'Public' Mediations in Public Parks: Equity, Planning and the Regulation of Behaviours
This Major Research Paper examines how ideologies of nature are manipulated by local civic actors to regulate people’s behaviour in public parks and thereby plan specific demographics of people out of these spaces. Focusing on behaviours of cruising and loitering, I explore how legal, design, and urban planning tools are leveraged to control and criminalize these behaviours in two GTHA public parks: Marie Curtis Park in Toronto, and Gore Park in Hamilton. Methods of research include multiple site visits to each park, interviews with local stakeholders, as well as urban planning and mental health professionals, and a literature review. In researching the above, I address questions on how the identity of “public” is defined and constructed in public parks and argue that the current regulation of cruising and loitering in the above cases serve to constitute homophobic and classist notions of “the public”. This is a particularly pressing issue for urban planners as an increasing number of ailments within cities are linked to rising temperatures, poor air quality and psychological distress. Scholarly work has demonstrated a positive correlation between exposure to nature and the alleviation of the above conditions. As parks are a primary source of nature in urban areas, addressing how the regulation of behaviour in public parks can limit the access of certain demographics of people - particularly those that are already socially marginalized - to the health benefits provided by exposure to nature is an urgent social equity issue in today’s urban environment. The paper concludes by offering alternative models for planning urban public parks that allow for more equitable access to the health benefits provided by these spaces.