Broken benches, overflowing trash: Residents in these Toronto neighbourhoods calling for change

North St. James Town and Jane and Finch residents are calling on the city to act on their recommendations to improve their parks after outlining barriers to accessing, using and navigating local green space in a new York University community research project.

Report highlights inequitable green space in North St. James Town, Jane and Finch

Jane and Finch resident Caitlin Arizala says it's been frustrating to see a bench in Grandravine Park in a state of disarray for over five years while seeing a nearby private park "beautifully renovated" but inaccessible. (Submitted by Nadha Hassen)

Jane and Finch resident Caitlin Arizala watched a public bench in Grandravine Park slowly deteriorate over five years.

As a long-time member of the community, she says she's gotten used to this, along with no street lights, torn fences and overflowing garbage in local green space — even though other neighbourhoods don't seem to struggle with the same problem.

"It's normalized that I have to use a green space that's just not taken care of and not seen as important," Arizala told CBC's Metro Morning.

"It's an inequitable experience, and it's very frustrating."

A resident photographer identified as Constance in York University's project on inequity in Toronto's green spaces captured images of a basketball net in disarray in Grandravine Park and overflowing garbage bins in Fountainhead Park. (Park Perceptions and Racialized Realities)

Arizala is one of 18 participants from North St. James Town and Jane and Finch that documented their experiences using neighbourhood green spaces for a York University community research project released Tuesday.

Residents outlined barriers to accessing, using and navigating nearby parks that researchers identified as underserved, not well-maintained, and unclean.

"People use parks differently, and experience them differently, based on their race, their age, their gender and other identities," said Nadha Hassen, a PhD candidate at York University's faculty of environmental and urban change, and the research lead for the project.

A woman with long black hair wearing a black baseball cap is smiling next to a woman with chin-length blonde hair wearing a colourful necklace and a black t-shirt. Both are holding printed copies of a report.
York University PhD candidate Nadha Hassan, left, and YorkU professor and research chair Sarah Flicker, right, hold copies of Park Perceptions & Racialized Realities, a community research report about inequality in Toronto's green spaces. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The report states more than 65 per cent of people in both neighbourhoods identify as visible minorities and over 50 per cent are immigrants, but that these experiences are common in other marginalized neighbourhoods across the city.

Jane and Finch is one of 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas — a designation from the city that gives targeted investment to places that rank low in economic opportunities and social development compared to other neighbourhoods. Despite similarities in neighbourhood equity, the report also highlights North St. James Town is not given the same designation.

"If we think about a neighbourhood like in St. James Town, which has the lowest amount of green space per person across all of Toronto, we have to ask why this is the case in such a dense community with such high need," Hassen said.

A neighbourhood comparison shows residents of North St. James Town have about nine times less the average amount of park area available per person in all of Toronto. (Park Perceptions and Racialized Realities)

The research group worked with neighbourhood residents and community groups Greenchange, Jane/Finch Centre and the St. James Town Community Co-operative over the course of 11 months last year, collecting over 200 photos and videos of resident experiences.

The finalized report calls on the city to:

  • prioritize equitable access to high-quality green spaces in racialized neighbourhoods.
  • ensure the inclusion and maintenance of amenities that racialized residents are asking for.
  • direct resources equitably.
  • ensure accountability by evaluate and tracking green space changes.
  • winterize outdoor public green spaces and create more free indoor community spaces for the cold seasons.
  • improving safety, particularly for racialized women.

The City of Toronto said it's reviewing the report and recommendations.

"The city welcomes the opportunity to address community and resident concerns in these areas once this review is complete," policy and project advisor Vanessa Enskaitis said in an email.

Enskaitis pointed to the 20-year Parkland Strategy approved by council in 2019, which guides planning for new parks, park expansion and improved access to existing parks in the city. Enskaitis highlighted inclusion and the removal of barriers to parks its one of the strategy's four guiding principles.

A large black-and-white photo of two children playing basketball under a hoop with no net is displayed on yellow posts.
A photo from the community research project Park Perceptions & Racialized Realities is displayed at Corner Commons in the Jane-Finch Mall parking lot at 1911 Finch Ave. W. in Toronto. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

"As the city grows, it's vital that equitable access to high quality parks and natural areas for all Torontonians is prioritized," said Enskaitis.

Hassen hopes to build on the recommendations with the city.

"I think that there needs to be more dialogue between the city, actually hearing community residents, and moving forward together meaningfully."


Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.

With files from Metro Morning