Last week, Toronto Park People released their Park Toolkit, a collection of how-to handbooks for hosting community park events. Below is a Q&A with Park People’s Communications & Events Coordinator, Kyle Baptista, about the Park Toolkit:
Why are these tool kits needed?
We believe that when communities get involved, our parks get better. What better way to do this than empower every Torontonian to engage with their community and their park through fun, free events and natural stewardship? It’s not only a fun way to meet neighbours and get outside, but these events help strengthen and beautify our parks and communities by increasing people’s sense of shared responsibility for our public spaces. Many of these events also help animate parks at different points of the year and times of day. For example, movie nights bring people out to the park in the early evening hours and campfires can help make those cold winter days much more inviting.
Park People has been working with park friends groups (local volunteer-led community groups that host events and advocate for their local park) since 2011. In that time, we’ve received a lot of feedback about the processes in place for hosting community events in parks. The main issues that arise are unclear rules and inconsistent information about how to go about doing these events, which informed our decision to create these handbooks.
The city’s permitting and insurance is different for every type of event and group size, so providing clarity to volunteers around these ideas was most important. We feel strongly that the City should view these volunteer-led park friends groups as partners in animating and caring for local parks. One key way for the City to build these partnerships is to waive the fees currently charged to these groups for doing this work. While we continue to strive to make the process easier and less expensive for volunteers, we can at least start by making it more accessible. As more people take on the role of bringing their community together to improve our parks, the demand for a better process could drive a change in how these systems are structured.
Has the lack of knowledge about these rules meant Torontonians haven’t been able to enjoy their parks as fully as they might have?
For many Torontonians, events like community campfires are a completely foreign concept. Either they didn’t know these were an option, or they have no idea how to go about having them via the proper permitting process. Far too often this critical infrastructure in parks goes under-utilized, or used improperly. The Park Toolkit informs volunteers not just of the proper process and permits, but also procedures to ensure a fun, welcoming and safe event that enhances our vital green spaces.
Why were these topics chosen?
We started with campfires, nature events, movie nights and picnics because they are among the most popular and most confusing events to host in parks. Our work with volunteer groups across the city has provided insight into where park volunteers need the most support, and so we used that data to inform which park events we would start with. In the future we hope there is a library of resources for everything from community gardens to table tennis for Toronto’s parks.
Any data yet on downloads?
In their first week, the Park Toolkit handbooks were downloaded over 2000 times.
Toronto Park People is hosting a launch event on Tuesday, November 4th, where park volunteers can participate in a roundtable discussion with city staff and community experts for advice on bringing these events to their park. The event is free to attend. Register here.