Toronto should seek new ways of operating and financing existing parks as well as look at abandoned spaces as opportunities to create new parks
Pros: Improvements to the public realm, public health, economic revitalization of neighbourhoods, reduction in urban heat island effect, opens the possibility to the public private partnerships.
Cons: Higher costs of maintenance and capital improvements.
Toronto needs to adopt a more inviting and inclusive environment to taking care of our public parks. The City should seek to eliminate barriers that prevent community and park groups from accessing public green space especially in inner suburban neighbourhoods. The need to obtain permits and insurance to have organized events, sports or gatherings in public parks can limit the level of engagement and participation. Furthermore, as Toronto continues to increase its density, it is imperative that the City look at abandoned, underutilized or vacant places as new opportunities for green spaces.
The Metcalf Foundation’s report Fertile Ground for New Thinking: Improving Toronto’s Parks is an excellent resource that suggests ways to improve Toronto’s parks. These include: prioritizing communities and neighbourhood park groups, experiment with and embrace new policies, explore new ways of financing, using food to engage new interest and develop a citywide voice for parks.
Toronto could look towards New York City and the Central Park Conservancy’s Park Partnership for inspiration. Central Park is one of the oldest and most successful examples of where public-private partnerships can work for municipal parks. The idea for a PPP in 1980 was radical, but necessary due to the park’s deterioration in the 1960s and 1970s.
The structure/governance of Central Park was overhauled to create a single position within the Parks Department to oversee the planning and management of the park. The new structure also called for a board of guardians to provide citizen oversight to create a more effective business structure with more accountability and control over what happened in the park.
Until 1993, there was no agreement between the City of New York City and the Central Park Conservancy. The relationship between the City and the Conservancy has evolved due to ongoing communication and 20 years of working together. The Conservancy involves the public in the planning of any improvements to the Park and the management agreement makes clear that the City Parks Commissioner is the final authority in the park. The Conservancy, an independent organization, is accountable to the City of New York – and as importantly to its users and donors whose expectations are that the park will be well maintained, accessible, safe and beautiful. The Conservancy now raises 85% of Central Park’s $42.5 million annual expense budget and is responsible for all basic care of the park, and the City has come to rely on the partnership.
Image credit: Eric Sehr, Flickr creative commons