The Golden Horseshoe Region is Growing, and So Must its Parkland
New report shows access to large parks in region is not equal and the benefits of large parks are out of reach for millions of Ontarians
TORONTO, April 4, 2022—Over two million people in the Golden Horseshoe are living in neighbourhoods with low accessibility to parks, which is regrettable given the mental and physical health benefits of being in nature have never been clearer. This is one of the findings in a new report, Improving Access to Large Parks in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe: Policy, Planning, and Funding Strategies, released today by Greenbelt Foundation and Green Infrastructure Ontario. This report is a follow-up to the State of Large Parks in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, published in 2019.
Over two million people in the Golden Horseshoe are living in neighbourhoods with low accessibility to parks, which is regrettable given the mental and physical health benefits of being in nature have never been clearer. "
“The findings of this report are focused on the Golden Horseshoe region but will provide valuable insights for decision-makers across Canada,” says Jennifer Court, Executive Director of Green Infrastructure Ontario. “In this new research, we look at who has access to the existing large parks and who does not, provide tangible examples of how to overcome barriers to the creation of new large parks, and provide much needed recommendations for policy makers at all levels to inspire the development of more large parks.”
Parks of all sizes contribute to human health and well-being; however, there are unique and magnified benefits associated with large parks (large parks are defined in this report as parks that are 20 hectares or more). Large parks are more likely to be used for physical activity, offer better wilderness experiences and are more likely to be used as a natural classroom; they also offer more ecosystem services, help foster biodiversity, and they contribute more to climate change mitigation.
In densely populated areas like the Golden Horseshoe, large parks are particularly valuable, as they provide an opportunity for people to escape into nature. However, access to large parks within this region is not equal. The study finds that 30 per cent of Visible Minority and Low-Income neighbourhoods in the Golden Horseshoe have low access to large parkland.
Additionally, 55 per cent of neighbourhoods with high ratios of Indigenous populations have low access to large parkland. This is problematic, given that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report acknowledged that Indigenous health and well-being are seen as inextricably linked with the land. As cited in the report, there is an initiative underway in Ontario to establish an Anishinaabek Land Trust, where land will be acquired across Ontario through private landowner donation, land purchase, and conservation easements. This example is an innovative approach that increases the size and quality of the park network.
Research shows that being out in nature reduces stress, improves well-being, and contributes to physical health, however large parks are not easy to get to for many residents of the Golden Horseshoe (GH). According to the Foundation’s earlier report, The Greenbelt Value of Nature Survey for Recreation in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, more than 8 in 10 Greater Golden Horseshoe residents, or 84 per cent, indicate that it is important to them to live in an area with good access to nature, but only 67 per cent rated the access where they live as “excellent” or “good”. This new study reinforces this finding as it finds that 1.7 million people in the GH have no access to large parks within a 15-minute walk, 400,000 people have no access to large parks within 15 minutes of cycling, and 235,000 people have no access to large parks within 30 minutes of transit. Furthermore, it finds that municipalities in the eastern end of the study area (Oshawa and Clarington), northern end (between Newmarket/Uxbridge to Lake Simcoe), and western end (the Hamilton-Niagara corridor), as well as Mississauga and Burlington, had lower availability of large parkland on average by active transportation such as walking, cycling, and transit.
“There is a gap in large park planning across the region that needs to be addressed if we are to have sufficient parkland for the growing population,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. “All levels of government must ensure that as parkland grows, it is grown equitably in areas that need it most. We need regional coordination to improve access for underserved communities.”
As the Golden Horseshoe is expected to reach a population of 15 million by the year 2051, parkland must also continue to grow to keep pace with the needs of residents. To maintain the current rate of large parkland for residents, almost 32,000 hectares of additional parkland must be created over the next 30 years. This requires an average of 1,076 new hectares per year.
The report offers several recommendations that will help overcome barriers to the equitable funding, planning, and establishment of new large parks in the Golden Horseshoe. Examples cited are: the need for a regional and intergovernmental strategy; the establishment of innovative funding and legislative approaches; the implementation of partnerships that increase the size and quality of large parks; the reconfiguration of parkland dedication bylaws; and increasing the viability of land trusts and non-conventional greenspaces in the parks network.
To read the Final and Technical reports, please click HERE.
Use our web application to review the existing and planned parks across the Golden Horseshoe, and filter by specific census information on the score values HERE.
To read our Backgrounder with further findings and recommendations, please click HERE.
This report was created with support from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Parks Association.
“It has been my pleasure to be able to serve and be part of the parks sector for over 40 years. In that time, I have learned just what an integral role these greenspaces provide to the health and well-being of our residents and especially our children. This report takes a snapshot of where we are at now and where we need to go. This information will help our politicians and senior decision makers ensure that parks receive the funding and support needed to maintain and sustain these valuable components of green infrastructure.” – Paul Ronan, Executive Director of Ontario Parks Association
“It can be very challenging for municipalities to dedicate large new parks in the Golden Horseshoe. Land prices are very high and large parcels of land are increasingly difficult to find. The report identifies the need for regional coordination of various actors such as different tiers of government, conservation authorities, land securement trusts, community foundations, businesses and developers, in order to find solutions and meet the needs of the growing population.” – Thomas Bowers, Director of Research and Policy, Greenbelt Foundation
About Greenbelt Foundation:
Greenbelt Foundation is a charitable organization, solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous. We make the right investments in its interconnected natural, agricultural, and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all. Ontario's Greenbelt is the world's largest, with over two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands and rivers working together to provide clean air, fresh water, and a reliable local food source.
About Green Infrastructure Ontario:
Green Infrastructure Ontario (GIO) Coalition is an alliance of organizations that share a common vision for a healthy, green Ontario where the economic, social, environmental and health benefits of green infrastructure are fully realized.
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