People come to parks for all sorts of reasons—to exercise, to play, to relax, to rejuvenate. It can be hard to accommodate everyone’s desires, especially when some park uses—like community gardens and off-leash dog areas—often require setting aside precious dedicated space. The dog park especially has become a lightning rod for conflict.

And yet both food and dogs provide important places for people to come together, forging social ties and providing outlets for physical activity. Governments recognized this during the COVID-19 pandemic when some provinces declared community gardens an essential service and Edmonton included off-leash dog areas in the first wave of its reopening plan.

If parks are lessons in how we learn to share common space with others, then the dog park and the community garden are good classrooms to start in.

  • There is a need for more offleash dog area planning. 85% of cities reported increasing offleash area demand, but just a third of cities have strategies in place with policies guiding new development.
  • Park-based food amenities like community gardens and orchards is a growing area, with three quarters of cities reporting increasing demand.
  • Increasing demand was reported by 93% of cities for multi-use trails, 74% for adventure play areas, and 48% for outdoor fitness equipment.
  • Consider community management models to foster a sense of shared responsibility in off-leash areas and surrounding natural areas, but don’t expect these models to be a long-term solution to funding.
  • To meet demand, experiment with ideas like promoting offleash amenities within condo developments and creating temporary/seasonal off-leash areas.
  • Consider food amenities and programming in the planning of all parks—like gardens and communal dinners—as part of a community resilience strategy.
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