Highlights from 4th Annual Toronto Park Summit

Three of us attended the summit on Saturday 22nd February at Daniels Spectrum, organized by Park People. Here are some highlights.

The afternoon began with a musical performance by a small group of students from the Regent Park School of Music. David Harvey, the founder of Park People, said that their aim is to have a park with a friends organization in every ward of the city. At the first summit three years ago there were 40 groups; now there are more than 100. He believes their aim will be achieved this year. He urged us to propose park issues for candidates to consider in the civic elections this fall, attend all-candidate meetings and bring these issues up, then follow up after the election.

The keynote speaker was Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner of New York City from 2002-12 and now with the Trust for Public Land. The trust has developed a way of ranking cities’ parks systems, called Parkscore. One criterion it uses is the proportion of residents who live within 10 minutes walk of a park. Minneapolis ranks top. Adrian said Toronto would likely rank high up. He gave an excellent talk, illustrated with many “before and after” slides of US parks he was involved with e.g. the High Line in NYC. He said that park friends organizations bring “an army of engaged volunteers” whose main activities are maintenance and planting, under the supervision of experts, with supplies and equipment supplied by official park staff. He also advised us to “do something substantive, rather than complain”. Another good quote was: “positive uses drive out negative ones”. In general, he said the more positive activities there are in a park, the better. Adrian’s talk was followed by a good Q&A.

Next there were short films made by Park People about 4 park friends groups, followed by a Q&A with their leader. Friends of the York Beltline covers the Beltline west of Marlee and Allen Rd to Caledonia. It is a new group. Domenic Scali said their first event was a tree planting on a freezing cold day; 200 people turned out and the trees were all planted in 20 minutes! They hope eventually to connect the park to the rest of the Kay Gardiner Beltline on the other side of the Allen.

Panorama Community Garden Group and Rexdale Foodie Fest came together to organize a food festival in a parking lot outside a community garden in a park. Eleanor Jimenez said they gave away 220 types of fresh food in order to promote the garden and the idea of accessible, local fresh food.

Angie Buardo of Friends of Earl Bales Park said that three Filipino neighbourhood  groups and one Russian group, together with a local Filipino church congregation, partnered to put on an arts and music festival, with 500 people in attendance. They are now working on having a farmers’ market.

John Mason of Friends of the Guild Park & Gardens noted that their park is a unique blend of art and nature, combining 80 acres of Carolinian forest on the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs with world class sculpture. It is the site of the former Guild Inn. Unfortunately, many layers of bureaucracy have so far thwarted plans for development of the site. The group offers walking tours, with 500 people out for Open Doors.

To wrap up, Richard Ubbens, the new head of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, talked about the ice storm damage and the need for some $50-70 M worth of new trees. He said one area where volunteers could help would be in clearing the remaining debris so that the grass can be cut. He said that PFR and park friends groups have a common commitment to maintaining the excellent park system that we have.

We then adjourned to partake of the free food and drink! Many thanks to Park People for putting on this very worthwhile event!

John Cummings