More than 50 cities in Canada closed parks or park amenities when COVID-19 hit, as a way to cut down on surface transfers and to discourage groups from congregating.
The bright side is that as municipalities in Ontario move into Stage 3 of the province’s framework for reopening, there’s an increase in recognition from municipal leadership of the value of parks to public health — and to peoples’ own crisis resiliency.
The national 2020 Canadian City Parks Survey was conducted before March 2020 and explored themes of nature, growth, collaboration, activation and inclusion. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the report’s authors recognized that the crisis should be addressed separately, so they released an appendix survey to ensure impacts related to the pandemic were captured.
“Our cities’ green spaces have never been more important as communities grapple with the realities of a global pandemic,” says Tamara Rebanks, chair of the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, in the final report’s foreword.
“Now more than ever, we need our parks to be healthy and thriving to meet the needs of all communities.”
The pre-COVID portion of the report looked at parks and park systems in almost 30 Canadian cities and identified three challenges: keeping pace with development, aging infrastructure and insufficient operating budgets. Here are some highlights.
Nature and biodiversity
The survey shows that 70 per cent of cities are reporting increasing demand for more naturalized spaces and projects, plus a growing demand for green infrastructure such as rain gardens (essentially stormwater retention solutions). Urban biodiversity has also become even more important to the masses, and nature is something even prescribed by some doctors as a course of treatment.
In the report, Don Carruthers Den Hoed, researcher at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and manager of the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership, argues that the importance of parks to people’s well-being can be a “doorway” to get more people involved in conversations about parks and biodiversity — but few are planning parks with this in mind.
“It’s one of the really important values people come to nature for, and yet it’s just kind of shuffled to the side of the table,” he says.