Excerpted from Planning, Designing and Maintaining Safer Parks, produced by Toronto Parks & Recreation. This guide is not intended to be a definitive statement on creating safer parks and open spaces, nor is it intended to serve as a template for the design, operation and use of parks. See the Introduction for more information.

Overall, good maintenance plays a vital role in park safety. The presence of graffiti, litter, vandalism, poorly maintained paths or planting can contribute to a perception of lack of safety. They suggest that an area is uncared for, and has minimal supervision. If ignored, a cycle of abuse is likely to occur in which legitimate users start to avoid an area as physical conditions deteriorate. The result is that parks can be taken over by inappropriate users and uses.

Increased lighting, surveillance, maintenance and use of graffiti-resistant materials can decrease the occurrence and extent of graffiti, vandalism and inadvertent damage in a park. In turn, the area will project an image of being well cared for and users will feel safer. Generally, well-maintained areas enhance perceptions of security.

Management strategies also play an important role in park safety because certain approaches can establish a more visible parks staff presence. Most traditional maintenance operations do not generally encourage involvement between park users and parks staff, although greater interaction between them will put a more human face on parks and enhance other safety-related initiatives.

One strategy to accomplish this is the establishment of zone gardeners who work exclusively in a designated area or park. Their familiarity with the park provides greater awareness and sensitivity to potential safety problems. This system is being used in Central Park in New York City, where they have begun to replace their centralized management with a zone gardener system wherein staff are assigned responsibility for designated areas of the park.

To be more effective, staff should be trained in personal safety so that they know what to look for, who to report it to and when and how to intervene as well as how to respond to reports from the public about safety concerns.

What to consider:

Presence of Parks Staff

  • Is there a visible staff presence in a park and can staff be easily identified by their uniform?

User Feedback

  • Is there a parks telephone number clearly posted so that users can recommend improvements, report damage or needed repairs?

Reducing Vandalism and Graffiti

  • Do damaged and graffitied areas receive regular maintenance and prompt repair?
  • Has the lighting and patrol of graffiti-prone areas been increased?
  • Can graffiti-resistant surfaces and coatings such as epoxy paint on exteriors or textured interior surfaces be used in areas subject to graffiti?

Vandalism breeds vandalism. A quick response to remove graffiti, replace damaged fixtures or remove garbage has been shown to greatly reduce the incentive to deface areas.

  • Is there a reporting system within the parks department that will identify ongoing problems?
  • Is it possible for maintenance personnel, park designers and local residents to meet to discuss recurrent problems and possible solutions?

The conventional way to address vandalism is “incident oriented” – a problem is reported and parks staff respond by repairing the damage. While immediate repair is critically important, it should be combined with an effort to find out the source of problem, otherwise the incidents will probably continue.

Community Partnerships

  • Is it possible to introduce a fall and spring clean-up in which local residents participate?

Staff Involvement

  • Is it possible for operations/maintenance staff to conduct tours of park gardens or natural areas during the summer months?

Naturalized Areas

  • Do the park’s naturalized areas suggest a lack of care and risk to personal safety?
  • Are the edges of naturalized areas carefully articulated and well maintained to create a greater edge effect?
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