A unique and inspiring grassroots movement called the Homegrown National Park Project has sprouted right in my neighbourhood, and hopefully, one day, it will be in your neighbourhood too.
The David Suzuki Foundation initiative began in Toronto in May 2013. Its ultimate goal is to connect people to nature where they live, specifically, in an urban setting. It was inspired by Richard Louv and Douglas Tallamy who write extensively about the modern urban disconnect to nature, and how important a role nature plays to our well-being, especially for the well-being of our children.
The project focuses on Ward 20 in Toronto, which is where I live, and the founders hope the concept will spread to other Wards. Twenty-one Park Rangers volunteered to spearhead projects in their own communities and act as resources for anyone who wants to take on a community project.
The ecological spine of the project follows the former Garrison Creek, which before 1880 was an active creek that ran from the bottom of Bathurst Street right up to Bloor Street, where the Bathurst subway station is today. Residents at that time could fish from the Creek and even canoe on it! In 1880, the Creek was capped and we built a sewer line next to it. The Rangers thought it would be ideal to make a connection to our ecological past while at the same time establishing a green corridor that runs right through the city.
This past fall, the group launched its first annual Homegrown Park Crawl. The Lemony Bucket Orkestra led 1,000 people from Christie Pits Park, to Bickford Park, to Fred Hamilton Park, ending at Trinity Bellwoods Park. The day was a huge success, filled with music, food, and of course, planting.
But the Rangers are also cultivating something just as deep and meaningful as planting. They are trying to stretch the definition of green space. As my local Park Ranger, Anjum Chagpar says, “we are trying to recreate the idea of nature you would find in a National Park through concepts such as generosity, whimsy and community.” And that’s exactly what Anjum has done that with the Palmerston Square Public Space beautification project up the street from my house.
This past summer, members in my community took a strip of neglected public land and began a beautification process. “My goals stem from my desire to create a closer community, one that rallies around nature and opportunities to be outside in nature,” Anjum explains.
To begin, they built and planted in two raised beds. They beautified the ugly chain link fence with a crocheted flower vine. They also created fence poetry that my kids can’t resist playing with on their way to and from school. Finally, they attached a chalkboard for residents to share ideas on how to “greenify” the space and just communicate in general. These small yet powerful initiatives are a great first step. Anjum’s next move is to remove the asphalt from the strip and fill it with soil for native plantings.
“I’m trying to solidify the notion of common. We share this public space, what else can we share?” Some neighbours have taken the idea of “common space” a step further by placing Muskoka chairs or park benches on their front lawns to make their gardens an integrated part of the community.
It’s amazing and profound to teach my children that connecting to nature isn’t just about connecting to plants, trees, and insects. Relating to your neighbours in your community who share your parks and public spaces is a true growing experience.
If you want to find out more about the Homegrown National Park Project and what’s involved, please go to this link http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/wildlife-habitat/projects/the-homegrown-national-park/ or the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HomegrownNationalPark