadian cities, Jane’s Walks activate the ideas of Jane Jacobs through citizen-led walking tours that make space for people to collectively re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.

Leading a Jane’s walk in your park is a great way to get a park group started, or to uncover some of the unique attributes of your park and surrounding neighbourhood.

We’ve created a resource on how you can lead a great Jane’s Walk in your park.  

 

Plan for Planting

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Overton 

A food forest produces more and more food over time. You can think of it as an RRSP. Planting perennial vines and fruit is a solid long term investment in food security.

If you’ve ever picked berries along a trail or shared  your home-grown abundance of fruit or vegetables (zucchini seems to be particularly popular) with neighbours, you know something the power of urban agriculture. Several organizations across Canada, like Kitchener, Ontario’s Grand River Food Forestry and Richmond British Columbia’s Richmond Food Security Society run programs that make use of urban fruit to benefit communities.

We’ve created resources based on their experiences. Learn about:

 

Please be sure to take a tour of our new resources library, and tell us the resources you want to see here by emailing us at info@parkpeople.ca

 

Park Summit 2018: A Serious Look at Play

Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he said: “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.” This year’s Park Summit presenters have this talent nailed down. Each has a unique ability to cultivate playfulness among targeted audiences to reach particular goals.

Yes, it can feel odd to speak so seriously about play, but creating intentional outcomes using play requires serious planning and consideration.  As speakers from both Montreal and Toronto demonstrated, it’s critical to determine what you want to achieve through play to deploy it most effectively. The presentations our Park Summit speakers shared offer many lessons for those of us trying to figure out how to use play to create impact-both among park and public space users and the key stakeholders who make decisions about how space does, and does not, get used.

 

The act of seduction

Marie-Hélène Roch, Founding Member of Ruelle No 13 project, a white laneway in Montreal’s Villeray neighbourhood, spoke about creating a space that entices people to play during cold winter months. She said:

“Together we’re trying to create a cocoon that’s conducive to gathering.”

Sometimes the snowy laneway is a cocoon formed of active play like hockey or fort-building, and other times it’s a cocoon of warm, delicious food that seduces people to leave their living rooms and come outside to break bread.

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Marie-Hélène highlighted the seductive powers of food in particular when discussing Ruelle No 13 project’s participation in Restaurant Day, a worldwide festival of people organizing their own pop up food events in shared spaces. Bringing Restaurant Day to the snowy laneway helped Ruelle No 13 lure people into the space to enjoy the benefits of gathering together and experiencing new possibilities for their shared, underused space.

 

Be present for play

Janelle, from Green Change at Toronto’s Jane-Finch Community Centre, has her own take on what it takes to entice people to play together. In short, Janelle’s strategy is: just keep showing up. When Janelle was trying to activate Oakdale Park, a large, but underused park in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, she made a point of being consistently present in the park. Being in the park, day in and day out, allowed people in the neighbourhood to get to know Janelle, and eventually engage in conversations and build trust.

Gradually, Janelle was able to connect with neighbourhood kids who had a vested interest in the park’s success. The kids collectively worked on securing a shade structure for their park. With Janelle’s guidance, the kids collected data, built prototypes and spoke to the local City Councillor to advocate for the shade structure. Spoiler alert: they got it!!

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Janelle treats children like “park royalty” because they know their park and understand its inner workings more than we ever give them credit for. This approach to kids allows Janelle to tap-into their wisdom, energy and unique perspective, and harness it to make the park better for the entire community.

 

Building home through p

Lisa Dietrich, a volunteer with CultureLink’s NEATWalks (Newcomers Explore and Appreciate Toronto) program, focused on the importance of active engagement in public spaces to build a sense of belonging among newcomers. As Lisa said:

As soon as we physically engage with –maybe even shape– our environment, it changes our relationship with this space. Active engagement creates a sense of control over our environment. And with this control comes a sense of security, of ownership, of belonging.

As Lisa emphasized, “active engagement” can be as simple as throwing rocks or as complex as an organized scavenger hunt. These experiences help build newcomers’ relationship to a new geography and establish a new sense of home.

