COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

What Role Can Programming Play in Creating Safer Parks?

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

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.

People seek out parks because they provide contact with the natural environment and a social environment which offers opportunities for meeting with friends, watching others and being seen - all of which help to establish a feeling of comfort and security.

The presence of programmed activities or activity generators attract and increase positive use in a park. Depending on the location, size and features in a park environment, programming can include: recreational offerings; tours; exhibits; community gardens; cultural festivals; or special events such as music, dance or theatre. The presence of food concessions or a cafe is another key way to engage users. Wherever possible, programming and activity generators should be incorporated into a park environment because they reinforce the interconnection between use and safety.

Community gardens are one way to establish a consistent presence in a park during the summer months. Joggers or dog walkers can be valuable in extending the period of use in a park and in creating an atmosphere of safety throughout the year. Groups such as these can also be encouraged to observe and report situations that compromise safety in the park.

What to consider:

Location of Programming

  • Are the programmed activities located near the park perimeter, beside an entrance or along a main pedestrian path?
  • Have food concessions been located at the park edge that serve both the street and the park?

Establishing a Community Presence in the Day & Evening

  • Do the activities in the park establish a human presence from early morning to evening?
  • Does the programming and physical design of the park encourage use of the park during the evenings?

Programming for Diversity in Use and Users

  • Are there activities other than organized sports facilities and playgrounds available for users?
  • Is it possible to invite private non-profit groups to offer tours or arrange community events to enhance park usage?

Developing a network of volunteers who will offer a variety of tours (bird-watching, garden or naturalist) or events such a storytelling or puppet shows will encourage more widespread use of parks and increase positive use.

  • Is there specific programming that addresses the needs and interests of women?

It was found that women were the primary participants in tours of the North Woods in Central Park and for many, it was the first time they had ventured into trail areas. The volunteer maintenance program in the North Woods is also proving to be effective in providing ongoing experiences for women in the woodland areas.

User Group Conflicts

  • Have separate areas been provided for teenagers to hang out so that territorial conflicts do not occur?

Special consideration is required for teenagers as they seek out places where they can take socialize and assume ownership. If appropriate spaces are not planned to address their needs, teenagers frequently take over areas designed for others and their very presence may intimidate younger children and adults.

Design for Diversity in Use and Users

  • Does the park design provide interpretative signage or a special recreational setting that can be used to enhance programming options?
  • Have any areas in the park been left "undersigned" to allow the community to be involved in deciding how the space should be used?


  • Would an increase in the amount, location and type of seating encourage greater social interaction in the park?
  • Are there comfortable places to sit and socialize close to the park's perimeter for those with physical disabilities, limited time or concern about safety?
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