Why City Parks Matter

Understanding and being able to communicate the impacts of parks is critical in advocating for sustained investment in parks. To aid in this, we round-up key research.

Environmental

  • A 2014 study found that Toronto’s urban forest sequestered 46,000 tons of carbon each year, the equivalent of emissions from 31,000 cars. This helps combat climate change, but also improves air quality.
  • A study in Lethbridge found public trees helped divert 331,000 cubic metres of rainfall from entering the stormwater system—and that parks helped improve water quality by filtering run-off before entering rivers and lakes.
  • Parks can also act as nature’s air conditioners and reduce energy use, combating the urban heat island effect caused by the sun’s heat being absorbed by hard surfaces like asphalt.
    • Social

      • Our 2017 Sparking Change report found that engagement and programming are critical to unlocking the social benefits of parks, including building civic engagement, developing leadership skills, and widening social support networks.
      • A 2018 study into the state of social capital in Toronto by the Toronto Foundation found that knowing your neighbours was the number one variable linked to a higher sense of trust, strong social networks, and belonging.
      • Our research review found that so-called “weak ties”—the nod hello to a neighbour in a park—contributes to feelings of greater safety, social support, and reduced feelings of isolation.
      • While there is limited research in Canada related to the links between parks and issues of race, ethnicity, and income, a new study from the University of British Columbia of major U.S. cities found that marginalized communities often had less access to green space.

      Economic

      • Parks can increase land value in surrounding areas, with one U.S. study finding that homes adjacent to parks received price premiums of 20% to 30% relative to homes that were 300 to 800 metres away.
      • The same study also found more value was created by smaller parks or linear parks than a single large park of equal area because it allowed more people to live closer to its edge.
      • The economic effects of parks on housing has raised questions around equity, which has led to resources on how parks can support affordable housing.
      • A 2014 study by TD Economics found that for every dollar invested into the urban forest the return was between $1.35 and $3.25 in benefits and cost-savings in stormwater management, air quality, energy savings from shade, and carbon sequestration.

      Health

      • Immersing in greenery can boost levels of cancer-fighting proteins and calm our heart rate, resulting in lower stress and anxiety.
      • A 2019 study found that adults were 55% less likely to develop mental health disorders if they had grown up near green spaces.
      • A recent study found visiting parks boosts happiness, after just 20 minutes of use, even if people aren’t partaking in exercise.
      • A 2017 study of U.S. neighbourhood parks found that parks were twice as likely to be empty if they didn’t have walking loops—and that the presence of these loops generated the most activity by seniors.
      • The same study found that parks that offered programming for different ages saw a 37% increase in activity by local residents. Better marketing, signage, and bulletin boards letting people know what was going on resulted in 63% more activity in parks.