Excerpted fromPlanning, 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.

Social relationships within a park space, control of that space by particular groups, and how the space is used all have a significant influence on park use and perceptions of safety. Conflicts arise from activities which are considered “undesirable” and which impinge on other users’ image of and comfort within the park.

While the term “undesirable” is subjective, there are activities which the majority of users find unacceptable in parks. For example, activities which involve victimless crimes such as prostitution, gambling, drug dealing, or when areas of parks are used as meeting places for homosexual men. To discourage such activities the physical conditions that support “undesirable” situations need to be evaluated (dense plantings, poor lighting, isolated parking areas etc.) in conjunction with efforts to maximize positive park use.

The Citizens’ Taskforce on the Use and Security of Central Park found that there was a direct relationship between the volume of park use and the perception of security: The larger the number of visitors involved in positive activities, the more likely that anti-social behaviour was deterred. The taskforce linked recreational programs with improved security, by suggesting that an emphasis on expanded recreation initiatives will encourage greater use and a safer park environment.

What to consider:

Discouraging Inappropriate Activities

  • Has the park been made inviting to legitimate users so that positive use will curb undesirable activities?

Strategies to Reduce Vandalism in Problematic Parks

  • Do the police provide regular evening patrols, preferably on foot or bicycle, of parks where repeated vandalism and anti-social activity has been reported?

Maintenance Strategies

  • Is it possible to assign zone gardeners to parks to provide an element of security and authority?

Positive Responses

  • Is it possible to meet with the local community to discuss strategies to regain control of a park subject to ongoing vandalism or domination by any one group?
  • Will local residents help organize a community-based mural painting project in areas subject to recurring graffiti?
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