Climate change is changing our parks.

Hotter temperatures, increased rainfall, and more droughts are impacting how cities plan, design, and maintain our green spaces. This has caused changes to the types of plants that can thrive as well as strained older park designs, particularly along waterfronts, to deal with extreme weather.

Indeed, cities reported that dealing with climate change and extreme weather damage was a key challenge—one that Canadian cities are increasingly rising to address.

Whether by engineering parks to act as flood protection infrastructure, converting more paved surfaces to green space, or even switching park equipment to electric, cities are deploying a range of strategies—all of which we explore in this year’s report.

It’s critical to protect and enhance our urban parks in the face of climate change because parks themselves are important pieces of climate-resilient infrastructure. Parks help cities mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change by acting as carbon sinks, reducing temperatures, soaking up rainfall, and supporting the social connections that strengthen communities to be more resilient in times of crisis.

But these benefits are also not spread equally throughout our cities. Canadian research shows that some neighbourhoods are greener than others and benefit from healthier environments—disparities that are often drawn along the lines of income and race. Experts we spoke with have called for new ways of planning and involving communities in green space projects—ones that ensure everyone can share in the climate-resilient benefits of healthy trees and plentiful parks.

Climate change is a top challenge. 84% of cities said addressing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather in parks was a challenge. Cities are moving on this issue, however, with 72% reporting climate change plans in place—an increase over last year.

Growing demand for naturalized space. 70% of cities reported increasing demand for naturalization projects in parks (e.g., meadows) and 92% of the Canadian public said they wanted to see more integration of climate-resilient infrastructure in parks (e.g., stormwater management).

The pandemic increased nature connection. 83% of Canadians said that parks had a positive impact on their sense of connection to nature during COVID-19 and 61% said they preferred to visit naturalized or “wild” green spaces.

  • Enshrine climate-resilience as standard practice by developing guidelines or strategies that formalize goals, such as rainwater capture, to guide park (re)development citywide and move beyond one-off projects.
  • Develop equity-based policies within a climate change lens to guide which neighbourhoods are prioritized for green space improvements, such as increased tree planting to mitigate heat, but also inclusive community participation opportunities.
  • Recognize the importance of local actions such as tree planting and small naturalized gardens, by enabling community-led work through supportive policies (e.g., simple applications) and neighbourhood grants.
Special Thanks
Park People thanks the RBC Foundation for their support of the Nature section of the Canadian City Parks Report.