Methodology

Process

This year’s report contains 27 Canadian cities—an increase of four over 2019—including 20 returning cities, and seven new cities. We aimed for diversity in size, geography, and official language, and prioritized cities that were returning from 2019, contacted us to participate, or filled a gap.

We distributed questionnaires to park staff, available in both French and English, that included questions on statistics, policies/plans, and projects/practices. The questionnaire included a confidential section about challenges, allowing us to report on cross-country trends.

To ensure data quality, we verified some responses independently or followed up with questions. All cities had a chance to verify their City Profile data pre-publication.

We also undertook secondary research of media and scholarly sources. To ensure rich analysis and capture diverse perspectives, we conducted expert interviews with city staff, academic researchers, park professionals, non-profit staff, and community members.

Challenges and Learnings

Part of what makes Canada’s landscape of city parks so exciting is its variety. Climate, topography, and governance are just a few factors that make cities unique—but that comes with challenges for comparability. Differences in which cities participated in 2019 and 2020 also made cross-year comparability of data challenging, so we focused on overall trends.

Cities are also in very different places regarding what metrics they track, how they track them, and how they coordinate data internally. For some cities, certain numbers were not available, or were only available as best estimates (e.g. number of volunteers).

Data were collected largely in February 2020, prior to disruption from COVID-19. Operating and capital budgets may shift from the ones published here as cities assess new pressures. Since the situation was still very fluid at the time of publication, COVID-19 impacts will be reported on in greater detail in the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report.

We’ve tried our best to ensure consistency and context. For example, we’ve used methods that standardize for city size (e.g., hectares of parkland per 1,000 people). In cases where there are important influencing factors that affect the data, we’ve noted these directly on the City Profile for transparency.

Ensuring common definitions has been another challenge. We refined some of our definitions this year based on city feedback, and will continue improving them.

If you have a suggestion or a comment, please get in touch.

Definitions

Total parkland

Includes both natural and maintained parkland that is owned, leased, or under a management agreement by the municipality.

Natural parkland

A natural area is a green space which receives a relatively low level of maintenance and supports natural or naturalizing vegetation. Natural areas may include trails or walkways as well as parking areas and washrooms.

Environmentally significant/sensitive areas (ESAs)

Areas designated under special policy protection to preserve important environmental attributes, such as rare flora and fauna. Only includes hectares of ESAs/protected areas within the public park system.

Total population

Total population of the municipality based on 2019 sources, unless otherwise noted.

Operating budget

Direct operating expenditures (not including revenues) for the Current Budget Year for maintaining parks and natural areas. This includes:

  • planting and maintenance of trees in park/natural areas
  • graffiti & vandalism repair
  • management, administration & operational staff salaries
  • consultant/contractor costs
  • parks horticultural plantings
  • maintenance of closed cemeteries if carried out from the Parks Operating Budget
  • parks litter pickup & waste disposal
  • inspection and maintenance of splash pads, playgrounds & outdoor fitness equipment
  • maintenance & replacement of park furniture
  • public toilets where maintained from parks budget
  • sports field maintenance
  • snow clearing and ice control for parks & natural areas
  • any other parks/green space maintenance costs except cemetery costs where the cemetery is "active"
Capital budget

Capital expenditure for all capital items related to land improvement works, planned for completion during the current financial year. It includes both new and renewal work, capital items carried forward from previous years, and salaries and wages for all staff involved in the design, planning and delivery of Capital projects.

Community gardens/urban farms

Food-growing gardens available for the public to use that may require membership. This includes community orchards.

Off-leash dog areas

Includes both standalone dog parks and off-leash dog areas within parks.

Volunteers

Includes only volunteers who have worked directly with the municipality (not external organizations). Programming refers to publicly accessible activities and events (e.g. yoga classes, nature walks, park cleanups, farmer's markets, festivals, celebrations, etc.). Programming does not include any large commercial activities, such as a private party.

Community park group program

A formal municipal program through which residents can get involved in parks. An example of would be an adopt-a-park program. The roles of these groups may include environmental stewardship (e.g. clean-ups), social/recreational programming (e.g. festivals, yoga in the park), etc. Does not include one-off volunteer opportunities (e.g. volunteering at a specific event).

Community grant program

A monetary grant offered by the municipality that residents and community groups can apply for, and can be used for the purposes of improving or programming parks.

Non-profit partnership

An ongoing partnership between the city and a non-profit organization that includes a programming or maintenance agreement in a park.

Parks system master plan

An overall plan or strategy dealing with the municipality’s current and future park/greenspace provision needs. It usually includes an analysis of current provision against population and a review of future park/greenspace acquisition/disposal needs.

Universal design

The design of parks or park amenities to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized modification. This would include people of all ages, and those with and without disabilities.

Green infrastructure

Also known as low-impact development. The engineering of natural systems that capture, hold, and treat rainwater where it falls. It may include features such as bioretention ponds, rain gardens, and bioswales.

Don't See your City on the List?

Twenty-seven cities participated in this year's report and we hope more will join us next year.

Learn how to participate in 2021