How community can evaluate their parks

by Brenda
(Toronto Canada)

Visitor Question: We need to know what to look for when evaluating our neighbourhood parks? What should we look for.

Editors' Reply: We think neighborhood parks should be evaluated on these simple basics:

1. Are they safe from crime and hazardous conditions?

2. Are they well maintained and kept litter free as much as possible?

3. Is the neighborhood park attractive and interesting?

4. How many people does it serve? The related question is whether this is over or under its capacity to serve the population and still maintain its integrity as a park.

5. How well does the park meet its purpose or purposes?

A relatively short time ago, it was popular to make much ado about national standards for acreage of various types of park land. We think that trend was overdone, because quality may well matter much more than quantity.

So we've concluded that the most important evaluation method would concentrate on how well a neighborhood park meets its purpose, as defined by the neighbors together with city hall.

Parks have many purposes, and even change purposes from time to time. So first we would recommend that you determine what needs you would like the park in question to meet.

If you are writing from the perspective of a neighborhood, that answer could be different from the answer that a large parks department would give.

Let's assume for a moment that you've identified a purpose or several purposes for each park. Examples of purposes of parks include: providing a place for young children to play close to home, playing fields for a variety of team sports such as baseball or soccer, picnic areas, walking for recreation or nature appreciation, exercise for fitness, aesthetically pleasing or showy gardens,a quiet respite in a busy area, passive green space meant more for wildlife habitat or stormwater absorption than for human recreation, or a setting for museums and cultural institutions.

It's somewhat common that older parks have lost their purpose, especially if they were post-World War II "pocket parks" or small neighborhood parks sometimes required to be dedicated to the city as part of subdividing land.

Either the neighborhood doesn't have as many children, or parents are more cautious about kidnapping, pedophiles, snakes, skinned knees, and everything else, and won't allow the children to go to the park unattended. You have to decide if you're going to retain these purposeless parks or give them a new reason for being.

You'll find all the evaluation questions to be intertwined, but we thought these would be some good starting points.

The footnote is that if you can't think of a good reason to have that particular neighborhood park, it might be time to try to sell or give it to a private owner. Park maintenance expenses are increasing rapidly, and if a park has no reason for being, maybe the town or city should make a different park where a public purpose truly can be met.

Incidentally, you may be interested in our safe parks page, as well as the parklet idea.

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