COVID-19 continues to radically impact our relationships to each other, the space we occupy, and the land we live on. It’s also an opportunity to challenge our ways of thinking. As a meeting place for engagement and civic discourse, parks are an ideal setting to think about these relationships and what we’d like them to look like in the future.
In this year’s report, we reflect on some of the experiences of Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities on the lands parks occupy—how they have been integral to shaping these spaces and what it would look like to support these communities in leading the way forward. Because to do this work meaningfully in parks, a “new normal” must be one where we steward the land together.
The resurgence of movements that affirm Indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation have propelled these conversations to the forefront. As they took up space in cities’ green spaces, it forced municipalities, community programmers, and residents to consider how park management had a role to play in these important conversations.
So what does this “new normal” include? A “new normal” that allows for old and new relationships to green spaces. One that prioritizes Indigenous sovereignty and the safety of Black people, supports different types of access, and where cultural ceremonies are expected and permit fees are not a barrier. A “normal” that can be achieved through a mutual care for our communities, our fellow non-human beings and the land.
There is growing interest in park stewardship. Our public survey showed that Canadians who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of colour (BIPOC) expressed the pandemic has caused them to become more interested in engaging in stewardship activities or protecting natural spaces in their city (70%) than white respondents (54%).
Discrimination can be a barrier to park use. Our survey showed that Black, Indigenous, and people of colour were more than twice as likely at 22% of respondents to report harrassment or discrimination as a barrier to park use than white people (8%). Additionally, 43% of cities stated that addressing systemic inequities and discrimination in parks was a challenge.
People of colour have been, and continue to be, strong park advocates. Despite being more likely to report harrassment or discrimination as a barrier to park use, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour were more likely to express they had a voice in what goes on in their local park (46%) than white respondents (30%).
- Consider how collective land stewardship can be implemented in communities by following the guidance of Indigenous Elders. This can start with building relationships across cultures to facilitate mutual learning of the histories of this land through community-led programming.
- Listen quietly to the Black, Indigenous and people of colour who have stepped forward as park leaders. This means compensating people for their labour, whether through their role as a consultant or a member of an internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee.
- Challenge institutions that shape experiences in public space, such as city parks departments and non-profit organizations, to engage with racial justice using tools such as equitable hiring policies, funding for outreach to racialized residents and accountability processes.