By: Heather Jackson
We humans are social animals. It’s why we live with other people and form communities. If our neighbourhoods have thriving public spaces (parks, squares, markets, waterfronts, gardens, etc.) for us all to frequent and enjoy, we tend to consider these places more “livable” than places without such amenities. Public spaces also have economic benefits for real estate (higher property values), local businesses (increased pedestrian traffic means more customers for shops and restaurants) and tourism (think Central Park in New York or Las Ramblas in Barcelona). And of course there are the environmental benefits that come with more green space and fewer motor vehicles.
As the condo boom continues in Toronto, public spaces are becoming even more coveted, especially by families. The question for many parents living in high-rise buildings becomes, “Where do we take the kids to play?” Public spaces such as libraries, community centres and parks are essential, as are private-public spaces like courtyards, condo party rooms and rooftop patios. Here are some questions to ask your candidates about the use, creation and maintenance of public space in Toronto:
With all the new condos under construction, does Toronto in general and your ward in particular have enough public spaces to support the growing population? New condo buildings add thousands of residents to neighborhoods, which means more people using public spaces. Condo dwellers have less living space than those in houses with private yards, which some would argue makes public spaces even more important to these residents. Does your candidate have ideas on how to maintain existing public spaces or create new ones to meet this demand?
Is there a “Friends of the Park” group in your ward? Volunteer groups help maintain many of Toronto’s parks. Is your candidate aware of such a group or the need for park volunteers in a neglected or underused green space in your ward? Check out www.parkpeople.ca for a list of all the volunteer park groups in Toronto.
Should Toronto revise their parks policy? Currently the City requires a permit and insurance for community groups to host events in parks, and some feel that these local organizations should be exempt from fees and covered under the City’s insurance policy so that they are more likely to utilize public spaces for neighbourhood events. Does your candidate agree with this stance? Why or why not?
What spaces in your ward could benefit from POPS signs? Privately owned public spaces (POPS) such as parkettes, plazas, courtyards or walkways (a well-known example is Commerce Court in Toronto’s Financial District), which developers build in exchange for height bonuses or permission to bypass certain zoning restrictions, are open to the public though people aren’t always aware of this. So the City is making these POPS more accessible by adding signage to identify them, creating an online catalogue so people can find them, and establishing a set of guidelines to ensure that future POPS actually look like they are intended for public use. Does your candidate support this program?
Are the public spaces in your ward accessible? If not, what steps will your candidate take to rectify this problem? Some public spaces are more accessible than others, particularly in the wintertime when regular snow and ice clearing is required to ensure many residents can actually use their neighbourhood’s public spaces. From a human rights perspective it is vital to ensure equitable access to public space for those with sensory and mobility challenges – and the size of this group will only increase as our population ages. The City of Toronto has a set of Accessibility Design Guidelines for public spaces and infrastructure, but these guidelines serve as “best practices” rather than requirements. Does your candidate know whether the ward’s public spaces align with the Accessibility Design Guidelines? How will they work toward alignment over the course of their term in office?
For more information on everything to do with our city’s public space, check out these links: