Ontario’s Greenbelt offers innumerable benefits to Ontarians, but equitable access to large parks remains a concern.
Ontario’s Greenbelt is a permanently protected area of green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, watersheds, rivers, and lakes in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It covers over two million acres, including the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine. The Greenbelt provides Ontarians with fresh air, clean water, and world-class outdoor recreation and tourism experiences. It offers protection to 78 at-risk species and offsets 71 million tonnes of carbon each year. It also helps support climate resilience, prevents further loss of farmland and natural heritage, restricts urban sprawl, and provides a reliable local food source. In short, it helps Ontario thrive.
Protecting Ontario’s Greenbelt
As stewards of Ontario’s Greenbelt, the Greenbelt Foundation works to ensure the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected, and prosperous. One of the great benefits of the Greenbelt is that it is home to many of the region’s large publicly-accessible parks and green spaces. Large parks are particularly important because of the wide range of benefits they provide, such as higher likelihood of use for physical activity, their ability to provide a nature experience, and their provision of cooler areas during increasingly hot summers.
For a growing province, a new study shines light on gaps and inequities in Ontario’s larger park system. The Greenbelt Foundation recently released the “Improving Access to Large Parks in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe: Policy, Planning, and Funding Strategies” report in partnership with Green Infrastructure Ontario, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Re: Public Urbanism, and the Ontario Parks Association. The report presents an analysis of the Golden Horseshoe’s current and planned large parkland distribution.
Addressing the need for large parks
“Green spaces are integral to the health and well-being of our residents and especially our children,” says Paul Ronan, Executive Director of the Ontario Parks Association. “This report takes a snapshot of where we’re 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.”
The report found that 30 percent of visible minority and low-income neighbourhoods in the Golden Horseshoe have low access to large parkland, as do 55 percent of neighbourhoods with high ratios of Indigenous populations. The Golden Horseshoe needs to create 32,000 hectares of parkland over the next 30 years to maintain the current provision of large parkland based on projected population growth. “There’s a gap in large park planning across the region that needs to be addressed,” 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.”
The Golden Horseshoe is characterized by increasing land values, rapid development, and land scarcity, which makes establishing large parks quite difficult. Many large parks in the area are already experiencing high user rates and the population is continuing to grow. The report offers planning, policy, and funding recommendations to improve park access for Ontarians. After all, Ontario’s Greenbelt was created to help all Ontarians thrive.