Work with your local city councillor
Building and maintaining a relationship with your Councillor is key to the success of your park group and your park. Here’s advice on approaching your Councillor and keeping them in the loop about your group’s vision for the park and the community.
When it comes to making things happen in your park, your city or town Councillor can be a tremendous ally. They often influence what happens in parks, so acquainting them with your group from the start is a good idea. The fact is if you want a community garden, a water fountain, or to plan an event, your Councillor should be one of the first people you consult with.
From the first contact to keeping a great ally and advocate on an ongoing basis, here are the five steps to follow to help connect your Councillor to your thriving park community.
Reach outCheck your municipal website and find the Councillor for your ward or district or borough. Send them a friendly introductory email or letter explaining who you are, what activities your group is involved in, how long you have been active and how many members you have. If many members are residents of the ward or district in question, be sure to let them know—it’s more compelling. When writing to your Councillor, remind them that well-used parks are better for communities. The call-to-action of your letter should be to ask for an in-person meeting in the next few days. If you don’t get a call back within 48 hours, make sure to follow up with a phone call—your Councillor is probably quite a busy person! When you get them on the phone, remind them of the date and contents of your email (don’t assume that they have read it) and why you would like to meet with them.
Be clear about your needsShare your group’s vision for the park. Your group likely has a long list of wants, but concentrate on your top two ‘asks’ in your first meeting. Hearing about a dozen things that need doing or changing can be overwhelming. Make sure that you say it all with a smile—let them know that you hope to work with them in partnership to make things happen in the park. Bring all the props that you have to your meeting—group notices, information sheets, photos of past events and the like. Your Councillor has many competing priorities, so you’ll need to build a compelling case for your vision for the park. The call-to-action of your meeting should be to get your Councillor to commit to a site visit to your park and to meet your park group. Going on a site visit to the park with your Councillor can help you share your vision and see if there’s an opportunity to work together. At your first meeting, ask for a few dates that would work for a site visit. Then check with your Park Supervisor to find out which date would work for him or her. Let each of them know that the other is coming and that your group will be coming out to greet them. A big crowd is more compelling.
Plan a site visit to the parkGoing on a site visit to the park with your Councillor can help you share your vision and see if there’s an opportunity to work together. At your first meeting, ask for a few dates that would work for a site visit. Then check with your Park Supervisor to find out which date would work for him or her. Let each of them know that the other is coming and that your group will be coming out to greet them. A big crowd is more compelling. Paint a picture of the possibilities
Paint a pictureOnce your Councillor comes out to the park (with or without the Park Supervisor), make the possibilities come alive. Yes, you should focus on your top two asks, but paint a picture of the possibilities, both programming wishes like movies, farmers markets, clothing swaps, BBQs and pumpkin parades; and stewardship activities like cleanups and adopt a tree events, where participants mulch and water trees throughout the summer.
Build the relationshipKeep your Councillor in the loop about what you’re planning in the park. Treat them like a member of your group and invite them to events. Another important way to build the relationship is to help your Councillor share some of the profile for park events. Include them in your event posters and communications and give them a chance to speak to your group or to the crowd at events. Councillors need to interact directly with their constituents and public appearances like park events are an important part of that.
Stay connectedNow you know what it takes to make your local Councillor your ally…for good! One thing that will really cement the relationship is a summary of all your events and accomplishments. Once a year, write them summarizing what you’ve done in the park. Include photos of lively activities happening in the park. Ideally at least one photo will feature your Councillor in it! Councillors can also assist your group with the permitting process. Procuring these permits is not only time consuming; it’s expensive. Councillors can often take care of the paperwork for you and in some cases waive the fees. Once you have established a relationship, don’t be shy about asking what’s possible.
“Once a year, write a letter summarizing what you’ve done in the park. Include a picture—ideally one with your Councillor in it!”Minaz Asani-Kanji Park People