toronto parks

Park usage in Toronto more than doubled this summer

For all of the negative impacts COVID-19 has wrought upon the City of Toronto and its inhabitants, a few cool trends have emerged as a result of the pandemic — one of which is a new, deeper, more widespread appreciation of parks.

From urban green spaces like Dufferin Grove to quiet parkettes tucked between condo buildings, Toronto has no shortage of lovely picnic spots.

And with few other options to see our friends aside from gathering outside, more people than ever took advantage of Toronto's sprawling park network this summer.

According to a new report from The Toronto Foundation, city park usage actually reached an all-time high during the warmer months of 2020, more than doubling over the same time period in 2019.

"According to data provided by Google Mobility for the 'Toronto Region,' park usage in Toronto increased by 94 per cent in June, 100 per cent in July, and 97% in August, compared to the baseline," reads the 2020 Toronto Fallout Report, released on Thursday.

"This level of sustained park usage is unprecedented. However, as the weather cooled, park usage began to decline, with a 71 per cent average increase in September and only a 27 per cent increase in the first nine days of October."

Data has yet to be made available for November, but usage almost certainly started ticking upward again during this unusually-long, record-breaking heatwave.

Factor in the shutdown of indoor dining at bars and restaurants, and parks have been busier over the past few weeks than perhaps ever during November — and I'm not just talking about major spaces like High Park, Christie Pits and Riverdale Park East.

You'd have been hard-pressed to find any unoccupied green space within a two-kilometre radius of Trinity Bellwoods this sunny past weekend (or much of the summer) — schoolyards included.

While it's nice to think of more people getting outside to enjoy the fresh air in light of COVID, the Toronto Fallout Report isn't all roses.

Far from it, in fact, and it's clear that the negative, disparate impacts on the lives and livelihooods of Toronto residents far outweigh the positives.

Even the silver linings from the report have cast troubling shadows: Yes, park usage is up, but the infrastructure and amenities for use in these spaces are not the same everywhere.

"Parks in underserved neighbourhoods often don't fit the needs of the people who live around them," said Minaz Asani-Kanji, manager of outreach for Park People, in the Toronto Foundation report.

"They are flat expanses of grass that lack infrastructure, few benches to sit on, no shelter or shade, no lights after dark, unstable paths to walk on, no barbeque pits, and old, rusty playgrounds that need to be replaced."

Furthermore, Asani-Kanji says that "people in underserved communities don't use parks in the same way as people in more affluent communities. They need parks that fit their needs. This is why events and activities they organize are so important and can bring these parks to life."

The pandemic may be driving more people to make use of and enjoy this so-called "city of parks" in all of its green glory, but so too is it working to highlight the gaps in access to recreation infrastructure in lower-income neighbourhoods.

You can read the full report (and I highly recommend that you do) right here.

With winter on the way, it's important to consider the necessity of public outdoor spaces, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic.

Some 84 per cent of respondents in a recent Park People survey said that parks had become "a more important part of their mental health," while 72 per cent said the same for their physical health.

"Given the important role parks have been playing in mental health, this does signal some mental health challenges in the coming winter," reads the Toronto Foundation report. "Especially given the already unprecedented strain on mental health providers in the city."

Lead photo by

Lauren O'Neil

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