Creating a community hub in Flemingdon Park

I don’t know why I thought Flemingdon Park would be small. In my head, the park was a patch of grass with some towers nearby. In reality, Flemingdon Park is a sprawling linear park in a hydro corridor with playing fields in the middle and a community garden and basketball court on the other.

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It’s also the site of a project by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation to create a “town centre,” which is being funded by the Healthier Cities and Communities Grant.

According to TCAT, Flemingdon Park lacks the kind of “centre” that can be found in nearby R. V. Burgess Park in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood. The idea behind the project is to use a participatory design process, working with the Flemingdon Urban Fair Committee, a local volunteer group that works to animate and improve the park, to spur change and create a community space that can become this focal point.

The grant includes $5,000 for actual physical improvements to realize this space. It’s not much, but if there’s one thing working at Park People has taught me it’s that creating more animated, well-used parks is more about engaging and empowering community members in those spaces. This is essentially what TCAT is getting at with this note:

“The equipment could be mobile, temporary or permanent and will be designed by the group through design facilitation exercises. The project is based on the assumption that the process (i.e. the ‘social infrastructure’) is what makes physical equipment meaningful, and thus what ultimately performs the ‘town centre’ function.”

I was actually at Flemingdon Park with my work because we were partnering with the Toronto International Film Festival to put on ten movies in parks in different neighbourhoods in Toronto in partnership with local groups (such as the Flemingdon Urban Fair Committee).

Seeing everyone come together in the space, it wasn’t hard to imagine how this spot could become the community hub that TCAT and local residents envision. When we got there it was mostly an empty grass field with a few kids playing basketball nearby. But a few hours later it was filled with parents and their kids all running around doing the activities that were set up before the film. An enterprising ice cream vendor had set up nearby to sell popsicles and ice cream cones to the crowds of children and seemed to be doing brisk trade.

ice cream truck

The FUFC has done some amazing work in bringing people out to the park for different activities, including a day of physical activity earlier in the summer as part of the 100in1Day Festival, using funding from the TD Park Builders program that Park People administers.

It just goes to show that to create a lively community hub in a park doesn’t always take a bunch of expensive infrastructure (although physical improvements help), but a dedicated group of local residents working to bring people into the space and make it their own.

TCAT’s first design workshop is coming up on September 15.

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This post is part of the City within a Park project, where I’m exploring Toronto by visiting a park I haven’t been to yet in every one of the 44 wards in 2015. (Sorry for the ads, if you see them. WordPress, etc etc.)

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