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

 

Could Toronto be a National Park City? Learnings from London UK

Toronto calls itself “A City Within a Park,” but Daniel Raven-Ellison has taken the concept much, much further. For the past five years he’s actively campaigned to have London, UK declared a National Park City .

“The idea of a national park city is inspiring. It’s a vision that so many people can share and contribute to in their own way,” says Ellison.

On Tuesday, March 19 Park People and Parks Canada will host Daniel Raven-Ellison for a public talk at the YMCA Auditorium on Grosvenor. The talk will focus on his National Park City project and what he’s achieved through his campaign and what’s possible when people living in cities embrace their connection to the natural world.

In 2012 Raven-Ellison, a former geography teacher, walked 1,686 km across all of the UK’s national parks and cities. That’s when the idea for a national park city was born. The goal of the designation is to ultimately change how people think about parks that exist within urban environments, and to help London become 50% green space.

Forging a stronger relationship between people and nature, Daniel Raven-Ellison argues, will improve not only the health of 14,000 species that call London home, but also help build human resilience in the face of climate change.

Raven-Ellison believes that any city could be a National Park City, as long as it has a strong civic society and regional government that is actively doing everything it can to make the city greener, healthier, and wilder.

Could Toronto be a National Park City? We hope you’ll attend this inspiring event cohosted by Park People and Rouge National Urban Park (Parks Canada) and come away with a new view of what’s possible for a city like Toronto.

Learn More:

Learn more about Daniel

Learn more about London National Park City

Learn more about bringing the National Park City movement to more cities

TD Park People Grants Program grows to foster more community events across Canada

TORONTO, January 16, 2018

Park People and TD Bank Group are thrilled to announce that the TD Park People Grants Program has officially opened for 2019 funding submissions. This year, the program will expand to two new cities and will provide essential funding to support 75 community groups and 225 park-based events in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax Regional Municipality.

In 2018, TD Park People Grant Program supported 155 events in green spaces across Canada. Three of those events were hosted by Hives for Humanity, a Vancouver non-profit that builds resilient communities through beekeeping, that hosted a series of bee-themed walks in urban green spaces close to the city’s Downtown Eastside. “The skills and understanding the 30 participants developed, by interacting with bees and plants in urban green spaces, serve as a foundation for building a deeper respect for the natural world, empowering action, and connecting people to each other in community.” says Sarah Common, the organization’s Co-Founder.

“It’s been proven that well-programmed parks are key to realizing the benefits of our shared green spaces.  With TD’s support, we’ll help increase the positive impacts of parks across Canadian neighbourhoods through outdoor events for everyone to enjoy,” said Dave Harvey, Executive Director of Park People.

“Green spaces help build healthy, vibrant communities for everyone to enjoy,” said Carolyn Scotchmer, Executive Director of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.  “As part of TD’s global corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment, we’re proud to support accessible and inclusive events that help build stronger ties within communities and foster a deeper connection with nature.”

Starting today, Qualified organizations and community groups that have experience hosting accessible, sustainable park events are encouraged to apply to receive a $2,000 grant to host three events in their local parks or green spaces between Earth Day, April 20, 2019, and New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019. The application process is simple, and TD and Park People have developed a number of resources to help groups plan and host engaging community park events in green spaces. Deadline: March 4, 2019

About Park People

Park People supports and mobilizes people to help them activate the power of parks to improve quality of life in cities across Canada. 

About TD Global Corporate Citizenship

TD has a long-standing commitment to enriching the lives of its customers, colleagues and communities. As part of its corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment, TD is targeting CDN $1 billion (US $775 million) in total by 2030 towards community giving in four areas critical to opening doors for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow – Financial Security, Vibrant Planet, Connected Communities and Better Health. Through The Ready Commitment TD aspires to link its business, philanthropy and human capital to help people feel more confident – not just about their finances, but also in their ability to achieve their personal goals in a changing world. For further information, visit td.com/thereadycommitment

For other stories about successful grant applicants from 2018 see:

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

How I use parks to push myself harder as an athlete

As a varsity track and field athlete at the University of Toronto, Park People intern Kayla Greenberg tells us about how she uses parks as a space to workout.

We start our weekend in the bright sun, breathing in the cool air. A babbling cacophony of forty voices, we are all anxiously anticipating the grueling workout ahead of us.

As a pack, our feet pound the ground, propelling us through the warm up that takes us around and down the hill. Together we lead and surge up the giant mound. Getting to the top is the goal – it’s not about the scenic “insta-worthy” view, it’s about finally breathing when we get there. Out of breath, zig zagging down the hill, our sole focus is trying not to fall forward and go tumbling down. Finally at the bottom we start to catch our breath but by then it’s already time to go again.