 

Making the pitch for play

Caroline Magar, Development Coordinator at Montreal’s Les Amis du Champs des Possibles, had advice on how park groups can “play well with others.” In particular, Caroline’s presentation underscored the importance of understanding how to influence stakeholders and build a shared vision of a public space.

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Les Amis du Champ des Possibles has transformed a Montreal rail line into a semi-wild place where people can experience nature in a high-density neighbourhood. However, historical contamination has limited the groups ability to host formal events in the space.

Caroline has taken it upon herself to become an expert on contamination issues and how to remediate the land in order to have credibility among key stakeholders and make informed decisions about the land’s future. Embracing the more scientific and technical dimensions of the project has been a tremendous help in turning an unusual and inspiring space into a public place where people can safely experience the wild.

 

Help people see themselves in play

 

Finally, in her keynote presentation, Mouna Andraos, co-founder of design studio daily tous les jours, shared how her projects deliberately diverge from conventional ideas of play in order to appeal to audiences who may otherwise be reluctant to join in the fun.

In fact, Mouna specifically took aim at the word ‘play’ because it’s a term that is generally associated with children. In her experience, the term can undermine the seriousness of creative endeavours, like those of her firm. The large, public installations that Mouna and her team create using cutting edge technology in public spaces utilize unexpected adult colours and are situated in public places not generally associated with play. These interactive installations are able to seduce adult audiences because they are unlike other objects we conventionally associate with play.

For example, one of the firm’s installations, entitled Hello Trees!, invites people walking along a busy promenade to stop and send a message to nature that is then translated into beautiful sound and light patterns travelling along arches that connect the trees above, providing a canopy for participants below.  As explained on their website:

The result is an immersive, light animated, crowd-sourced concerto. It is a poetic exercise that encourages slowing down and engaging all the senses with the nature that surrounds us.

 

Hello trees! from Daily tous les jours on Vimeo.

Mouna’s presentation highlighted that creating new ways to play requires having systems in place that support creative exploration and collaboration. She specifically pointed to the Quartier des Spectacles district in Montreal, which created a centralized permitting department to provide a one-stop-shop for artists, park groups and community groups to secure the permits and permissions necessary to activate the space. The simplicity of this model allows groups who may not otherwise be willing or able to go through multiple bureaucratic processes to bring their vision to life.

 

All in all it was an awesome Park Summit. Thank you to the 400+ people who attended and who work diligently to activate the power of parks in Toronto, Montreal, and across Canada. Also, thanks to the many presenters and our moderator Christina Hug, who made us look so good.

A very special thank you is owed to our Presenting Sponsor, TD Bank Group, who has supported the Park Summit from the start and makes it possible for us to host this incredible event.

 

You can access available presentations and relevant media below:

Thank you to the Park Summit Presenting Sponsor

 

Thank you to our Sparking Change supporters for helping underserved park groups attend the Park Summit

 

 

More Canadians are living alone, making parks more critical than ever

The latest release of Canadian census data shows that for the first time in our country’s history, one-person households have become the most common type of living situation. In fact, 28.2 per cent of all households last year were people who are living solo.

What does this mean for our parks, in particular, how can our parks better serve the people who are most likely to live alone?

More older adults face social isolation:

The data in the census points to the fact that seniors now outnumber children for the first time in the survey’s history. This fact needs to be seen in the context of Canadians living alone. As the Globe and Mail states:  “older, empty nester, single-person households.” are increasingly the new norm.

This demographic shift has very important implications for our parks.

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Photo credit: Arslan 

In a recent survey of its members, CARP (Canadian Association for Retired Persons) found that

“In statistical terms, the relationship between avoiding loneliness and living near a park was four times greater than the relationship between avoiding loneliness and having children.”

In other words, you’re better off having a park nearby than having visits from your kids. That’s pretty impressive impact.

Park People’s Sparking Change report corroborates this finding by highlighting that animated parks, with meaningful and engaging events and activities, have a hugely positive effect on reducing social isolation. This obviously holds true for seniors, who are more likely than most to feel lonely and isolated.

Often, we focus on the infrastructure elements that are important in attracting seniors to parks. Features like park benches, bathrooms, easy to use paths and walkways are, of course, important to seniors. However, what’s often overlooked is that parks need programming that is developed with older adults in mind. A UCLA report on the subject states that:

“the social aspects of open spaces and parks may be more important to some elders than physical amenities.”

