First Citywide Park Summit an Overwhelming Standing Room Only Success
On April 16, 125 people from across Toronto gathered at the Evergreen Brick Works to build a network of park advocates and begin a dialogue on what is needed to strengthen our parks. The standing room only crowd included local park advocates, city councillors, city park staff, park professionals and union leadership.
During the day significant challenges were raised, great ideas put forward and important priorities laid out. But the most important element of the day was the connections people were making and the enthusiasm and energy that was built in the room. As the Torontoist reported:
“At one point during the inaugural Toronto Park Summit, a woman stood up and explained that she had a problem. There was a small park in her neighbourhood with a poorly designed drinking fountain that needed to be replaced because it was always filled with sand. "Does anyone know a good drinking fountain?" she asked. A woman two seats away nodded that she could help, leaning over to exchange information. Standing by the podium at the front, Dave Harvey smiled. "This is why we’re here," he said.”
Keynote speaker Tupper Thomas was the perfect speaker for the event. Thomas is the founder of the Prospect Park Alliance, a non-profit conservancy that helped turn Brooklyn’s 585-acre Prospect Park from a scary, neglected space into a “treasure of wilderness and recreation”. Tupper told the story of how simultaneously holding the position of both city park administrator and the head of the Alliance allowed her to build a government-community partnership that was able to bring volunteers, private investment and government funding all together to rejuvenate the park into the gem it is today.
Tupper was followed by four community park organizers from various parts of Toronto telling stories from their work in their local parks. As the Torontoist reported:
“What was shown over and over in their stories was that when you improve a neighbourhood park, you also improve the neighbourhood’s sense of community. It’s more about meeting your neighbours than it is about the park, one speaker said.
There was the story of the man from Scarborough who organized the building of an ice rink in his park because there weren't any community rinks around, and then there was the teacher who set up fire pits outside her park's ice rink so children would have a place to drink hot chocolate, roast marshmallows, and warm up. Another woman spoke of how she was at a park in Thorncliffe Park after recently immigrating to Canada and was sad to see it in such poor condition, with patchy grass and hardly anywhere to sit. She decided to do something about it, and worked to add benches, garbage cans, and even a successful community bazaar on Fridays.”
The Summit was a beginning and not an end. The focus of the Summit was about starting a Toronto parks movement and beginning a dialogue on improving our parks – not on arriving at a detailed action plan.
It was a great start. Park People will be holding future Summits in coming years that will build on this momentum.
Many thanks to the sponsors of the event - Evergreen, Molson-Coors, Monforte Dairy, Dufferin Grove Bakers – and to the volunteers that helped make it all happen.