Every Saturday morning for the past six years, I have started my weekend at Riverdale Park East with my teammates from the U of T Varsity track team. The park’s giant hill is likely one of the best discoveries our coach has made. He loves nothing more than to watch us run up its steep incline so quickly that sometimes we may even throw up as a result.

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Strangely enough, despite their difficulty, workouts for us are like therapy. They provide a distraction from whatever is going on in our personal lives. In the park, surrounded by the soothing calm of nature, our personal crises cannot reach us. We are focused on putting one foot in front of the other and feeling the grass beneath us. This green, open, outdoor space is a welcome break from our usual flat, monotonous, unforgiving 400-meter track encircled by condos in downtown Toronto.

This is how we use city parks to train in the warmer months, but it should be noted that once the snow arrives, my teammates and I will be gleefully sliding down the Riverdale hill, one of Toronto’s best sledding spots.

Every year during school breaks our coach takes us to a training camp outside Toronto and uses hiking to supplement our usual training. Much like our Riverdale workouts, he eagerly awaits our return to hear our stories of suffering post-hike.

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One particular memory that stands out is our training camp last year in Arizona. Our coach dropped us off at the bottom of a humongous hill and told us that he’d be back to pick us up in a few hours. He assured us that it would be an easy hike and would act as a “shake out” workout to get our legs moving.

While the hike was very enjoyable in the midst of the desert landscape, it was not in fact an easy stroll up a hill. It was hard and I sweated profusely. When we descended we saw a sign indicating the difficulty level of the hike. It was indeed the highest and hardest level, a double black diamond.

Hiking or training in parks is a great method to get hearts pumping in a way that isn’t just laps around the track. Instead of talking about the number of sets and reps we have left or how many seconds it takes us to run 150 meters, training in parks allows us to enjoy the splendorous surroundings, take advantage of the natural challenges out there that can push us differently, and ultimately help us achieve the necessary vigorous workout we need to achieve our goals. And even when we aren’t training, spending time in our wonderful parks is the perfect respite from every day pressures.

 

What Ping-Pong can tell us about city parks

In 2012, Dianne Moore, a long time Rotary Club volunteer, was fortuitously seated next to Park People’s Executive Director Dave Harvey at a community meeting. It was there that Dianne shared her idea with Dave: What if we could get outdoor ping pong tables into Toronto parks? Inspired by a love of ping pong she cultivated by playing daily with her dad as a child in Windsor, Dianne had been noodling the idea around for some time. Dave’s advice was simple. He said: “Go for it.” And, Dianne did. With gusto.

At last count, Dianne’s model for concrete outdoor ping pong tables is in 106 parks, most of which are in Toronto. A recent article highlighting Vancouver’s emerging ping pong scene admits:

“The game has become the hip new urban trend in Vancouver – belatedly.”

The popularity of outdoor ping pong and our conversation with Dianne got us thinking about what’s really behind the table tennis trend? What can we learn from ping-pong that we can apply to city parks across Canada, to help them engage more people with amenities and programming? Here’s what we discovered.

Keep it Cheap & Cheerful: 

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Ping Pong Table at Mel Lastman Square

You don’t need lessons, don’t need to join a league and there’s no fancy equipment required to play ping pong. This is definitely contributing to its spreading appeal. In fact, a recent Statistics Canada report shows that ping pong’s exploding growth is consistent with trends across the country:

“Canadians are moving away from organized sports to informal sports activity in their leisure time.”

Some experts hypothesize that the rising costs of organized sports and intense competition may be turning some people off traditional, competitive activities like soccer.  At the same time, activities like walking and jogging are on the rise. Cities can respond to this very real shift in behaviours and interests by making it easier for people to engage in informal activities that boost their health and well being. Investments like ping pong tables and walking loops help make it possible for people to engage in fun, healthy activities when they want, where they want, and with very little cost.

It’s About the Social, Silly:

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Stanley Park Ping-Pong Table

Dianne believes that the increasing number of high-density apartments and condominiums has left many people looking for ways to connect with one-another in pretty traditional, face-to-face, ways. As a person who lives in a multi-story building Dianne says

“there are so many people I would never have met without ping pong,” adding “really, nothing compares to it.”

As we’ve highlighted in a previous post dedicated to parks’ impact on social isolation, more and more people are living alone and reports highlight that it’s deadly. Instead of trying to persuade people to live together, journalist Erik Kleinberg suggests, “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.”

Mediated shared experiences like ping pong help people socialize with each other without the awkwardness of a cocktail party. Somehow having a ball and a net between you creates a safe, shared space that helps make engagement comfortable for people who may not otherwise be inclined to socialize.

Low Barrier:

Nearly anyone can play ping pong. You can play it regardless of age, it’s relevant to numerous cultures and it’s suitable for people with differing abilities. Dianne has witnessed people running from their offices to catch a round of ping-pong over their lunch hour, and has seen kids and adults playing together much like she did with her dad.