How can seniors be better served by our parks? First, we need to account for seniors in our park programming choices. For example, your local park might choose Ghostbusters for a movie in the park, but in certain neighbourhoods a movie like Singing in the Rain might attract a population that could really benefit from getting out with others.  What if parks offered lower impact Tai Chi in addition to soccer? What about a book club? A walking group?

Too often, we don’t consider how the programming choices we make exclude older adults. Consider how you can make a point of including older adults in park consultations or community parks groups so they can have a meaningful influence on what happens in their park.

More young adults are living solo

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Photo Credit: Sangudo

Another important sector of the population living alone are younger adults who have the financial means to live without roomates or parents. In urban centres, like Toronto, many 20-somethings live in apartments and condominiums where space is at a premium. Erik Klinenberg, writing for the Globe and Mail found that:

For young professionals, who are delaying marriage into their late 20s or 30s and taking even longer to have children, it’s a way to achieve adulthood. They see getting a place of their own as a mark of distinction, separating them from peers who live with roommates or family.

However, he goes on to say that this change has important social implications:

Instead of trying to persuade people to live together, we’d all be better off accepting that going solo is a new norm and doing whatever we can to make it a safer, healthier and more social experience.

Think about it: youth under 20 have skate parks and rock climbing, but if you’re 25 and single, what can you do in the park that reduces isolation and builds community in tower communities?

There’s an opportunity to reduce social isolation in dense buildings by using parks as a way for people to meet one another. For example, food is a great way to bring 20-something folks together in parks. Why not hold a small farmers market in a parkette for the foodie set? Host a picnic and invite everyone from the building to eat on blankets in the outdoors. You can host a dance class or reading series in the park. In short, cafés, restaurants, and gyms aren’t the only “third-spaces” where 20-something adults can meet eachother, parks can also play this very important role, and they are far more cost effective.

Women living alone in increased numbers

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Photo credit: Andrey

It’s important to note that women are increasingly living alone. Women are increasingly economically independent, the divorce rate is higher, and women often outlive men. How could our parks better reflect this reality? The United Nations’ Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence Against Women and Girls explains,

“A ‘gendered perspective’ occurs when planners, designers, decision-makers and community actors look at problems with the needs of both women and men in mind. In the planning process, this means that all policies and design interventions should be reviewed by women and by officials in order to determine whether or not they will make women’s lives safer and more convenient.”

What would a gendered perspective on parks look like? It would mean that women of all ages and cultures were part of the planning process and their voices would be included in community park groups. Of course, issues like lighting to create a sense of safety for should be considered, but that’s just the beginning.

A  blog post from Misadventures Magazine suggests that we could take on gender discrimination in parks by naming parks after women and by creating women-only activities that give women a leg up in sports that are typically dominated by men.

In short, as more an more Canadians are living alone, our parks can play a more important role than ever in bringing people together to create happier, healthier lives. We need to be very deliberate about planning our spaces with the specific needs of park users in mind.

Cover image photo credit: Bart Souverijns

 

Creating a greener 21st century city

We often wax poetic about urban parks as areas of nature in our cities, but it’s interesting to note that some urban parks are not actually the best representation of the natural landscapes of their city, sometimes burying—literally in the case of urban streams—the features and particularities of the landscape upon which they’re built.

I don’t mean these parks are made of plastic trees and AstroTurf, but the central feature of many parks is lawns of mowed grass, hardly a naturally occurring landscape in many of our environments, and gardens planted with non-native (but pretty flowers) that require a lot of water and care.

Is there a better way for our parks to contribute to more sustainable, resilient cities, especially as stresses on our natural environment increase through growing density, population, and the unpredictable threats of climate change?

Green City, a paper written by University of Calgary landscape architecture professor Bev Sandalack for Park People’s Heart of the City Conference, is a great launching pad for this discussion. Part history of park development, part manifesto, Sandalack proposes a new way of planning and designing our park systems as deep ecological infrastructure.

