Executive Summary

In Park People’s 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 use during the pandemic spiked across the country as people flooded into outdoor spaces to seek safe ways to connect with others, experience nature, and get some exercise. Parks became more important to Canadians in their daily lives, but cities also faced new challenges with rising demands and public health considerations.

The Canadian City Parks Report documents these trends and challenges by gathering key data and leading practices from across the country. 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.

In this report you’ll find the results of our April 2021 COVID-19 and Parks survey of nearly 3,500 Canadians, interviews with over 40 experts, as well as new data and practices from 32 participating Canadian cities. Stories and data are organized by section—Nature, Inclusion, Growth, Collaboration, and Activation—and city-specific data are available in City Profiles.

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.

There are two ways to read this report. It is available as an interactive website and as a downloadable PDF. The COVID-19 lessons, key insights, take-aways, and city data are included both online and in a downloadable PDF format. The stories—which share leading practices and interviews with city staff, researchers, and community leaders—are available exclusively on the website: https://ccpr.parkpeople.ca/2021.

Parks saw high use and showed high value.

  • 94% of cities reported increased use of parks in the last year. This elevated use may stick around with 82% of Canadians who indicated using parks more during the pandemic saying they expect their current use to continue or increase.

  • Parks were also used more in the winter with 50% of Canadians saying they had used parks more during winter than pre-pandemic, and 73% expected this use to continue.

  • Of all park types, Canadians say they prefer to visit local neighbourhood parks (71%), natural areas (61%) and trails (60%), reflecting the importance of nearby green spaces.

  • Community park groups continued to animate their local parks with nearly 300 groups across the country putting on over 3,600 events—half of which were virtual.

New challenges brought new ways of using parks.

  • City staff moved quickly to address the pandemic: 84% instituted COVID-19 related pilots, such as temporary washrooms, one-way trails to ensure physical distancing, and keeping seasonal recreational facilities, like tennis courts, open into the winter.

  • Measures that Canadians would most like to see permanent include winterized washrooms (57%), outdoor cafes (55%), and outdoor arts/culture events (53%).

  • Cities creatively implemented these new measures, and responded to the challenges of high park use, all while grappling with increased budget pressures: 60% of cities reported COVID-19 had negatively impacted parks operating budgets.

  • Canadians want to see their parks funded well: 85% said they would like to see more public funding of parks split between maintenance (43%), new amenities and higher quality designs (27%), and community programming (23%).

Parks were recognized as critical public health infrastructure.

  • Increased park use reflected the benefits Canadians get from parks, with nearly two thirds saying their appreciation of parks had increased during the pandemic, particularly for mental health (85%), physical health (81%), and social connection (71%).

  • 60% of cities said that COVID-19 had increased attention on parks as public health infrastructure, with 89% of those cities saying they believed this would be a long-term trend.

  • The pandemic also catalyzed new partnerships with 84% of cities reporting increased collaboration between parks and other departments, such as public health.

The equity gap was made clearer.

  • The work of community advocates was key in highlighting inequities within parks and public spaces, such as access and safety, bringing attention to these issues throughout the pandemic.

  • Cities are tuning into the impacts of systemic inequities and discrimination, with 43% reporting that addressing these issues was a challenge—roughly the same percentage also indicated the pandemic had increased attention on these issues.

  • Canadians who identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour were more likely to report experiencing barriers to park use during the pandemic, such as fear of ticketing (24%) and harassment (22%). Despite this, they were more likely to cite an increased interest in stewardship activities (70%) than white Canadians (54%).

  • Canadians are thoughtful about how people may engage with parks differently from them, with 77% agreeing that aspects of people’s identity (e.g., race, gender, age) affect how a person experiences parks.

Climate action through parks is a growing priority.

  • While COVID-19 consumed attention in 2020, the climate crisis is also a priority: 84% of cities reported dealing with climate change impacts and extreme weather as a challenge.

  • Cities are moving on this, however: 72% of cities reported having a climate action plan in place. This is a rise over last year, attributable to both the inclusion of additional cities in the 2021 report and recently approved climate action plans.

  • Climate change is also on the minds of park users: 92% of Canadians said they would support climate-resilient infrastructure built into parks.

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