Have you been forcing yourself onto the treadmill or wrestling with kale salads as part of your New Year’s resolutions? Don’t forget one of the best ways to boost your health in 2024: healthy public spaces.
Neighbourhood spaces, where people spend so much of their time, can greatly influence behaviours related to health.
“In particular, public green spaces can confer health benefits through facilitating physical activity, contact with nature, and social interaction,” according to one study. “Despite growing evidence, public green spaces are generally not fully utilized as a resource for physical activity. Thus, there is substantial scope for enhancing population health through increased visits and active use.”
We’ve been singing the public space tune for a long time. Our work with communities across Canada has created some of the most vibrant public places where people and nature thrive side by side. We see the impact at places like Evergreen Brick Works and at Canada’s first Climate Ready School. People of all ages and backgrounds get a boost by being outdoors and connecting with their community.
But enough about us. We wanted to hear more from you. We asked our network and followers to share the impact that public spaces have on their physical, mental and social health. This is what we heard:
“I work with children and youth and have seen how having access to high-quality public spaces in the winter months makes a world of difference. No one is at their best when they’ve been cooped up in a classroom all day due to the cold and snow. When I worked in Downtown Toronto, our youth centre didn’t have any green space, so we used to bring our rowdy group of youth to the local park. Having access to a safe local green place meant we could all stretch our legs and play in the snow. It helped everyone reset and feel freer. It always puts everyone in a better mood, which definitely made my job easier!” – Emily Reddon, Toronto, Ont.
“I live close to Stanley Park, Vancouver. Having access to Stanley Park has improved my living standards and mental wellbeing immensely for a few reasons. Firstly, as a dog owner, being able to walk around nature, seeing my dog happy and getting a good amount of playtime in nature makes my heart happy. Secondly, bike paths inside and around the park mean I can have a good one-hour exercise without coming across traffic jams. Moreover, Stanley Park gives me an opportunity for bird and seal watching. I feel more connected to nature, and it automatically decreases the amount of stress I have during the day.” – Ares Irfani, Vancouver, B.C.
“I’m fortunate enough to live within walking distance of the Thames River in London, Ontario. Since living here, I’ve found new motivation to go on daily walks by the water. I’ve found these walks to be a great help for both my mental and physical health. It is a great way to de-stress and has helped me better connect with the natural environment in my community.” – April Scholz, London, Ont.
“Public spaces have positively impacted my health by providing opportunities for shared experiences with my neighbours and the city at large. During the cold winter months at the Bentway our Skate Trail welcomes over 100,000 people from our neighbourhood and all across the GTA who come together in public space to embrace the cold conditions, learn to skate or strut their stuff, and experience our unique combination of public art and recreation. The joy we see radiating from visitors, who represent the vibrant diversity of our city, reminds me of the essential role public spaces play in fostering social connection and overall health and well-being for Torontonians.” – Anna Gallagher-Ross, Senior Manager, Programming, The Bentway, Toronto, Ont.
“I love unwinding after a workday in the forest with my dog. Having maintained trails that allow me to take in nature so close to home is such a treat.” – Ivana, Ottawa, Ont.
“There was always a town square for a reason. We thrive when we gather. Public spaces that are open to everyone are amazing to explore, move, discover, and connect with others. This helps us in all dimensions of wellness. When we gather for a common good, be it a music festival, a farmers’ market, or a hike, it fosters culture and connection — maybe even conversations. You get familiar faces smiling at each other and a common goal and activity. It’s therapy! And it’s free!” – Lisa Borden, Toronto, Ont.
We love public spaces for the exact reasons described above. Find out more about our work to protect and transform these beloved spots into thriving, life giving places. Visit us online or subscribe to our newsletter.