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.

 

Green Line takes a huge leap towards reality

With the start of a City-initiated study of the Green Line this year and money budgeted for improvements, the future 5km linear park and trail is set to take a huge leap towards reality in the next three years. Park People put together a video highlighting the project’s potential.

 

 

Since Park People began its work on the Green Line in early 2014, we have advocated for connecting the pieces along this hydro corridor into a cohesive linear park and trail (and we’ve just made a video talking about it!). The Green Line run corridor runs between Landsdowne and just east of Spadina, in a hydro corridor north of Dupont St. We didn’t propose specific designs, but instead called on the City to initiate a study that would engage communities along the route and set out a master plan for how the linear park and trail would look.

We’re excited to announce that we are a partner with the City on the Green Line Implementation Plan, which will be carried out this year by an amazing consultant team headed by local design firm DTAH. DTAH has worked on other notable public space projects like the Queen’s Quay Revitalization, Evergreen Brickworks, and the Lower Don Trail.

Workshop Architecture’s Helena Grdadolnik is also a consultant team member, leading community engagement. Helena has worked for years on the Green Line, running the initial ideas competition back in 2012 that sparked people’s imagination about what the corridor could become. She’s continued as a champion of the Green Line in the years since, including working with Park People and StreetART Toronto to create a gateway Green Line mural at Dovercourt and Geary in 2015.

The study will look at the length of the corridor from Earlscourt Park to just east of Spadina Road to identify opportunities for connections, new green spaces, and creating a continuous trail. It will also propose some high-level designs and priorities for moving forward. A community consultation process will engage with the many local communities along the line to discuss what the Green Line should be and how it could best serve them as their local park space.

The Green Line Implementation Plan consultant team (DTAH, Workshop Architecture, Dillon Consulting, Toni Paolasini, ASI Heritage and A.W. Hooker) had this to say about the study:

This exciting project aims to deliver one of Toronto’s great places. Our city alongside many others in North America have turned to their own ‘left over’ spaces to create wonderful linear parks such as Chicago’s 606 and Atlanta’s Beltline. Similar to the Green Line, these examples have grown from ideas generated by the local community, capturing the imagination of their respective cities at large, connecting neighbourhoods, and enhancing civic pride. A great deal of public engagement has already taken place to develop the current vision, and now the community is interested in action. The Implementation Plan project will commence in January 2017 and work closely with the Green Line stakeholders to deliver a truly signature public space in our city.

But a plan is one thing and having money to put that plan into action is another. Luckily, the Green Line has both!

The proposed 10-year capital plan for the City, contains nearly $1.5 million for the Green Line. This includes money for carrying out the Green Line Implementation Plan study, but also $800,000 for design and construction of some of the elements that will be identified in the Plan, mostly to be spent in 2019, and $300,000 in 2017 to construct a new community garden along the Green Line just east of Christie Street.

While this money certainly won’t pay for the entire Green Line, it’s an important first investment in making improvements to green spaces and connections along the corridor.

All in all, 2017 is going to be a very exciting year for the Green Line. Thank you to everyone who has supported this project, whether it was sending an email with your thoughts, coming to an event, sharing a story at one of our walks, or donating money—it’s because of your support that the Green Line linear park and trail is becoming a reality. And a big thanks to local councillors, the Mayor and Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff for driving this critical green infrastructure project forward. Also, to TD Bank Group, who has supported The Green Line from the start.

Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved in upcoming events and programming from Park People on the Green Line, but also in the public consultation process for the Implementation Plan. We’ll be sending out regular updates and information on how to get involved.

 

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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