Park Systems as Ecological Infrastructure

Creating this higher focus means we need to re-prioritize investments, placing parks and public spaces, as the landscape of our cities, at the very base upon which everything else must be built and organized. We need to reintegrate parks into our natural systems, Bev writes, planning and designing them not as lawns plunked down in the urban fabric, but as part of an interconnected natural system.

Doing so can connect us in a more visible way to our own city’s particular natural landscape, vegetation, climate, and topography. But it also better positions our cities for a future that will be determined by our ability to adapt to climate change by reinforcing and enhancing natural systems that perform functions such as stormwater management, habitat creation, heat reduction, air purification, and more.

This doesn’t mean of course that we should seed every lawn in our parks with wildflowers and native grasses—we need lawns for lounging, social events, and sports after all—but it does mean prioritizing a more intentional, integrated approach to park (and city) planning that takes an ecological systems view and works across our cities departmental silos.

Putting A New Approach into Practice

Bev points to Toronto’s new Ravine Strategy—the first ever for the city—which lays out a framework for how the city’s vast network of ravines can be better protected, enhanced, and enjoyed in the face of all the challenges that come with being sensitive natural environments squeezed from the big city around it. The Ravine Strategy takes a holistic rather than siloed approach to revitalizing ravines involving input from staff from city planning, parks, recreation, economic development, and water.

Similarly, but on a smaller scale, Toronto’s Green Streets pilot program, has transformed several under-used portions of roadway into small green spaces. These spaces offer places for community members to gather, but also contain stormwater management infrastructure. This layering of benefits—safer roads, community green space, stormwater infrastructure—is the key to a smarter, climate resilient city. Plus, it unlocks potential new funding for green spaces through funding from municipal water departments which collect water and sometimes stormwater fees. Zooming out, you could see how this program could be a way to celebrate and make visible the city’s buried streams or targeted for areas that are at risk for flooding.

Understanding and prioritizing investments in parks and park systems as infrastructure is critical, especially in an era of increasing extreme climate events including droughts, flash floods, ice storms, and more. If past eras of park development were based on creating islands of nature in the city or places for people to recreate, this new era must be predicated on integrating natural systems at the foundation of our city building.

Read the Green City report to learn more about how park systems thinking can buffer the impact of climate change on cities.

Realizing the untapped potential of Canada’s city parks

This blog has been reposted from Spacing. Spacing is a media partner of Canada’s first national conference on city parks, hosted by Park People, in 2017 in Calgary.

Parks make our cities more livable and lovable. They are a critical element of our urban infrastructure, delivering benefits that far exceed their costs, but they are also the places where more and more of us celebrate milestones big and small, and make the connections with our neighbours that help us feel rooted in our communities.

In cities across Canada, municipalities and communities are collaborating on projects that help realize the potential of city parks. Linear parks in cities including Vancouverand Calgary (and an epic cross-country trail on track for completion next year) are connecting communities and creating new routes for walkers and cyclists to enjoy nature and to commute.

Repurposed urban infrastructure, from Montreal’s laneways to St Thomas’ rail bridges and Winnipeg’s former tree nurseries, are being transformed into (sorely needed) new park space. And nearly everywhere, from Ottawa to Whitehorse, community gardeners are using park space to grow food and strengthen communities.

But in Toronto at least, our conversations about new ideas for parks are dominated by examples from the United States and Europe. Cities like New York City and Copenhagen are our models, despite the wealth of park knowledge, expertise and experience that exists in Canada.

The enthusiasm and devotion of urban Canadians to their parks is incredible, but it is not matched by a strong network of park people that extends between cities and even between neighbourhoods. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom, there are few opportunities for park enthusiasts to connect and learn from each other. This is particularly true when it comes to community groups, who are dedicated to making their parks better, but are often volunteer-driven and lacking the resources they need to fully realize their visions for their city parks.

That’s why Park People is launching a new national network to connect and support community groups and city park champions across Canada. We believe that park groups, city parks staff, and other city park champions could benefit from a network of peers and partners. Both online and in person, we hope that the network will create connections that help great ideas spread more quickly across the country, and provide park champions with the resources and advice they need to get their projects off the ground.

