Monday, July 17, 2017

Respect the Park: More than just a kid's playground.

Parks and wide open spaces need to be elevated to the highest levels of importance in our planning and budgeting process, reflecting their potential as an organizing principle, not as afterthoughts. Beverly Sandalack, Associate Dean, Landscape and Planning Environmental Design, University of Calgary.
Victoria Park, Hamilton.
Back in March, staff from the Pollinator Paradise project travelled to Calgary to learn about the role parks play in the city, for the 21st century. Heart of the City Conference (Shaping the future of city parks in Canada) (Park People) explored many functions of a public park--one of the main ideas being that parks, for many reasons, are the heart of a city.

Parks support green infrastructure.

We have challenges. Many challenges. With climate change comes high temperatures, droughts, flooding, and habitat decrease. But in our cities, we can do much to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Urban parks and open spaces have an enormous role to play in this respect.

Parks provide habitat, food and shelter for wildlife as well as trees which filter from air pollution and offer shade and comfort. When it comes to wide open spaces such as meadows, these are not generally thought of as being attractive or useful, unfortunately. But in the city, we need these spaces urgently because like urban parks they support local biodiversity.

Urban parks are important in the effort to create more resilient cities. They are green infrastructure that should be invested in. It's time to step up the role of parks as not just a playground for the little kiddies. We need to view parks not just as an add on, but as part of a complex system, incorporated into planning and design. We need to think of these spaces the way we do with natural areas – using a systems, multifunctional approach that can greatly contribute to increasing resiliency in the context of climate change and stormwater management.

Urban parks, open spaces, along with schoolyards, faith communities with outdoor space and even areas around parking lots can capture all stormwater from a given site as well as serve as a carbon sink, and reduce heat island effects (these occur when urban development such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. Surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an "island" of higher temperatures in the landscape).

Park as a public space
Parks have a long history as democratic spaces open to all in a city, acting as catalysts for interactions between people of different backgrounds and reducing intolerance.The contribution of local parks, Alexsandra Kazmierczak
There are not that many public spaces to gather in. The park therefore is an asset that ought to be cherished in any community. The potential for community involvement is massive. Not only as a way to engage residents in animating and using the park (animation is important, people need to feel there is a reason to go to a park), but also to make use of the public space on engaging residents around other issues.

At the conference, we learned about ways to "catalyze" the social impacts of parks including connecting people and reducing isolation. Park People (which is an independent charity that builds strong communities by animating and improving parks, placing them at the heart of life in cities) focuses especially on the work community members, municipalities and partner organizations in underserved neighbourhoods in recognition of growing inequality and the prevalence of neighbourhood-based inequalities. This is critical. We can't all go to the cottage or skiing, or camping, or hiking in Algonquin park. Newcomers, people of low income might not even have back yards. Of course, another main benefits of park spaces are social--reducing isolation and increasing connection between people.

Do More with our Parks.
Here in Hamilton, we are fortunate to be surrounded by much green space in general. How are we maintaining these spaces? what can we do better to increase engagement and make them more enjoyable to be in?
The City of Hamilton's The Adopt-a-Park program is a year round volunteer program where volunteer groups sign up to help maintain and care for trees, flowers and shrub beds in our local parks. Many groups hold events to promote park usage or fundraise for park enhancements such as benches, trees and play structures.

The City also has other programs for community members to get involved in, including the Community Clean Trailer and the Clean & Green Trailer which provides volunteers with the tools they need to beautify our city parks, alleyways, trails and neighbourhoods.

Our own Pollinator Paradise project has worked in many parks across the city to plant habitat and we plan to do more. In particular, we have been thrilled to work with Crown Point volunteers and residents to create habitat along the Pipeline Trail. A group that evolved from this work is the Crown Point Gardening Group. This wonderful group of gardeners share ideas as well as plants, and organize around other issues concerning their neighbourhood.

Park People have many great resources include Sparking Change, Catalyzing the Social Impacts of Parks in Underserved Neighbourhoods, and how to engage residents to participate.

Sparking Change has identified five different social impacts of park engagement: creating a sense of change and shared ownership, building confidence and inspiring civic leaders, reducing social isolation and creating more inclusive communities. providing a place for diverse people to gather and supporting local economic development. "Parks are not simply green places of respite--they are critical pieces of the social infrastructure of our cities. And we believe they have a role to play in creating more inclusive, equitable places that are shaped by and for the people living there."

Parks have massive potential for community development, according the the Sparking Change report. Think: social gathering space, recreation, cultural exchange, and of course, green spaces for habitat. Municipal spending on city parks still falls at the bottom of the queue when it comes to ranking the relative importance of a city's property tax funded services.
Their other resources include:
Financing City Parks in Canada: What Might be Done?
Green City A landscape approach for the 21st century.