“You don’t even need a common language to play together,” Dianne asserts.

Dianne has shared the designs for her concrete outdoor ping pong table with a visitor from Pakistan who saw them in Toronto and has since had three tables built in parks there. Dianne’s Rotary Club also donated two ping pong tables to the Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba as a gesture of friendship and support. We know quality amenities help get more people to parks. A recent study of parks in the US found that “most parks are geared toward youth rather than adults.” The popularity of outdoor ping pong tables shows that adults, as well as kids, need meaningful ways to engage in our parks, helping them build the social infrastructure that’s needed to keep people healthier and happier.

So, More Ping-Pong Anyone?

Yes, of course, more ping-pong . But the ping-pong phenomenon really tells us that we need to ensure that parks foster social connections and fun, physical activities for people of all ages, abilities and income levels. The classic play structure you see in parks across Canada only targets one population-kids. There are opportunities to attract more adults into our parks and, at the same time, keep them more physically fit and mentally healthy.

Also, this ping-pong tale reminds us that people like Diane have had great success bringing their ideas to life in parks. With a lot of tenacity and innovation, anything’s possible in a park.

Four years ago, we made a great little video to celebrate the first ping-pong table being unveiled at Mel Lastman square. It hits on many of the themes, and even features Diane Moore.

 

 

It’s the last weekend of summer, so here’s what to do in parks

It’s going to be beautiful, hot, and sunny–basically the summer we didn’t really have all crammed into the last two weekend days before Autumn starts. We were on Metro Morning today to talk about how to make the most of this gorgeous weekend by exploring Toronto’s parks. Missed the interview? No problem, we’ve also compiled a list that includes what we talked about–and a bit more we didn’t get to mention.

Guild Park & Gardens, Scarborough

Part outdoor sculpture museum, part nature trail, part historic building and restaurant, Guild Park is one of Toronto’s most unique parks. Formerly an artist colony, it features remnants of 19th and 20th century buildings demolished in Toronto before we decided to protect little things like heritage. You can see the columns from the Bank of Toronto building, demolished to make way for the modernist TD Centre, reconfigured as a greek theatre. Well worth a visit.

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Rouge Beach, Scarborough

Toronto is a waterfront city. Don’t believe us? Check out one of the amazing parks and beaches along our huge stretch of lakefront. Rouge Beach, right at the border with Pickering and at the mouth of the Rouge River, is a great one to explore. Just a short walk from the Rouge Hill GO Station, you’ll find trails, rocky breakwaters, bricks rolled smooth by the lake, and a nice sandy beach. Bring your sunscreen.

Humber River Trail, Etobicoke

If you want to stay cool, there’s no better way that dipping down into one of Toronto’s many ravines and going for a walk in a shady green tunnel. The trail along the Humber River is one of our favourites because it takes you top to bottom in Toronto, with only a few interruptions in the trail along the way. Lace up your walking shoes or bump up your bike tires and head out.

Edwards Gardens, North York

One of the city’s stunning garden parks (the others are Allan Gardens and Rosetta McClain Gardens), Edwards Gardens is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll through a manicured landscape. It also houses the Toronto Botanical Gardens and has a cafe on site in case you get peckish.

Scarborough Butterfly Trail, Scarborough 

This 80-acre butterfly meadow was created by the TRCA through a grant from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, a program Park People administered. It’s a beautiful naturalization of a hydro corridor trail and it’s the perfect time to go to see a bunch of Monarch butterflies flitting around. If you want a bit of a tour, you’re in luck. You can join a walk with MP Salma Zahid on Saturday, September 16 from 11am – 1pm. Register here.

Trillium Park, downtown 

Toronto’s newest waterfront park is also one of its most stunning, with beautiful views of downtown Toronto and grassy hillsides to lounge on. It’s also one of, if not the only, waterfront park near the downtown where you can actually get down close to the water. It’s connected to the Martin Goodman Trail, so it’s a perfect pitstop on a larger waterfront bike ride.

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Grange Park, downtown

A well-worth-the-wait revitalization of this park was just unveiled this summer and it’s everything we could have hoped for and more. With the AGO as a dramatic blue sky backdrop, this is the perfect spot for a green reprieve from a day of downtown shopping. The park also features one of the coolest playgrounds in Toronto, which looks like its own art piece to accompany the Henry Moore sculpture that now lives in the park.

 

Events

 

If more structured fun is what you’re after, then there’s a host of amazing events and activities that are happening around the city. Here’s a few of our favourites.

