Kids Rely on Access to Local Parks

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

Public health experts are trying to balance the risks and benefits of necessary physical activity with the necessity to keep populations safe from exposure to the virus.  But what impact is the lack of physical activity having on our kids?

A couple weeks back I had the chance to participate in a workshop put on by City Building Ryerson presenting a study conducted over the spring and summer of 2020.  Dr. Raktim Mitra was part of a group looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on the healthy activity and movement of Canadian children.  The overall findings were not at all surprising.  The majority of kids have been moving less with significantly reduced outdoor activity since the onset of pandemic restrictions in March, a change that has also been correlated with higher amounts of screen time indoors.

What was particularly striking about the data, is to what extent living in apartments (or condos) is a major barrier to healthy outdoor activity. Two-thirds of the outdoor spaces used by kids surveyed were yards or driveways.  So it’s logical that kids in high-rises find it more challenging to find safe outdoor spaces.

What was also telling was that for kids living in vertical communities, living within 1 km of a park greatly mitigated this issue.  In other words, if you live close enough to a public park, even if you don’t have a yard, you’re much more likely to be physically active.

This is an important lesson for Willowdale.  We are fortunate that the Ontario Planning Act makes provisions for parkland dedication when new development takes place.  Over the past two decades, John has ensured that the community has leveraged these opportunities to create many new parks in the area, supplemented by Section 37 funding from developers. As we begin to truly understand how important these spaces are for healthy, resilient and equitable communities, we need to place even more focus on parkland and park features.

We also need to reach out to the parts of the community that are most affected.  Young parents often find themselves too busy to find time to engage in local political conversations.  Condo boards tend to focus on the many challenges in their own buildings, without necessarily thinking about advocating for spaces around them.

As John develops his parks improvement plan for the area over the next several years, we will be reaching out to parent councils at local schools, as well as to local condo boards to encourage input from these communities.  But we want to hear from you too.  If you haven’t yet, take a moment to look at John’s ongoing parks survey.  And if you know some parents, guardians or grandparents in our community, make sure they know about it too.

Photo by CDC from Pexels