It isn’t the landscaped space that makes a park a glorious place, it is the work and activity and passion of everyday citizens. Take the west ends beloved High Park, where this essential truth comes to life all around you.
During the proceedings, volunteers were given service pins b one coach of an elite rep team was recognized for 25 years of work in the league. A convenor got up and talked about how parents and supporters had raised money and put in volunteer labour to install a new warning track along the home-run fence. If part of what makes summer in the park special for my family is the baseball community we participate in, webre indebted to a group of people who organize it and make it happen.
All around us there were other little societies and subcultures using the park: people crowded around the blossoming cherry trees, which were a gift from the Japanese government and are promoted by a non-profit park fund; a kids’ soccer league played on the field nearby; there was some kind of running event taking place along the roadways; children romped in the Jamie Bell Playground, a maze of castlelike structures originally designed by local schoolchildren and rebuilt with volunteer labour and donated money a few years ago after a fire.
We often refer to parks as bgreen spaces,b but they are so much more than that. My front lawn is a green space. The strips of grass at the sides of the highway are green spaces. What makes parks so valuable is the activities that take place in them b the way they are programmed and populated, in ways both planned and improvised, by groups of people.
You see this even in tiny local parks, where families leave communal toys behind and share neighbourhood news between turns on the slide. You see it in larger spaces like the celebrated Dufferin Grove, where the volunteer-initiated rinkhouse and pizza ovens became the hubs of neighbourhood revitalization. You see it in regional landmarks like Sunnybrook, where extended families set up loudspeakers during cookouts between cricket matches, or on the beaches where the various rowing clubs, beach volleyball players, sunbathers and swimmers congregate side-by-side, making an urban scene out of a strip of sand on the water.
The motto of the city’s parks department is bA City Within a Park,b meant to indicate that in Toronto the aim is that all urban space is immersed in a network of parkland. But visit any park and you’ll find it takes on another meaning: like a city, a park is more than a defined shared space; it is society of subcultures interacting in ways that define that space and make it a great place to be.
You can see the essential nature of park citizenship especially well in a large, established place like High Park. Much of its 161-hectare lot was donated to the city by resident John Howard in 1873, on the condition it be used as a bpublic park for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of the city of Toronto forever.
With that founding in a private donation, it has been built up and maintained in the intervening years under the city’s official custodianship with the initiative, dollars and hard work of citizens.
When the High Park Zoo faced closure due to lack of funding in 2012, the community raised money and volunteered time to keep it running, and today volunteers put in time on weekends so people can interact with animals in the llama pen.
A self-regulating group of dog owners (the K9 Committee) advocated for the establishment of an off-leash area, and attempt to broker disputes with other park users.
A group of conservationists established the non-profit Nature Centre to marshal volunteer stewards of the park’s environment and educate people about the ecosystem inside it.
One volunteer group built a meditative labyrinth in the park; the Canadian Stage theatre company has been performing Shakespearean plays in an amphitheatre since the early 1980s; people grow vegetables in community allotment gardens administered by a volunteer committee.
The list could go on quite awhile. Chess club. Tennis club. Shinny hockey, and so on: I counted at least 23 different formal, active groups of park users, without even getting to the informal crowds of regular visitors who make a scene just by showing up b those who spread out on the hill near Grenadier Pond on summer afternoons, or who skate on the pond in winter.
It is the simplest thing b blindingly obvious once you notice it b but worthy of recognition: it isn’t the landscaped space that makes a park a glorious place, it is the work and activity of the people. An essential truth about the city, found within a park.
Find out everything there is to know about High Park at http://www.highpark.org/