Racialized residents in Jane and Finch and St. James Town neighbourhoods identified structural and systemic barriers to accessing, using, and navigating greenspaces, the study finds.
Park Perceptions and Racialized Realities is a community-based participatory research project that explores the experiences of racialized and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) in public greenspaces. The research, led by EUC PhD candidate Nadha Hassen with Professor Sarah Flicker, collaborated with Greenchange, Jane/Finch Centre and the St. James Town Community Co-operative.
In 2021, racialized residents who participated as “resident photographers” went on to visit greenspaces to take pictures in response to prompts that considered issues such as access, safety, and wellbeing. They were able to collect over 200 photos and videos documenting their experiences and capturing racialized residents’ perceptions on issues of access, inclusivity, mental health, safety, and wellbeing resulting in a community report.
“This report is really about the fact that greenspaces are not created and maintained equally or equitably across neighbourhoods in Toronto,” says Hassen. “Specifically, if we think about people who are racialized, so Black, Indigenous and people of colour, we don’t all experience greenspace or public spaces in the same way,” she adds.
Racialized residents in both neighbourhoods identified structural and systemic barriers to accessing, using, and navigating greenspaces. Discussions about greenspaces were an entry point to examining broader issues and barriers faced by racialized residents. Many of the experiences highlighted transcend the two neighbourhoods represented and are common to others living in underserved, marginalized and racialized neighbourhoods across the City of Toronto
In 2022, the researchers and participants engaged in a process of collaborative “sensemaking” that looked across the photographs and narratives to analyze the information and identified 8 key themes: 1) Belonging & social connection; 2) Exclusion; 3) Mental health & well-being; 4) Right to access play & children’s recreation; 5) Maintenance inequities; 6) Access & accessibility; 7) Safety; and 8) Gentrification & complex use of space.
To mobilize knowledge and actions to ensure that the findings are shared with community members and other stakeholders, pictures, and stories from resident photographs in both neighbourhoods, were curated into a traveling exhibit hosted in several locations.
The first exhibit was held in June/July 2022 at the Design TO Festival. The interactive installation was curated in collaboration with the Department of Imaginary Affairs. During this installation, the following questions were asked: When do you feel safe, included, welcomed and like you belong in a park or greenspace? Where are these parks or greenspaces located? Why do some neighborhoods have access to better parks and greenspaces than others? prompting reflections from the audience.
The second exhibit was hosted at Jane and Finch on August 12. A curated photography exhibit of photographs and quotes showcased the experiences and realities of racialized residents in Jane and Finch’s greenspaces during the pandemic. This community-engaged and BIPOC-led initiative offered a nuanced and interwoven narrative of racialized lived experiences of residents in greenspaces. The exhibit engaged attendees in exploring concepts of access, safety, inclusion and belonging to shine a critical light on the visible/invisible and seen/unseen realities of public greenspaces.
“Discussions about greenspaces were an entry point to examining broader issues and barriers faced by racialized residents,” says Flicker, York Research Chair in Community-Based Participatory Research. “Many of the experiences transcend the two represented neighbourhoods as they are common to others living in underserved, marginalized and racialized neighbourhoods across Toronto.”
The third exhibit was hosted at St. James Town on August 23. Likewise, a curated photography exhibit of photographs and quotes highlighted the experiences and realities of racialized residents in St. James Town’s greenspaces during the pandemic.
The community report was co-written by a group of community residents from both Jane and Finch and St. James Town who participated in the project alongside researchers from York University. The report and the exhibits reflect the voices and insights of the community residents. “We heard so much from residents that they need access to high quality green spaces — benches that aren’t broken, basketball nets that aren’t messed up, having the amenities that you actually need, clean drinking fountains -- these are not too much to ask for," Hassen explains.
The communities of Jane and Finch and St. James Town are extremely diverse and are home to many low-income racialized newcomers from various parts of the world. Resident photographers from both communities shared how greenspaces in their neighbourhoods can enable people of all races, ages and diverse backgrounds to have fun and interact, while providing opportunities for connection, enjoyment, peace, mental relief and belonging. At the same time, they describe experiences of unspoken racism, prejudice, stigmatization and lack of safety, as well as barriers to inclusion and feeling like they don’t belong.
Key recommendations identified by residents include:
1) prioritizing equitable access to high-quality greenspaces in racialized neighbourhoods;
2) ensuring the inclusion and maintenance of amenities that racialized residents are asking for;
3) directing resources equitably;
4) ensuring accountability by evaluating and tracking greenspace changes;
5) winterizing outdoor public greenspaces and creating more free indoor community spaces that can be accessed during the cold season; and
6) improving safety for all, particularly for racialized women.
Residents also identified additional recommendations specific to Jane and Finch and St. James Town. Key principles to guide equitable decision-making and future directions include commitment to equity and anti-racism, understanding of the complexity of resident experiences, meaningful community engagement and collaborative action with community.
The community report has been forwarded to the City of Toronto for review and consideration. To access this report, visit the Park Perceptions and Racialized Realities project website. Read also the media coverages by CBC and CITYNews.