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How local parks can transform Toronto neighbourhoods

Park programming can make a big difference, says new Sparking Change report.

Nawal Ateeq in Flemingdon Park, where she has supported local parks programming.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Nawal Ateeq in Flemingdon Park, where she has supported local parks programming.

Parks can play a bigger role in bringing communities together socially, according to a new report.

Published by local advocacy group Park People, Sparking Change argues that parks can foster better community relationships and support economic development.

It’s not necessarily the fancy new playground or designer benches that make that happen, said Jake Tobin Garrett, the report’s author.

“It doesn’t take something like New York’s High Line or Millenium Park in Chicago,” he said.

Instead, it’s ongoing programming that gives people a reason to meet their neighbours.

“Parks can bring a really rich set of positive benefits when neighbourhoods get involved,” Tobin Garrett said.

One of the best features of parks, according to the report, is the range of social connections that strengthen neighbourhood ties — neighbourly nods and meetings with pettable dogs can go a long way. These interactions that make parks feel like supportive and inviting places don’t just happen by themselves and community involvement can make a big difference in getting there.

Nawal Ateeq, chair of Flemingdon Community Support Services, sees the impact it has in her neighbourhood.

“This is a tower neighbourhood,” Ateeq said in reference to Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park. “You need to provide something of interest to everyone,” to encourage them to come out of small and isolated apartments, she said.

While events like park movie nights are increasingly popular, a range of activities can draw people out. Among other things, park cleanups have proven popular in her neighbourhood with upward of 200 people coming out to help.

“The events are more socializing than cleanup,” she said.

The success in Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park provides lessons for others around the city.

A park cleanup builds a sense of community ownership, and can also be a way for people to build their organizing skills, benefits that the Sparking Change report highlights.

The report stresses that with strong community engagement and programming, parks can be a catalyst for change.

“If you believe in what you’re doing and spark the interest of the community, they’ll come out,” Ateeq said.

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