6 reasons you don’t want to miss Canada’s National City Parks Conference

You don’t want to miss Park People’s Heart of the City Conference in Montreal happening June 12-14th. It’s a must-attend event for municipal leaders whose work intersects with parks. This includes park planners, parks and recreation staff and departments who engage in community development through city parks.

The Conference is the only national event that brings together all of the stakeholders who are invested in the future of city parks across Canada. Keynote sessions, hands-on workshops and highly interactive tours will showcase the leading issues happening in city parks across Canada, all against the backdrop of Montreal, a city beloved worldwide for its innovative approach to green spaces.

Here’s why you need to be there.

 

1. Municipal leaders and park leaders together.

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There are events for municipal leaders and events for community leaders, but very rarely do those two universes join together. Because the Heart of the City Conference is a national conversation with parks at the core, the Conference will connect municipal leaders with community groups, nonprofits, and funders. It’s a rare opportunity for 200 of the country’s leading park stakeholders to learn from one another, network and build relationships that will shape the planning, partnerships, design, and programming of city parks, long after the Conference is over.

2. Reconciliation in focus:

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The Vancouver Park Board is dedicated to strengthening relationships with Indigenous peoples. Rena Soutar, the first Reconciliation Planner at Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is a Keynote Speaker at Heart of the City Conference and will bring the city’s Reconciliation efforts into focus. Soutar says: “We are now in a prime position to…demonstrate what a decolonization process within a Reconciliation framework can look like in a public institution.” Learn how Soutar is breaking new ground by applying Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission principles to Vancouver’s parks.

3. A keynote speaker who is a rock star and a Geography professor

Jerome Dupras is both bassist for the band Les Cowboys Fringants and an academic focused on quantifying the economic value of nature and biodiversity. A musician who returned to academia after finding fame on stage, for Dupras, these two worlds blend seamlessly together. In fact, his band started a Foundation, with funds from ticket and album sales directed toward grassroots environmental initiatives.   

Dupras’ research undercuts the idea the economic and environmental interests need to be in opposition. In fact, for Dupras, they go hand-in-hand. His open-source model for qualifying nature’s value has been utilized by numerous groups, citizen and municipal led.

His scientific work was recently recognized by the Government of Quebec when he received the Quebec Emerging Science Award. He continues to be involved in several conservation and greening projects, including being Co-Founder of the Green Belt Movement and spearheading the planting of 375,000 trees for the 375th anniversary of Montreal.

4. Networking against the backdrop of world-class parks

 

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Start your Heart of the City Conference with a private tour of Montreal’s beloved mountain, Mont Royal, with  Les Amis de la Montagne. We’ll converge on the mountain’s Beaver Lake Pavilion and take in a view of this grand city and park which welcomes 5 million users annually.

Enjoy lunch at TOHU, home to North America’s first circular performance space dedicated to the circus arts. Tour the space and Frédéric-Back park, a former quarry, and dump, now being transformed into a dynamic urban park which will be Montréal’s second-biggest green space. The project has been called the “most ambitious environmental rehabilitation project ever undertaken.”

Another reception and tour will take place in La Fontaine Park, highlighting the how local communities were meaningfully engaged in the development of the park’s most recent Master Plan.

5. Targeted workshops to shape your work in parks:

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Interactive workshop sessions, led by experts from across Canada, will address the most pressing issues in city parks. Participate in workshops featuring creative governance models, tools for evaluating park use and impact, and how parks can be built to address the climate change. You’ll work with experts from organizations across the country including Calgary Parks, the City of Winnipeg, the Vancouver Park Board, Gehl Institute and many more. Community park groups from across Canada include Stanley Park Ecology Society, Quartier des spectacles, Spence Neighbourhood Association,  MABELLEarts and many more.

6. Tour the city with the “heart of green:”

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Park tours are an important focus of the Heart of the City Conference, as Montreal is widely recognized as a city with a “heart of green.” Tours will span projects of all scales; from small community-led initiatives to large scale iconic parks.

For example, a tour of Grand Potager will focus on how the unique partnership between the Municipality and a non-profit organization has led to the creation of an urban agriculture resource centre housed within municipal-owned greenhouses.

You can tour Circuit Jardins, a series of gardens around Montreal’s downtown core that have transformed underused and vacant lots into re-naturalized places for people. These gardens are equal parts green infrastructure and social infrastructure, providing places for some of Montreal’s most marginalized residents.

Choose from more than 10 tours over 2 days.

 

Heart of the City Conference is hosted by Park People, the organization that supports and mobilizes people to help them activate the power of parks to improve quality of life in cities across Canada.

Generously supported by: 

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The Conference is generously supported by TD Bank Group, through its corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment. Through this platform, TD is helping to open doors for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow so that people feel more confident – not just about their finances, but also in their ability to achieve their personal goals in a changing world. As part of this, TD is committed to helping elevate the quality of the environment so that people and economies can thrive, by growing and enhancing green spaces and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. To learn more about The Ready Commitment visit td.com/vibrantplanet

 

Something New from Something Old: A Short Film about Finding Public Spaces in Cities

Ian Garrick Mason’s short film, Something New from Something Old, shines a light on how making use of existing public spaces allows cities to “gracefully evolve in place” rather than “spreading outwards toward infinity.” The film curates a conversation between New York and Toronto and captures the ideas inherent in our Making Connections report as well as the new Public Space Incubator we have just launched with Ken and Eti Greenberg and the Balsam Foundation.

The projects featured in the short film are on a much larger scale than those that will emerge from the Public Space Incubator, but regardless of scale, the spirit behind these projects is aligned with the projects that will emerge from this exciting initiative. As Jennifer Keesmaat says in the film:

“We need to start finding spaces that were at one time something else and transform them by providing an amenity a neighbourhood needs”

Ian Garrick Mason’s reflections on the short film follow below.

Something New from Something Old, a film by Ian Garrick Mason from Ian Garrick Mason on Vimeo.
The idea for Something New from Something Old came to me early last year when walking the length of the High Line in New York City for the second time. The park — a phenomenally successful conversion of an abandoned elevated railway line running through the heart of Manhattan’s west side — seemed both beautifully designed and, with its linear narrowness and its crowds of visitors flowing north to south and south to north at the same time, not quite a ‘park’ at all. It raised interesting questions about what cities are building, exactly, when they cannily turn former industrial land or derelict spaces under highways into thriving, thoughtfully-designed… and here again the word feels odd… parks. (“Public spaces” is the urban designer’s term of art, but this feels too neutral. The things are meant to be fun.)

So I decided to ask experts, designers, and planners involved in some of the highest profile conversion projects in Toronto and New York City about the rationale behind these conversions, the challenges involved in designing under such novel constraints, and the difficult issues — like funding, accessibility, benefit sharing — that come with them. Their answers were both fascinating and encouraging, pointing to a world in which the development of cities will have more to do with gracefully evolving in place than with spreading outwards to infinity. I’m thrilled to be launching Something New from Something Old with Park People, not only because Executive Director Dave Harvey offers such insightful testimony in the film, but also because the organization plays such an important role in helping the public and policymakers understand the importance of parks to a healthy urban society, and in helping define how our parks should look and function in the future.

 

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.

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