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5 Tips for Re-Purposing Parks from Toronto Park People
How to turn the derelict patch of grass in your neighbourhood into a community hub

Structure in South Humber Park built 1959 by Alan Crossley as a public washroom

Toronto has over 1,400 parks – they are arguably our most overlooked assets.

Toronto Park People met earlier this week to talk parks. The group aims to preserve and promote the natural ecology of parks, while planting trees and community gardens, creating skating rinks and playgrounds, building pizza and tandoor ovens, and activating parks with farmer’s markets, festivals and films.

They also want to turn under-used park buildings into viable operations. Re-purposing derelict buildings in our parks can stimulate people to use them more. Here are 5 tips on how you can improve your local park by re-purposing derelict buildings that are already there:

Pull yourselves together: Find other people in your neighborhood that want to see changes — ideally incorporating as a non-profit organization. “If there isn’t a local community group, then start one,” said Chander Chaddah, a founding board member behind the Wabash Building Society“The city likes to work with community groups.”

Patience: “You’ve got to have patience,” said Chaddah. “You can’t get upset about the glacial speed because the glacier does move.” Navigating the different ownerships and designations of each abandoned/underused park building can be time-consuming. “It’s a real mish-mash. Just because a building resides in a park doesn’t mean it’s in the park’s inventory,” said Rob Richardson, Manager of Partnership Development for the city’s Parks department. Building partnerships, raising funds, getting public support and city approval will take time.

Trinity Bellwoods Park greenhouse – now utilized seasonally for growing seedlings

Location, Location: “Amalgamation showed how well served we are downtown, relative to our fellow citizens in York and East York,” said Chaddah. Be mindful that, in a mega-city, certain areas (like those with no parks) will get priority. That shouldn’t dissuade you from taking smaller, manageable steps — like community fundraising and getting support for materials from local businesses. “Leverage your personal contacts to build up your fieldhouse,” said Chaddah.

Talk to your Park Rangers: The city is looking at instating new Urban Park Rangers who will be “ambassadors that bridge the community, youth and ideas for the park with the city,” said Richardson. They can help you identify if the building you want is owned by the city or some other organization.

Get Money, Get Paid: The amount allotted for new capital projects often “presents challenges in the capital budget,” said Richardson. “It’ll often come down to dollars.” The key is amassing the funds and support prior to the capital budget submission period in April or May. Often, re-purposing buildings are made possible through generous private donations or extensive community fundraising. Thankfully, the city has written a step-by-step guide for citizens to raise funds to improve their local parks including instructions on how to seek out corporate donations and use social media to generate interest.

Sunnyside Pavilion


Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard.  Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

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