In many Canadian cities, scarce and expensive land presents both a challenge and an opportunity for park building. These constraints lead to parks that are more expensive to design and maintain, but they are also driving innovation, producing some of the most unique parks in the country.

These new parks often necessitate new partnerships and are up-ending the business-as-usual approach of acquiring a piece of land to build a park. New plans feature elevated pathways, sports fields on malls, and parks along rail lines.

COVID-19 creates further urgency and challenges. Cities are grappling with physical distancing rules that put pressure on already crowded parks as people seek more space to spread outdoors, accelerating the need for outside-the-box thinking.

And with the pandemic shining a light on the already present inequities in who has access to, and feels safe in, public spaces, many are raising questions about how we prioritize equitable park development as we move forward.

  • Consistent with 2019, the top challenges cities reported were aging infrastructure, acquiring parkland to meet growth needs, and insufficient operating budgets. However, just 63% of cities reported having updated park system plans to address growth.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated actions to convert streets to public space— both temporary and permanent— as cities seek to expand the amount of room for people to gather outdoors.
  • While there is a combined $441 million in capital dollars budgeted towards new and upgraded parks in 2020 (Toronto and Vancouver make up more than half of that total), cities are grappling with the financial impacts of COVID-19, which will likely impact park development budgets and timelines.
  • Both for immediate COVID-19 relief and longer-term transformations, broaden the view beyond parks to include streets, laneways, hydro/rail corridors, schools and other open spaces as part of a connected network of temporary/permanent public spaces.
  • Prepare to study new management models, funding arrangements, and equity based development tools as new park development relies more on partnerships between different landowners, community organizations, and government agencies/departments.
  • Ensure long-term park system planning balances improving the performance and quality of existing parks with identifying growth areas to acquire land ahead of development.
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