Before anyone gets the wrong idea about what the intention of this article is, I want to be clear that what happened at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday was selfish and inexcusable. Watching the Blog TO video was extraordinarily saddening and frustrating to see, especially for all the people who respected the quarantine measures for months in hopes that everything could return to normal quicker. It is going to be interesting how parks and green spaces will be regulated and enforced, especially if a second spike in cases happens. Whatever happens one thought at the back of my mind while watching that video yesterday was, does downtown Toronto have enough space to accommodate its residents, even if proper social distancing measures are followed?
I made this map a couple of months ago, giving a general view of park space throughout the city of Toronto. We can see that most of the hot spots follow our river and hydro corridors systems. With the Don, Humber, and Rouge River, as well as the Finch and Gatineau hydro corridors ranging in values between 16 and 32. Conversely, downtown Toronto is one of the ‘coldest’ areas in the city, in terms of park space, with only a few parks within the downtown core.
We can also evaluate available park space using population data to calculate Park Space per Person for each Census Tract. Within Toronto’s downtown core 21 of out the 41 census tracts have between 0 – 3 square meters of park space per person.
How can we use this data to evaluate if Toronto has enough green space downtown to accommodate its residential population? First, we have to determine how much space a person needs to be in line with proper social distancing measures. If two people are standing in the middle of their designated square, you need a length of 1 meter from the center of your square to the edge to make up the required 2-meter distance (1 meter plus 1 meter from the other person’s designated square). This means you need a 2 meter by 2-meter square, which is an area of 4 square meters of space per person. With this threshold determined, we can evaluate how many census tracts in Toronto meet this minimum threshold for their local population.
In the city of Toronto, 139 census tracts do not meet this threshold, 22 percent, 31 census tracts, which exist within the downtown and its immediate border. These inefficiencies in our park system create spillover resulting in thousands of people traveling to the few available parks, such as in the case of Trinity Bellwoods. So what can be done? In the short term, we don’t have many options. The best proposition would be to restructure spaces such as streets to make pedestrian-friendly environments and provide spaces for physical activity. While private cars are one of the few transportation options where people feel safe right now, they are inefficient in terms of the volume of people they carry relative to the space they need to operate. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) just released a 29-page document regarding re-shaping public spaces and streets in cities to make them safer for pedestrians to maintain a safe distance, which I will link below. Reducing lanes, and even blocking off roads completely to convert them into green open areas would help relieve some spillover effect taking place in Toronto’s downtown core.
This pandemic has made us rethink and evaluate every aspect of how cities are designed and managed. In Toronto, the downtown core simply does not have enough green space required to meet the needs of its local residents. Saturday’s events were extremely upsetting. However, we still need to examine why it happened critically and implement the following changes quickly to prevent it from happening again. Restructuring streets to create more open space can make a profound and immediate impact on Toronto’s need for green space downtown as well as create areas that are more pedestrian-friendly both in the short and long term.
NACTO Article: https://nacto.org/streets-for-pandemic-response-recovery/
City of Toronto Open Data Catalogue. (2019). Parks (WGS84) [Data set]. Retrieved from: https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/data-research-maps/open-data/open-data-catalogue/#d203b048-26d0-2e3b-da9f-16a5af5c07f8
Simply Analytic (2018). Total Population [Dataset]. Retrieved from: https://simplyanalytics.com/