2015 Hero: Park People
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2015 Hero: Park People

Nominated for: making our city a better place, one park at a time.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Park People by Brett Lamb

“We do not exist to make noise or make demands.” It’s a novel approach for an advocacy group to take. But in their quiet, understated way, Toronto-based Park People has been working since its founding in 2011 to champion more and better parks for Torontonians across the mega-city.

“When communities get involved, parks get better,” said Park People executive director David Harvey. He began the independent charity after spending a year as a fellow with the Metcalf Foundation. Travelling to parks around the world gave Harvey a chance to figure out what Toronto could learn from other global cities to improve its parkland. Park People came out of that experience.

As Toronto gets denser, Harvey said, “people really [begin] using parks and public spaces as their backyard.” But parks are more than that, he feels; they should serve the people by building communities and offering environmental, social, health and economic opportunities. Realizing that Toronto was falling short of offering what other cities do through parkland, Harvey galvanized city residents to help make things better.

Believing Toronto is on the verge of a “park renaissance,” Park People has brought on that renewal by using the passion Torontonians have for greenspace. The organization has helped create more than 110 “Friends of” park groups; they plants trees, organize festivals and improve playgrounds for the millions of urban residents who visit a Toronto park on a weekly basis. Summits, training and toolkits from Park People help Park Friend Groups learn how to organize events like campfires and picnics and connect residents with nature.

Expanding park access in underserved communities like Malvern and Thorncliffe Park has been a big priority for the organization, as has tracking city hall’s budgeting for greenspace projects. The group has even helped notify the public about community efforts to save parkland under threat from developers, like what’s happening at North York’s Bannockburn Park.

“It’s people really acting and volunteering to support their parks,” Harvey said. We need more of that.