From the ever-present challenge of dog poop — and how Waterloo, Ont. came up with a creative solution turning said waste into an energy source — to the benefits of nature on mental health, and the consequences of flooding across Ontario and Quebec, a 23-city Canadian City Parks Report is giving us a big picture of parks across Canadian cities.
“I was really excited to learn about some of the amazing work being done outside our major urban centres,” said Park People policy and planning manager Jake Tobin Garrett. “For example, I was really impressed by the work happening in Red Deer, Alberta, with their use of goats to sustainably manage weeds and their work to protect pollinators through designated ‘pollinator parks’ and building bee hotels.”
The key findings? Budget pressures, rapid population growth, extreme weather, and how residents are changing their usage of parks are challenging cities nationwide.
The inaugural report is the first of its kind and fills a gap in information sharing about Canadian urban parks.
Canadian cities “are facing many of the same challenges in city parks, highlighting how important it is to create a culture of shared learning so that we can continue to create the best park systems we can to benefit our communities,” said Park People executive director Dave Harvey.
Cities coast-to-coast showing leadership
Despite the pressures, many cities — such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax and Charlottetown — are leading the way with solutions by collaborating, being proactive, and adopting inclusive engagement practices.
The Canadian City Parks Report report covers a truly impressive scope, even factoring in the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report. It notes a heightened awareness of the responsibility to work with First Nations across the country. In this area, “I was really impressed with Vancouver,” Tobin Garrett told SustainableBiz.
“They’ve got some very innovative programs and policies in place, particularly around inclusion, that I think are great examples for other Canadian cities. This includes their work around Truth and Reconciliation with their ‘colonial audit’ of the park system and their work with the trans and gender-diverse community in funding special programming and gender-neutral park washrooms.”
Some Canadian cities are using the land they already own to create new social areas. Take Toronto’s revitalization of Berczy Park — a small downtown gathering space known for its epic dog fountain.
It included “the redesign of adjacent Scott St. to integrate the street with the park, allowing the street to be used as a continuation of the park when needed,” the report reads. “This is the first instance in Toronto of connecting street and park design in this holistic manner.”
Vancouver’s green infrastructure strategy
Back on the West Coast, Vancouver is also leading the way with its citywide green infrastructure strategy. Since the city is expected to experience increasingly heavy rainfall due to climate change, the strategy includes plans for streets, trees, parks, developments, and maintenance practices.
Vancouver’s Rain City Strategy was approved in 2016. It includes projects like a new green infrastructure plaza to soak up rainwater from surrounding streets while providing additional community green space. By treating rainwater as a resource, “the strategy’s target is to divert 90 per cent of rainfall before it meets waterways,” the report reads.
Overall, just 48 per cent of Canadian cities surveyed have citywide green infrastructure strategies which include parks.
But more places are making way for people and urban development, via proactive parks planning and creative methods to expand and connect their parks. Roughly 70 per cent of cities have updated park system master plans.
“This includes Halifax, whose new Green Network Plan ensures the city develops responsibly around a park system that’s planned around green connections for people and wildlife,” the report reads.
More than 80 per cent of people in Canada are living in cities, according to the report. Population growth and densification are putting “rising pressure on park systems to deliver more and better programming, new and upgraded parks, and more services,” it reads.
Partnerships with non-profits, residents
Non-profit partnerships and collaborations with resident groups are also in the works to bring creative programming, alternative funding, and specialized knowledge to help meet new demands on city parks.
About 74 per cent of cities currently have at least one non-profit park partnership, including Montreal. That’s where key partners collaborate with the city to manage large parks, such as Mont Royal.
The report also addresses inclusion migration and immigration, with cities looking inward by exploring policies and practices, increasing accessibility, and developing programs for newcomers. There’s a multi-city ‘Welcome to this Place’ initiative, integrating parks and art within the settlement process for newcomers and refugees.
Other interesting findings:
* Waterloo ships dog poop to a nearby plant where it undergoes a process that captures gases and creates fertilizer out of what’s left. The pilot reportedly diverted nearly eight tonnes of dog poop, converting it into enough energy to power 18 homes. The City is now expand-ing the pilot to four more parks.
* Toronto piloted green infrastructure in Fairford Parkette and created the Green Streets Technical Guidelines, which includes a tool to select the right type of green infrastructure for a project.
* Hamilton is building rain gardens into a new downtown park, John Rebecca Park, with a goal of infiltrating 90 per cent of stormwater on-site.
* Saskatoon is creating a green infrastructure strategy to be released in 2020.
* Delta, B.C. works in partnership with the volunteer-based Cougar Creek Streamkeepers to install rain gardens, including a 500-square-foot garden built in a hydro corridor. It will filter more than two million litres of rainwater in the Blake Creek watershed area.
* Charlottetown has piloted bioswales alongside Simmons Arena as part of the Atlantic Stormwater Initiative.