What We Learned

Canada is a large, diverse country with a mix of climates, topographies, and cultural communities. Our park systems reflect this fact. However, despite these particularities, we found—through our inaugural survey of 23 cities—many common challenges and trends.

The number one challenge facing cities is budget pressure, which impacts in multiple ways.

Canada is an urban nation, with over 80% of people living in cities. Many cities are experiencing fast growth in population and density. This growth is putting rising pressure on park systems to deliver more and better programming, new and upgraded parks, and more services.
At the same time, cities aren’t seeing the necessary increases in parks budgets to address these needs. This puts many cities, both small and large, in the difficult position of being asked to do more with less each year.
This pressure has the most impact on park operating budgets—the money to maintain parks and pay for the programming communities depend on. Some cities told us this squeeze has meant reducing park design standards. Others noted it requires tough trade-offs about which parks get more resources.
This squeeze is coming at the same time cities said that people are looking for more to do in their parks: more opportunities to be active, to connect with nature, to experience cultural programming, and to just hang out with friends and family.
In this context, cities find it challenging to develop new parks to meet growing demand. Land acquisition and construction of new parks becomes more difficult in dense cities as land is gobbled up by development.
Aging infrastructure is also in need of revitalization and expensive repairs. In their 2016 infrastructure report card, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities scored Canada’s recreation infrastructure the lowest among measured categories, with nearly 20% in very poor condition.
Adding to this pressure is increasing damage from extreme weather and the effects of climate change, which is requiring cities to rethink how parks can be resilient infrastructure as well as places for people.
Without a doubt these demands are a critical challenge facing cities across Canada—but it’s not all grim.
This report is about monitoring and highlighting the common challenges and trends. But it’s also about spotlighting solutions and opportunities.
Despite the challenges we face, Canadian cities can lead the way forward. We just have to learn from each other.