Make your park clean-up a great community event
Are you planning a park clean-up? John Beers and Leonard Swartz have been organizing successful and engaging park clean-up for years. They share their experiences to help you make your clean-up a great spring gathering in the park.
After the snow has melted, revealing all of the winter left-overs, spring is the perfect time to gather together to clean-up the park. Park clean-ups have a lot of advantages: they are relatively simple first events for new park groups that help build engagement, and they give people a sense of ownership over the park which can lead to a deeper commitment to the park and its stewardship. If you’re organizing your first park clean-up park, we’ve put together a resource featuring 5 tips to make your first cleanup a huge success.
In this resource, we highlight the work John Beers from The Friends of Oakridge Park and Leonard Swartz from Friends of Regent Park, both of whom have been organizing successful and engaging park clean-up for several years. Each of their clean up events have more than 100 people in attendance. That makes them ideal candidates to share their experiences about how to make your clean-up a great spring gathering in the park
Look beyond a single park
You might find that your park has already been cleaned or is about to be cleaned by municipal staff. This can make the act of cleaning the park seem somewhat futile. In other words, people may ask themselves, “why am I doing the job of park staff?”
John Beers, from The Friends of Oakridge Park, decided not to limit his park clean-up to Oakridge Park and included 6 smaller parks around the neighbourhood in his clean- up. He also encouraged people to give the entire neighbourhood a spring cleaning, including picking garbage up off the sidewalks:
“We created an endless amount of places to clean-up! A few years back, 20 teenagers from West Scarborough showed up. We sent them with garbage bags to clean up the neighbourhood sidewalks.”
Make your park the centre of your operation, but not the whole story. Don’t hesitate to invite participants to clean-up other public areas in your neighbourhood. That way, you will “never run out of spaces to clean!”
Bundle cleaning with other fun activities
Your neighbourhood is likely full of non-profit groups, community organizations and individuals, all of whom could lend a hand to your clean up. Having partners that can bring their skills and talents to your clean up event can help your activity spread in popularity, and bring new communities of interest to your park events.
John Beers remembers his first clean-up at Oakridge Park:
“The first year, there wasn't a great turn-out, and people were not very engaged. Since then, we’ve partnered with other groups and organizations in the neighbourhood to make the event more animated and fun. Now, people can also come to get their bikes repaired, enjoy live music and face painting or swap clothes, all while they clean the park.”.
John’s advice: get to know the other groups and organizations working around your park including your local community centre. Join arms with them and include them as much as you can to bring your park events to life.
Leonard Swartz from Friends of Regent Park views his park’s clean-up as a “community building exercise” where you get to meet all the groups that operate in the community. He advocates for adding food activities into the clean-up:
“It can be as simple as a shared lunch where you get to break the bread with your neighbours”.
Inviting different communities of interest to engage in your park clean-up is the best way to help new people connect with each other and with the park.
Celebrate more than a clean park
Having a clean park is only one of many benefits of hosting a park clean-up event. A park clean-up is a great event to give a sense of ownership and empowerment to the neighbourhood surrounding the park. Make sure you use the opportunity to collect information from the people who arrive: have them sign up for your park groups newsletter and chat with them about how they use the park and their vision for their shared space.
A park cleanup is also a great opportunity to educate people about environmental issues. It can highlight our need to have a deeper role in improving the world around us. Take the time to link the clean up with other environmental groups that can highlight key issues, in a fun and engaging way. Iinvite a speaker or encourage kids to get their hands dirty by making seed balls. Help people see that a better world ultimately begins with them.
“Picking-up litter is actually far less important than building community. It's a means to an end,” says Leonard Swartz.
This resource was developed with support from