Academic Loitering: Observations from Sitting in Three Toronto Parks

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Southey, Basil
urban geography , urban planning , parks , leisure , park use , mixed methods
It is widely recognized that access to greenspace benefits the residents of urban centres in many ways. Correlations between access to greenspace and lowered rates of both mental and physical health issues have been shown in several studies. The health benefits of public greenspace are more notable in lower income areas where residents have less access to private greenspace. While there is a great deal of scholarship showing that higher income areas have greater access to greenspace, there has been little quantitative research on how much parks are used and how parks are used. This thesis involves the study of three Toronto parks and a methodological critique of park studies. My first chapter reports findings from 331 hours of observations of park use in Toronto’s Regent, Dovercourt, and Rosedale parks. Park users were categorized and tallied by use type (Leisure, sports/fitness, petcare, childcare, transit). I consider the socioeconomic status of each park’s neighbourhood, park facilities (benches, sports facilities, washrooms, playgrounds, etc), tree canopy coverage, weather, and seasonality. My second chapter concerns the physical design of parks centering on seating and its role in social infrastructure. The final chapter is a critique of the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) method used in previous studies of park use. My research demonstrates the importance of passive park use when planning for public health and I conclude with a number of suggestions for improving park planning processes and the study of public parks.
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