– By Lisa Kowalchuk –
As Toronto leaves behind the long pandemic winter of 2020, birdsong and greenery announce the coming season and its greater opportunities for enjoyment of the outdoors.
Being in contact with green spaces and nature is shown in study after study to boost the mental and physical health of city-dwellers. In a recent national survey done by Park People, the organization found that spending time in parks and other green spaces helped people cope with life during the pandemic.
We spoke with Park People’s Project Manager, Brianna Aspinall Nuñez, who describes the organization’s mission as “improving the lives of people living in cities by having them be active and involved in their local parks, and using those public spaces as hubs where people can connect, and build social connection with your community.”
Canadians are using green spaces more during the pandemic. They are finding that being in parks has become more important to their health, but Park People’s survey also found inequalities in park use this past year. In neighbourhoods that do not have a park within a 10-minute walking distance, far more people — 16% — made no park visits at all this past year, compared to 3% in communities that do have such close access.
This finding is relevant to St. James Town, which among Toronto neighbourhoods was recently found to have the lowest per capita amount of park space, perhaps not surprising given its population density. This is certainly one of many factors that can discourage people’s use and enjoyment of green spaces, factors which we will explore in greater depth in our July issue.
One major barrier is the lack of awareness of nature exploration opportunities that exist close to, but outside the community. Park People, founded in Toronto in 2011 and with a network of park groups in 46 cities across Canada, works to address this problem.
Many people – newcomers and others — benefit greatly from being shown how to access such areas by someone who accompanies them. InTo the Ravines, a program that Park People offers in partnership with the City of Toronto, and which Aspinall Nuñez leads, aims to get “Torontonians experiencing the ravines, balancing that with use and protection, education, and care for the natural environment.”
The InTo the Ravines program includes the Ravines Champions initiative, which trains and supports individuals, including newcomers, to lead community events in ravines near their neighbourhoods. Despite the pandemic, the program in its first year brought 66 people into ravines, many who rarely or never visited one. The vast majority are inspired to do further exploration, Aspinall Nuñez said. There are several ravine system access points near St. James Town.
One is just northeast of Castle Frank Station, through Craigleigh Gardens, where one can rest on benches that overlook the ravine, and also access the Beltline trail. Another is at the bottom of the pedestrian bridge staircase that connects Riverdale Park East and West. Both lead to Evergreen Brickworks, where one can stroll around a pond and see snapping turtles and herons. There are also plenty of places to rest, as well as functioning public washrooms and drinking water fountains.
Fortunately, those with reduced mobility can also get to Brickworks and thereby access the ravine system by means of TTC shuttle bus from Broadview Station. Though the shuttle is currently suspended due to the pandemic, people should check the Brickworks site frequently for updates. According to Aspinall Nuñez, progress is being made to improve accessibility infrastructure in Toronto’s ravines and other park areas.
Other relevant links
- Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA) programming for newcomers
- Park People’s Tips for new ravine explorers
- “Mood walks”, held every 3 to 4 weeks, for people ages 16 to 35 experiencing mental health challenges
- Park People’s Sparking Change program
- Park People’s InTo the Ravines program
- Evergreen Brickworks
- FAQ on Evergreen and the pandemic situation