Parks and recreation an essential service, says Brock research

The extension of Ontario’s stay-at-home order until at least June 2 raises questions about if and how outdoor activities can be safely conducted.

The eagerness of people to get outside, and previous closures of playgrounds, youth sport program cancellations and other shutdowns, have put the spotlight on the importance of public spaces and those who manage them, says a Brock University research team.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what many citizens already believe — that parks and recreation spaces and services are essential for individual and community well-being,” says Brock University Associate Professor of Sport Management Julie Stevens.

“The central role that municipal parks and recreation departments play in the everyday lives of Niagara residents has become apparent,” says Stevens, who is also Director of Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity.

The Centre for Sport Capacity and the Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) partnered to co-produce the NCO’s latest brief, “Parks and Recreation as an Essential Service: Using a health equity lens to strengthen provision in Niagara.”

The brief is co-authored by Stevens, Associate Professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies Martha Barnes, member of Active Niagara Network Sarah Ane, and NCO Research Co-ordinator Carol Phillips.

The brief, scheduled to be released later this month, examines the importance of parks and recreation in relation to health equity and the need to ensure government commits to parks and recreation as a key part of public policy.

‘Health equity’ is an approach that emphasizes the value of community and individual well-being, and equal access for all community members to parks and recreation services.

“The role of parks and recreation in addressing broad society-level crises facing all Niagara communities is an important policy tool,” says Stevens.

Barnes says a major challenge for the parks and recreation sector has been to “find ways of meeting increasing demand from citizens while working within evolving government restrictions.

“Moving forward, it will be necessary to ensure policy and funding mechanisms are in place to support this new-found appreciation for the parks and recreation sector,” she says.

On Wednesday, June 9 from 11 a.m. to noon, the NCO will present the brief at an online event featuring a panel discussion with Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, Commander, Mobile Integrated Health for Niagara EMS, Marty Mako, and Niagara Falls Director of Recreation and Culture, Kathy Moldenhauer.

To sign up, contact Phillips at and a Microsoft Teams link will be sent prior to the event.

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