Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

In recent years, Amsterdam's Frans Hals neighbourhood has freed up space for greenery, public space and other amenities by removing most curbside parking.

Sanne Derks/The Globe and Mail

Set into the sidewalk at an intersection not far from the museum district of the Dutch capital is a small trampoline where passersby tend to bounce a few times before walking on with a smile.

This is the Frans Hals neighbourhood of Amsterdam, a 19th-century area that has been transformed in the past few years and could serve as inspiration for adding livability to urban centres.

A sort of accidental pilot project now being eyed for replication by the municipal government, Frans Hals had most of its curbside parking removed. Instead of rows of cars, there are now benches and picnic tables, a wading pool put out by some residents and masses of greenery that in the warmer months turn the streets into a kind of linear park.

Story continues below advertisement

“To create a densified city with more housing opportunities and to create a healthy environment, we need the space in the streets for greening and for other uses,” says Zeeger Ernsting, an Amsterdam municipal councillor whose Green Party holds the most seats at city hall. “In a densified city, there’s no place for cars in the same amount that we were used to, because people – they need space on the streets.”

Living in the shadow of the pandemic has highlighted the value of urban green spaces – those refuges that biographer Robert Caro eloquently called “a restful retreat from the abrasions of city life.”

“We’re already aware that there’s a big role for urban parks to support the well-being of our municipalities,” says Kyle Ripley, director of Calgary Parks. “I think the COVID crisis and the increased use of our parks really brought that to the forefront of people’s minds.”

A survey this summer for the Canadian advocacy group Park People found that, during the pandemic, 70 per cent of respondents had a greater appreciation for green space. And mobility tracking data collected by Google showed visits to Canadian parks surging this year.

“In denser communities, you definitely saw folks who had been inside with their kids or with their partners or on their own using parks as sort of an extension of a lack of backyard or patio,” says Janie Romoff, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation in Toronto.

Canada’s city dwellers were not only using their local green spaces more; they were also using them differently. Pandemic-mandated shutdowns of designated-use areas, such as tennis courts or lawn-bowling pitches, led to a jump in less formal activities. Open spaces – those expanses without specific function – became destinations for family picnics, a game of catch or to do yoga in the sun. One lesson of the pandemic, parks leaders say, is this reminder of the value of free-form spaces, the blank canvases of parks.

“We need to preserve large, multipurpose open spaces in parks and resist the urge to fill them" with amenities or non-park infrastructure, says Dave Hutch, Vancouver’s director of planning and park development.

Story continues below advertisement

Montrealers enjoy a sunny day in a city park on May 24, the month that many COVID-19 restrictions began to relax in Quebec.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Even in some parks with large expanses, though, crowding this summer raised concerns, suggesting these neighbourhoods are short already of green space.

Park access is also inequitably distributed in many cities. Although Statistics Canada reports that 90 per cent of urban dwellers have a park within a 10-minute journey from their home, some neighbourhoods have to share their parks with many more nearby residents. Often it’s these same neighbourhoods – typically poorer and more racially diverse than the broader city – that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

The demand for green space will also grow in the coming decades as millions of people move to Canada. Most will come to cities, and many will live in multiresidential buildings without private outdoor access. “The pandemic just shone such a direct light on parks as essential urban infrastructure,” says Dave Harvey, executive director of Park People. “It’s right up there with the need for roads and water and sewers and schools. This is absolutely essential urban infrastructure.”

One challenge is that mature cities often have little room in which to build new parks, and acquiring land can be prohibitively expensive.

There are specific circumstances in which space for a major new outdoor destination can be found. Toronto is considering capping a downtown rail corridor and building a park on top. Winnipeg has been very successful at turning a former industrial area on its riverfront into a popular destination known as The Forks.

Sending parking spaces underground has freed up space for bike lanes, community gardens and other amenities in Frans Hals.

Sanne Derks/The Globe and Mail

What’s more likely in the years to come, though, are more modest, Fran Hals-type interventions. Amsterdam and other cities have shown the space is there for the taking.

Mr. Ernsting’s party won election in the Dutch capital on a platform that included a pledge to remove 10,000 curb parking spaces. To prevent political blowback, no one’s parking permit is being revoked. But the cap on the number of permits is being lowered, and when permits are turned in – by people who sell their car, move or die – they won’t be reissued if doing so exceeds the new limit.

These freed-up spaces – a single parking spot is typically in the range of 12 square metres, so 10,000 of them amounts to 12 hectares – might end up being repurposed into anything from bike lanes to community gardens.

No Canadian city has announced such major shifts in the use of road space, but many are working to find creative ways to slip some green into the urban fabric.

Toronto’s Wellington Memorial Square, a downtown park, will be expanded into the curb lane of the adjacent road. Vancouver is looking at making more welcoming the part of Coopers' Park that lies under Cambie Bridge. And Calgary, which converted a parking lot near its light-rail line into green space, is planning to go mobile with its latest idea.

“We’re looking at taking a trailer that’ll fit in a parking space or two, and repurposing it with some benches and plants,” Mr. Ripley says. “We can tow it around in higher-density areas and leave it for a few days, and just allow folks to enjoy some greenery where there otherwise isn’t any.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies