As the pandemic transformed the landscape of park engagement, cities got creative, finding new ways to involve communities through digital platforms and distanced outdoor activities in lieu of traditional town halls. We heard from city staff that experimenting with these new methods has allowed them to reach broader audiences and rethink engagement practices moving forward.
However, the rush to meet emerging needs through pop-up projects like pedestrianized streets sometimes meant engagement was expedited or bypassed altogether. Communities have taken notice, making their voices heard through advocacy on issues from golf courses to encampments, sometimes using parks as a space of protest.
In light of these new pressures and opportunities, some cities are changing their approach to park engagement, prioritizing ongoing relationship-building with communities beyond one-off project consultations. To aid this work, cities are moving toward approaches that better share power with communities, including co-designing engagement processes, employing community members to engage their peers, letting communities lead the sense-making process after gathering feedback, and more.
- Few feel they have a voice in park planning. Only 22% of city residents feel they have a voice in decision-making about their local parks—a decrease from 34% last year. The top barrier to participating in park planning processes was not being sure of how to get involved, and respondents who identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour were more likely to report experiencing barriers.
- Relationships weaker with equity-deserving groups. Only 38% of community park groups who identified as equity-deserving said they had a strong relationship with their municipality, compared to 51% of groups that did not identify as equity-deserving, highlighting the opportunity to take an equity-based approach to deepening community relationships.
- Growing focus on equity-based engagement, despite challenges. 92% of cities said Covid-19 has changed the way they engage communities on park projects, with 35% reporting it has sparked more intentional outreach to equity-deserving groups. However, 79% of cities said engaging hard-to-reach groups remains a challenge.
- Take a proactive and neighbourhood-based approach to ongoing relationship-building with local groups to stay on the pulse of emerging needs and ensure there is a strong foundation of trust when formal engagement processes happen.
- Evaluate internal policies and practices to ensure there are protocols to meaningfully address barriers to participation, provide appropriate compensation to community partners, sustain relationships in the event of staff turnover, and formalize sharing back outcomes with engagement participants.
- Foster reciprocal relationships with community park groups through designating a staff contact for them to liaise with, providing in-kind and financial support, creating clear processes to make simple requests for park enhancements, and helping to promote community-led work through city communication channels.