The network will be shaped by Canadians and will evolve to meet the needs of park people across the country. Ultimately, we hope that the network will help local groups build the case for community involvement and transformative investment in their parks, while also creating a strengthened, collective, national voice in support of city parks.

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As a first step, park people from across the country are coming together to connect and learn from each other at the first ever national conference on city parks in Calgary in March 2017. Although there are many great connections that can be made online, we have learned through our annual Toronto Park Summit that the magic of a face-to-face gathering of park enthusiasts is hard to replicate. Applications are open to all, and bursaries are available to ensure cost is not a barrier for community groups and non-profit staff.

Our city parks hold so much untapped potential to make our communities more resilient and inclusive. By creating a network that allows us to support and inspire each other, Canadians from coast to coast to coast will be able to realize that potential.

 

What’s Happening in City Parks Across Canada?

A strategy to make ravines more accessible while preserving crucial biodiversity.

A new road mural, painted by kids, to add even more vibrancy to a great neighbourhood.

A visionary new park built on top of rail infrastructure.

Exciting things are happening in Toronto. But these sentences actually describe projects in other cities across Canada. From Edmonton to Halifax to St. Thomas, people in Canadian cities are bringing their parks and public spaces to life.

And until a few weeks ago, I knew nothing about it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver, but over the past eight years I have morphed into a dyed-in-the-wool Torontonian. In my career so far, I have tried to find ways to make our city better, more inclusive, and more livable in an era of fiscal restraint and sometimes-limited vision.  It’s the best job there is – I love this city and am at my happiest when I am experiencing Toronto changing and growing before my eyes.

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Toronto is an amazing city, but we are always looking for ways to make it better. From Swedish Vision Zero-inspired plans for pedestrian safety to a street fighter’s revolution in New York City, the United States and Europe are generally our go-to places for new ideas. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, the latest post from the Young Urbanists League often sparks a deep sigh along with the question – how could we ever bring that great idea from the US/Europe/Asia to Toronto?

Those magic words

Former Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian says that the seven words you should never say when you hear one of those great ideas are “that would never work in my city.”

I couldn’t agree more. We always surprise ourselves when we think big. Toronto’s system of over 1600 parks, from Guild Park to Earl Bales, is a testament to this fundamental truth.

But to flip that sentiment, I would add six words that you should always say before embarking on a new city building project – Let’s see what’s happening across Canada. 

Building a Canadian urban parks movement

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The new Mechanized River Valley Access project in Edmonton, Alberta. Rendering: Dialog Design.

At Park People, we have started saying those six words about urban parks, and the results so far are pretty exciting.

Since joining Park People as National Network Manager in July, I have been talking to people working in city parks across the country, including community groups, municipal parks staff, and park advocates. I have been consistently blown away by the passion of Canadian park people and the visions they have for their local parks. I’ve also had to stop myself from jumping on a plane a few times – I really want to ride this new funicular, explore Wascana Marsh and canoe down the Shubie Canal!

 

What’s next

Even though I could happily keep exploring the Canadian city parks landscape forever, finding great projects and meeting the Canadians who are making them happen is only our first step. Park People wants to go further. We want to find ways to support those projects and groups and connect them to each other in a network of Canadian park people that spans the country.

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Wascana Marsh, Regina, Saskatchewan

We’re not quite sure what this network will look like yet. We know that our main goal will continue to be supporting the people who bring their parks to life, whether they are in Toronto or Kelowna or Laval. We also know that next March, we will be bringing park people from across Canada together in Calgary to talk about the future of our urban parks and what roles we can all play in making them bigger and better.

We will be writing stories and hosting events that showcase Canadian urban park projects and people, and, because most of us don’t have the time and money to travel all over this enormous country, exploring ways for us to connect and share ideas online.

As our Founder and Executive Director Dave Harvey has said, the opportunities are limitless. We can’t do everything, so that’s why I would love to hear from you:

What are the issues you care about most when it comes to urban parks? Who should we talk to or partner with? And how can we help you get engaged in your local park? Send me an emailtweet, or reply in the comments below.

One of our friends at the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation described Park People as ‘the facilitators of a crucial Toronto conversation about city parks.’ Let’s start the Canadian conversation.

 

 

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