City Cider, Spadina House (Sept 17, 12pm – 5pm)

A fundraiser for the lovely non-profit Not Far From the Tree, which salvages our city’s fruits, this event features live music, food, games for kids, and of course fresh-pressed cider — both alcoholic and non. Also included are tours of Spadina House, one of the city’s heritage sites.

On Common Ground, Fort York Historic Site & The Bentway (Sept 15 – 17)

A mutli-cultural fest at the Fort York Historic Site and the forthcoming Bentway — one of Toronto’s most creative public space projects that will create repurpose space under the Gardiner Expressway as a linear public space. The festival features, dance, music, food, and of course tours of The Bentway.

OpenStreetsTO, Yonge & Bloor Streets (Sept 17, 10am – 2pm)

Bike, run, walk, roll, jump, skip, and play in the middle of Bloor and Yonge Street as the streets are closed to cars and opened up to people from 10am until 2pm on Sunday, August 17. Experience the city in a way that you never have before.

Butterflyway Parade, Kew Beach (Sept 17, 1pm – 6pm)

Celebrate our pollinator friends at this parade and party along the Beach boardwalk from Woodbine to Kew Gardens. This event is put on by the David Suzuki Foundation as part of their Butterflyway Project, which seeks to create more natural habitat for pollinators in cities. There will be music, crafts, food, a short film, and, of course, a parade.

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

 

3 Creative Stewardship Ideas for Your Park

Every autumn, the people of the Renfrew Ravine neighbourhood in Vancouver are busy crafting lanterns for the annual Moon Festival. Under the stewardship of the Still Moon Arts Society, the park is lit up with lanterns and filled with community-led art projects. The Still Moon Arts Society celebrates and stewards the Still Creek watershed in Vancouver, using art to convene community members in this beautiful green space.

This is just one example of a creative approach to stewardship, which Rewilding Vancouver: An Environmental Education and Stewardship Action plan defines as a:

‘Commitment to take active responsibility for human and ecosystem health.’

This can include a wide range of actions by individuals, communities and organizations working alone or together to promote, monitor, conserve and restore ecosystems. The Moon Festival provides a memorable, engaging experience in the Renfrew Ravine to inspire and nurture the community’s passion for nature and to see their role in creating and maintaining the splendor of the space.

Cities and communities are taking astoundingly creative approaches to cultivating relationships between communities and their natural environments. Here are some of our favourites from across the country.

Weaving Art into Stewardship in Vancouver

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Credit: Sharon Kallis

Like the Still Moon Arts Society,  the Vancouver Park Board uses art to engage people in stewardship.The Urban Weaver Project, a partnership between The Park Board,  Stanley Park Ecology Society, artists and community volunteers, transforms invasive ivy pulled from steep forested slopes into crocheted mats. The woven ivy mats, when dried, are laid on the forest floor to suppress the growth of invasive species. This project lives at the intersection of art,community-building and nature, which is fertile ground upon which stewardship traditions can start and grow.

What It Demonstrates:  Participating in stewardship activities helps build and strengthen social ties within communities, and meaningful stewardship programs can give community members a strong sense of personal investment in their parks and green spaces.

Building in Capacity-Building in Montreal

 

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Credit: Matthieu Guyonnet-Duluc

In Montreal, the Ruelles Vertes or ‘green alleys’ program is an incredible collaboration between government and communities. Local governments provide funding to communities to green their alleyways by planting trees and gardens. One of the main criteria for receiving funding, however,  is the formation of a strong citizen’s committee. Communities have to demonstrate strong commitment because they are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the green alleys. In other words, by helping grow citizen committees alongside green alleys, the projects continue to flourish. A stroll through Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood makes it clear how much pride community members take in maintaining these green oases.

What it Demonstrates: Stewardship needs committed support to be sustainable. Consistent City support for and investment in these programs are critical to their success. Cities must be ready to commit to cultivate and sustain long-term partnerships with communities. When municipalities across Canada strive to create strong support systems for community stewardship, parks and communities thrive.

Tapping into Civic Pride in Mississauga

 

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Photo Credit: Gary J. Wood

In Mississauga, the Riverwood Conservancy has an operational agreement with the City of Mississauga to offer programming and coordinate volunteer stewardship in a beautiful section of the Credit River Valley, and the Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens Stewardship Committee stewards one of Canada’s largest collections of rhododendrons. This year, the City of Mississauga will begin developing a Stewardship Plan for volunteerism and community engagement, working with existing partners and exploring relationships with potential new partners through the process.

What It Demonstrates: Collaborative projects between cities and local residents help the city to get out of its four walls and into the community. The can also be an effective way for the city to deliver some services and programs in ways that are more tailored and relevant to the community. On the flip side, the specialised knowledge and passion of volunteers can lend tremendous value to the public’s experience of a park.

 

Jiya Benni is an urban designer and aspiring writer based in Toronto

 

 

 

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