Common Challenges and Trends in Canadian Cities:

  • Inadequate funding levels, especially operating budgets (e.g., park maintenance and programming)
  • Difficulty acquiring and developing new parks, especially in dense areas
  • Aging infrastructure requiring costly repairs
  • Increasing damage from extreme weather
  • Rising use of parks as alternative housing by people experiencing homelessness
  • Growing demand for walking trails and off-leash dog parks
  • Greater demands for unstructured gathering spaces and places for spontaneous play
  • Increased demand for naturalized spaces in parks and nature play opportunities for children
  • Changing demographics, such as an aging population, requiring new programming and designs (e.g., better accessibility, more culturally-specific programming)

Nature

We look at some of the leading practices and strategies in Vancouver and Calgary to mitigate the effects of extreme weather damage from climate change and create new, beautiful parks that protect against floods.

However, more proactive planning work needs to be done to ensure these practices become standard. Most cities are experimenting by piloting green infrastructure in parks, such as bioswales and rain gardens. However, just 48% have citywide green infrastructure strategies in place that include directions for parks.

We also profile cities that are leading the way in the preservation and rehabilitation of natural habitats, particularly for endangered wildlife. And highlight how some cities are buzzing with new projects to support pollinators and biodiversity.

Growth

Cities need forward-thinking park system master plans to help prioritize action to meet growing populations and density. We found that 70% of cities had one of these plans approved or in development.

We profile leading work in park planning, such as Halifax and Toronto, where the focus is on building connections, assessing park quality, and making better use of underused land. This helps build connections between and within parks, creating corridors for the movement of both people and wildlife.

We also highlight how Waterloo came up with a creative solution to take a growing challenge—the amount of dog poop in city parks—and turn it into an energy source.

Collaboration

With cities facing increasing demands for new amenities, we found many are turning to partnerships with non-profits and community groups to bring local expertise, new programming, and new funding.

We found 74% of cities had at least one programming or operational partnership with a non-profit and 52% have a formal program for community groups to get involved in their park.

We profile multiple scales of partnerships to learn what makes a successful made-in-Canada collaboration tick, including Montreal’s Les Amis de Montagne, Quebec City’s Societe de la Riviere St-Charles, and Edmonton’s RiverValley Alliance.

Activation

There is a growing desire for innovative programming and space for unstructured activities in Canadian cities. We found this has inspired creative programming that leverages parks as platforms for issues such as improved mental health, enhanced food security, and increased access to the arts.

We profile examples including Vancouver’s work to enliven parks through arts, a partnership in Victoria that offers free nature-based therapy for youth, and the edible forests of Kingston, Victoria, and Charlottetown.

Inclusion

We found cities are striving to be more inclusive, recognize different cultural identities, and reckon with past erasures and abuses—but that doing so requires deep explorations of park policy, planning, and governance.

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report, a heightened awareness of the responsibility to work with First Nations across the country is a growing area of work in many cities—one that will require time, uncomfortable conversations, and potentially radically new ways of thinking about how parks operate.

Here we profile work being done in Vancouver, where a “colonial audit” of the Vancouver Park Board’s work is currently underway, led by the Park Board’s first Reconciliation Planner.

We also look at the work happening to welcome newcomers and refugees into cities through parks, including the multi-city Welcome to this Place project.