To convey an image of safety, a park must be actively used, well-maintained, and offer a range of programmed recreational activities as well as opportunities for informal leisure pursuits. Faced with decreasing capital and maintenance budgets, community groups can help to fill the gap.

In Canada and the United States, the response to reduced budgets has been to develop a variety of park conservancies and alliances designed to address maintenance, safety, education, and fund-raising in public parks. These non-profit civic stewardship initiatives are widespread and the opportunities for positive results are enormous because they give people a greater feeling of control which, in turn, fosters a sense of ownership and pride. Examples of community and citizen involvement include:

Central Park’s LIVE (Learning and Involvement for Volunteers in the Environment)

A range of volunteers, including children, the elderly and the visually impaired, carry out tasks such as bulb-planting, pruning, restoration and answering visitors’ questions at park entrance kiosks.

You Gotta Have Park

Each year thousands of volunteers devote one spring weekend to participate in a range of activities from removing debris to painting in parks across New York City.

Adopt-A-Park Programs or Other Single Interest Groups

Volunteers undertake to adopt a particular park or work to introduce or protect wildflowers, native plants or trees in their local green spaces.

ParkWatch Programs

Residents work together to provide “eyes on their local park” which not only improves surveillance, but also increases public awareness of safety issues.

Common to all of these efforts is the understanding that advocacy groups and volunteers are an essential component in park stewardship efforts. While the use of volunteers used to be considered as a cost-saving measure, today it is understood that volunteer programs enhance the image, and range of uses because they broaden the community of people who have a personal stake in parks.

Citizen Involvement

Local communities become partners in park stewardship by:

  • Making frequent use of local green spaces
  • Contributing to activity programming such as park tours
  • Helping to pick-up garbage
  • Reporting problems such as vandalism and misuse to parks staff
  • Assisting in fund-raising efforts to improve local parks

What to consider:

  • Is the local community involved in park decision-making, design or activity programming?
  • Is the local community willing to organize a regular park clean-up to supplement what the parks department can offer in problem parks?
  • If problems have been reported are citizens willing to carry out a safety audit and report back with concerns and possible solutions?
  • Has a public consultation process been undertaken to identify the needs, interests and concerns of the local community at the outset of a process to create a new park or redesign an old one?

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. It is intended to serve as a tool to provide a better understanding of personal safety issues in parks and open spaces. See the Introduction for more information.

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