Fertile Ground for New Thinking: Improving Toronto’s Parks
David Harvey

This report sheds light on the challenges facing city parks. It explores how city parks have been held back and calls for more direct community involvement.

“We’ve taken our parks for granted, neglected the need for improvements, and they are languishing,” said author David Harvey. He conducted dozens of confidential interviews with city and conservation staff, planners, politicians, academics, and neighbourhood activists in drawing his conclusions. Harvey attributes park woes to a culture of “no” driven by decision-makers who resist change and sweeping policies that fail to respond to local needs and interests.

But the report does not concern itself with finger pointing. Rather, Harvey uncovers practical strategies to realize the full potential of our parks. Urban parks, he says, are fundamental to a healthy city offering a range of social, environmental, and economic benefits. Parks are much more than green space, he asserts, with community-building benefits in line with those of community centres, schools, and libraries.

Achieving better parks rests on shared responsibility, Harvey believes. He points to local success stories and model initiatives in Toronto and around the world where parks flourish by making full use of the community’s ideas, energy, and funding. The report lays out a pointed set of recommendations to open up our parks including:

  • assigning a manager to each park and posting their name and contact information for the public;
  • introducing more private funding and considering naming rights;
  • using food as a gateway into parks and allowing more cafés and restaurants;
  • reaching out to new immigrant communities to ensure that the City is meeting their park needs; and
  • creating a citywide advocacy group for parks.

With a municipal election underway and Toronto’s population projected to grow by half a million over the next twenty years, the time is now to revision and revitalize our parks. But the report is not a call for increased funding. As one of Harvey’s sources states: “We don’t need more money; we just need permission.”

Following a 25-year career in government and politics managing municipal and environmental issues, Harvey has made a personal commitment to drive a parks renaissance in Toronto. “I’m a park person and I know I’m not alone,” he says. “During my research I uncovered an overwhelming sense that parks matter to the people of Toronto. They connect us to our neighbours, our environment, and our City.”

Related Materials & Media Coverage

New Report Offers Ways to Give Parks Back to the People
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September 26, 2010

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Common Ground
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Richard Longley is Determined to Fix Urban Eyesore, the Parkette at the Foot of Brunswick St.
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