When we began the Homegrown National Park Project in the spring of 2013, we weren't sure what to expect. We had grand plans to create a green corridor along the former path of Garrison Creek, in the heart of Toronto.
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We partnered with 14 community groups that were active in the area. We recruited 21 eager volunteers from the area to be our Neighbourhood Park Rangers. And we put the Park Rangers through a training session that instilled in them knowledge and inspiration.
What happened next was extraordinary...
Park Rangers were suddenly everywhere. They attended dozens of community meetings and events, proudly wearing their iconic Homegrown National Park shirts. They networked and organized fun events, like a Birds and the Bees Picnic, hugely popular pizza nights in the park, educational tree tours and an outdoor movie screening.
The Rangers then began to hatch creative plans for greening the corridor — schoolyards, alleys, parks, streets, balconies and yards. Some began experimenting with green interventions, like pothole planters, moss graffiti and canoe gardens. Others aimed for bigger interventions — transforming a parking lot into green plaza, a schoolyard into pollinator garden and "parkify-ing" a residential street.
So what have we learned? The Homegrown project has shown that by tapping local ingenuity and creative energy, it is possible to transform a neighbourhood, one green intervention at time. And the Park Rangers have provided a formidable demonstration that residents can create and shape the place where they live, work and play.
What's next? In 2014 we are aiming to deepen and expand the project to adjacent neighbourhoods in the Greater Garrison Creek area. We will begin connecting with community groups this winter and plan to train another crop of Park Rangers in the spring. And we won't stop there. In 2015 we aspire to grow the project throughout the entire city — reimagining Toronto as the world's first Homegrown National Park!