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Municipal Parks and COVID-19

Written by
Robert Gibson
and
and
April 2, 2021
Municipal Parks and COVID-19
Photo courtesy of Ignacio Brosa on Unsplash.

There are multiple variables that determine whether a place gets more COVID-19 than others. In some cases, the spread could come from a single business or from a lack of safety protocols being followed. In addition, social inequality within communities plays a role. This is in addition to small population sizes. In Barrie, there was an outbreak at a nursing home which impacted nursing home residents and in Kingston one nail salon caused an issue. In the previous article “A Case for Parks in a Pandemic” it was pointed out that biodiversity loss and pandemics were linked. As there are multiple variables which cannot be controlled, planning documents and environmental reports will be looked at to determine if park planning is adequate across Ontario at various municipalities. Ways to determine how municipalities are treating park spaces and pandemics is by looking at Official Plan documents, Field Naturalists organizations and aerial photos.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 0.9 ha/1000 persons of park space with 1.5 ha/1000 persons of park space being ideal. In multiple Official Plan documents from municipalities across Ontario the minimum standard is being used. 

In some municipalities, such as Windsor Ontario, there is a clear example of environmental degradation as there is less than 5% forest cover and minimal original wetlands left as highlighted in the report Back to Basics from Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s former Environmental Commissioner. The report “The Ecosystems of Ontario, Part 2: Ecodistricts from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry” includes Windsor in the Essex Eco district or Ecodistrict 7E-1 which says 90% of the eco district has been converted to agriculture and there is 4% of forest cover which is scattered and small outside of protected areas. 

 When looking at Pickering’s Official plan there is a requirement for developers to have 1 hectare of park space per 300 dwelling units or 2% of the development. It is estimated that there are 2.86 people per unit across Durham region, according to Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority’s (RPRA) 2019 data call, which means there could be as little as 1.17 hectares of park space per 1000 people if applied across Durham region. In addition, natural spaces are being lost to development which contributes to increased biodiversity loss. In terms of forest cover, Durham Region has 25.8% forest coverage according to the report Environment and Green Lands system Discussion paper. In a Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) meeting it was revealed that the TRCA only had 1% of its wetlands left in its jurisdiction as natural cover.

City of Kitchener’s Official Plan shows a requirement to have up to one hectare for each 300 dwelling units or 5% of the proposed development.If this is applied across the entire Waterloo region then there could be as little as 1.18 hectares of park space for 1000 people.

The Region of Waterloo is in the Stratford Ecodistrict or Ecodistrict 6E-1 from looking at the report “The Ecosystems of Ontario, Part 2: Ecodistricts from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.” The report says that “…one-fifth of the area is represented by natural or naturalized areas including forests, fen complexes, and marshes…” which works out to be similar to Durham region. 

The article “Save Inverlea Park” by Marlee Lunshof revealed that park space is unevenly distributed which raises access issues for people who are unable to afford to live close to a park. Peterborough also has a target of 1 ha/1000 people for parks and some areas have 0.5 ha/1000 people. Dylan Radcliffe’s article “Protected Peterborough?” shows the uneven distribution of park space and natural protections. This is well below the WHO’s guidelines for park space. 

Guelph’s Official Plan shows a commitment of a minimum standard of 0.7 ha/1000 people for community parks and 1.3 ha/1000 people city wide. It appears that larger cities in the area can have greater disparities in parks and natural space. 

In conclusion, it looks like biodiversity and park spaces are often not given enough consideration in terms of health benefits. While no direct link to COVID-19 and parks can be established locally for numerous reasons there have been scientific papers which link pandemics to a lack of biodiversity and adequate park space as discussed in my first article on this topic.

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