Urban landscaping of public areas can be a voluntary citizen movement, as a complementary to sanctioned city employees funded by tax dollars.

The Bickford Park story is just one example of a growing trend in Toronto that has citizens devoting time, effort and money to reshaping their local green spaces. Following a model that has its roots in the U.S., local residents’ groups are assuming new hands-on roles that range from weeding gardens to finding funds for larger projects like watershed restoration. Some groups, inspired by the conservancy movement south of the border, are even going as far as leasing the land completely.

Once a tangle of impervious red tape, the city’s bureaucracy is being matched by neighbourhood groups that are demanding more – more from their parks pizza ovens! herb gardens! and more from their municipal government, where more means less intervention.

In tough economic times, the trend raises concerns that cities could see the initiatives as justification to cut park funding, but citizen engagement may be the best way for parks like Bickford to blossom.

The flora planted to block the graffiti was donated by the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, a not-for-profit organization devoted to enhancing local parks, and approval for the project came from the local parks supervisor. [….]

Bob Crump, a parks manager for the North York District, said any activity that modifies a park – as minor as pruning a tree or as significant as digging space for a garden – is prohibited by a city bylaw and must be cleared by the parks department. But, he said, “low-key” activities tend to be approved by supervisors as long as they don’t negatively affect other users of the space.

In fact, he encourages citizens to get to know their park supervisor.

“We’re in a government environment,” he said. “There’s constraints in funding, and there’s always tons of things we could be doing … but we have very good relationships with most of our park users.”

But the model of increased citizen engagement raises some concern that with so much effort being expended for free, the city may be tempted to reduce its funding for parks.

“It’s always part of the risk,” said Mr. Harvey, who was quick to add that “any volunteer effort and fundraising efforts are to augment what the city does.”

Parks and revolution: Toronto residents take back their green spaces | Matthew Robinson | Aug. 25, 2012 | The Globe and Mail at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/parks-and-revolution-toronto-residents-take-back-their-green-spaces/article4498483/.

Parks and revolution: Toronto residents take back their green spaces - The Globe and Mail