The Many Benefits of Parks

In many ways, the benefits of great city parks are so numerous and self- evident that Toronto and most other cities take them for granted. Only in recent decades, as cities have struggled to maintain parks, has significant research been undertaken to quantify their benefits. This research proves that investment in and care of city parks has many positive returns — a win for local business is also a win for public health, a win for social justice is also a win for the environment.

Below is just a sampling of benefits that Dave Harvey at Park People uncovered on his groundbreaking study:

Click here to download the full report.

•    Stronger communities: Great public parks are focal points for bringing communities together.  They are “our city’s connectors.”
•    Welcoming newcomers: More than half of Toronto’s residents were not born in Canada and this figure continues to increase. Cultivating and facilitating a connection to local parks facilitates a connection to community and the environment for newcomers.
•    Attracting the best and brightest: Access to great parks is an important quality-of-life consideration when businesses or individuals decide whether to locate in a region.
•    Children’s play: Play is not just fun for kids, but is  critically important to raising children who are physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. Parks fight “nature deficit disorder” in our children and ensure that kids do not lose their connections to nature.
•    Healthier communities: People who live in neighbourhoods that include parks and support physical activity have lower rates of obesity and diabetes, with lower health care costs. The Toronto Community Foundation’s 2009 Vital Signs report found that 7 of the 10 Toronto neighbourhoods with the highest rates of diabetes lacked access to parks, schoolyards, and recreation centres. All 10 of the neighbourhoods were low-income neighbourhoods.
•    Transportation alternatives: Greenways and trails such as the Martin Goodman Trail and the Don and Humber bike trails promote both physical activity and clean transportation options.
•    Food security: Community gardens and farms give access to healthy local food and economic opportunity for lower-income people.
•    Property values: Successful parks increase the value of nearby residential and commercial properties. This increased value in land prices is passed on to the city in the form of higher property tax revenues. For example, New York City estimates that the new High Line Park has already spurred over $1.5 billion in new construction investment in the area of the park with an additional $2.5 billion expected in the coming decade. Proximity to the High Line has added 10 to 15% to the value of nearby properties.6 A 2007 study by the New York University Furman Centre for Real Estate and Urban Policy also found that community gardens in New York’s poorest neighbourhoods had lifted property values by more than 9% over five years.
•    Economic development: New businesses (restaurants, cafés, retail) are attracted to popular parks.
•    Tourism: Great parks are major tourist attractions. For example, Harbourfront is one of Toronto’s top attractions, with 12 million visits a year.
•    Reducing and adapting to climate change effects: – More parks and the expansion of tree cover will reduce urban “heat island” effects, absorb carbon emissions, and reduce water runoff and the risk of flooding in the Don, Humber, and Rouge river systems.
•    Clean air: Toronto’s parks are home to much of Toronto’s urban forest. Trees and other vegetation improve air quality by absorbing pollutants and producing oxygen.
•    Clean water: Greenspaces such as wetlands play a cost-effective role in preventing contaminants and toxins from reaching Lake Ontario, the source of Toronto’s drinking water.
•    Nature and wildlife: Parks such as Rouge Park and Tommy Thompson Park support hundreds of species. Parks also help facilitate the movement of wildlife through natural corridors.

Great cities need places of respite, inspiration, beauty, and wonder.

– Article courtesy of Ed Horner with files from Dave Harvey at Park People. 

Photo courtesy of Photo by ip.sebastian.

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