Introduction

Last year was tough. But it was also illuminating.

We know from city staff and our survey of the Canadian public that park use during the COVID-19 pandemic has increased significantly in cities all over Canada.

In this respect, COVID-19 has shown how parks bolster community resilience by providing a place for people to stay active, de-stress and connect with others—safely. For many, parks have become a lifeline.

This shows in the numbers. Two-thirds of the nearly 3,500 Canadians Park People surveyed in April 2021 said their appreciation of parks had increased during the pandemic. People flocked to their local parks, sought out natural areas, took more regular walks along trails, and tried new winter activities.

This greater appreciation has important health benefits: 85% of Canadians said parks had a positive impact on their mental health, 81% on their physical health, and 71% on their sense of social connection during the pandemic—critical in addressing the isolation so many have felt during the last year.

But COVID-19 has also shown there is work to do in addressing inequities and discrimination—particularly around homelessness in parks and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

Our survey of Canadians found that people who identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour were more likely to report experiencing barriers to park use, including concerns about ticketing, social judgement, and harassment. Additionally, 90% of cities reported homelessness in parks as a challenge, a significant rise from last year.

Addressing these inequities is essential in moving towards parks where more people feel safe and see themselves reflected.

In the third annual Canadian City Parks Report, we focus on how parks can foster more resilient, equitable cities—not only as we recover from COVID-19, but as we address another looming crisis: climate change.

Park People puts out this report to help track the trends and challenges facing city parks across Canada. Whether you’re city staff, a community volunteer, a funder, a non-profit organization, a park professional, or a resident who loves city parks, we hope this report provides you with useful data and stories that both inspire and challenge you.

Inside this report you’ll find the results of our COVID-19 and Parks public survey, data and practices from 32 participating cities, and interviews with dozens of experts, including city staff, community leaders, and researchers. We have used the data to shape in-depth stories that reflect what is happening around the country and push forward with new ideas.

Among others, you’ll find stories and actionable take-aways on how cities can advance climate action through parks, how Black and Indigenous leadership can help reframe notions of park stewardship, and how we can deepen the intersection of public health and parks by taking into account cultural experiences.

You’ll also find a special section: Lessons From a Pandemic Year. This section dives deep into the ways COVID-19 impacted our park systems and our use of parks during the last year—both positive and negative—and the ways we can move forward together.

Parks alone cannot address climate change, racism, and public health challenges, but as the shared spaces in our cities they play a vital role in helping us learn to live together in a more resilient, equitable society.

Explore the entire report, including the city data, stories, practices, and expert interviews online at cityparksreport.parkpeople.ca. Explore selected sections—including the pandemic lessons, key insights, and city data—in a special downloadable PDF.

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The only report tracking the key trends and challenges facing city parks across Canada.