With many indoor community spaces shut down the past year, the role of parks as neighbourhood hubs shone like never before.
Our survey found that 70% of Canadians said parks helped them feel connected to their community during the pandemic. Parks became places where people could safely socialize with neighbours, access food, and even find employment, forming the backbone of community resilience during a period of social and economic hardship for many.
In this section, we hear from park group leaders about how the pandemic challenged them to step outside of their usual roles to meet urgent community needs—like ensuring access to fresh food, or providing wellness check-ins. And how cities can nurture and tap into the vital social networks of park groups to ensure resilient responses to future challenges.
We also profile the work of community organizations spearheading creative park-based employment models that showcase the potential of parks to address economic inequities that have deepened during COVID-19.
Parks are essential social infrastructure. 73% of Canadians who self-identified as struggling with social isolation during the pandemic said that parks had a positive impact on their social wellbeing, compared to 64% of those who did not experience isolation.
COVID-19 opened people’s eyes to new uses of parks. 89% of Canadians said they tried a new activity in parks during the pandemic, and 50% said their winter park use increased. 76% of Canadians said they wanted to see more community programming in parks moving forward.
Parks can help support local economies. Canadians said they wanted to see outdoor cafes in parks (55%), park space used by local businesses like restaurants and retailers (44%), public wifi in parks (39%), and park-based coworking spaces (19%).
- Strengthen relationships by connecting with park volunteers, which can allow cities to engage rapidly and be more responsive to future challenges. This could include grants or a city-supported community park group program—something only 50% of cities surveyed have in place.
- Integrate parks into economic recovery plans through creative employment opportunities in parks that can help to address economic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. Cities can help to scale up successful park-based employment models initiated by community organizations.
- Prioritize underserved communities when designing policy for employment opportunities in parks. For example, allowing the sale of produce grown in small-scale community gardens, or simplifying permits for street vendors who lack start-up capital for a storefront.