The latest park data from our surveys of 35 municipalities and over 2000 residents of Canadian cities.
City residents are passionate about shaping their parks. Harnessing this passion while balancing competing visions for parks presents challenges for city staff, but also critical opportunities.
As systemic barriers restrict city residents' ability to enjoy parks and participate in planning processes, it is vital that cities develop thoughtful engagement strategies to ensure decision-making is not just guided by the loudest (and often most privileged) voices.
Most city residents do not feel they have the ability to influence decision-making about their local park, with many reporting barriers related to the opacity of city engagement processes.
While cities acknowledge that engaging hard-to-reach groups is challenging, the majority also reported that they are satisfied with their current engagement efforts.
This highlights a disconnect between how municipalities and city residents are perceiving the success of park engagement strategies. More work is needed to remove barriers to participation, particularly for equity-deserving communities.
Lack of time and opaque processes top barriers to community engagement
We asked: What barriers (if any) prevent you from becoming more involved in park planning processes led by your municipality (e.g., engagement sessions about upcoming park projects, feedback surveys, etc.)?
Park Groups & Programming
City residents have a strong desire to be more involved in parks, whether through attending park programs or engaging in advocacy.
However, cities face resourcing challenges in meeting demand for park programs directly.
Community park groups that organize events and activities in local parks play a vital role in expanding opportunities for residents to get involved, but many of these groups are not feeling adequately supported by their municipalities.
Investing in building relationships with these groups to better meet their needs is one way to address this challenge and create more avenues for residents to get involved.
- 56% are interested in advocating for park improvements or green space protection
- 50% are interested in participating in park events/activities organized by others
- 33% are interested in organizing park events/activities (e.g. community BBQ, park clean-up, nature walk)
Indigenous programming top priority for cities
We asked: Thinking of the park projects and initiatives your municipality has planned for the next year, please rate whether each of the following is a high, medium, or low priority in 2023.
Creating more opportunities for...
- Indigenous engagement/programming
- Food growing, cooking & selling opportunities in parks (e.g. community gardens, edible orchards, farmers markets, bake ovens)
- Volunteer-based natural stewardship and education opportunities (e.g. tree planting, invasive pulling, etc.)
- Park friends groups (i.e. friends of X park)
Conflicting Uses and Experiences
Parks are contested spaces.
Our individual park experiences are shaped by aspects of our personal identity (age, race, gender, disability, etc.), our activities, the formal and informal rules of the space, and so much more.
This means there are often conflicting visions for parks, and this conflict all takes place within a context of systemic inequity that privileges certain uses—and users—of parks over others.
The challenge for cities is to ensure that they are not simply listening to the loudest voices or adopting complaint-driven responses, but rather planning proactively to balance conflicting needs through an equity lens.