Where Are Our Missing Parks?

The City of Guelph has between 25 and 40% less usable parkland than city staff reports, according to an independent data analysis conducted by Ward 4 candidate Matt Saunders, identifying a shortfall of up to 136 hectares -- enough missing parks to fill Stone Road Mall ten times over, including all of the parking.

The data analysis revealed that many natural heritage areas are being double-counted: as parkland and as conservation land. In 2009, the City of Guelph reorganized its parkland inventory into two types of urban green space: conservation land, for the preservation of the City’s natural heritage system (e.g. woodlots, ravines, wetlands), and parkland, suitable for playing fields, play apparatuses, and community recreational and leisure facilities.

“In our analysis, we discovered a very big problem: the City of Guelph and Ward 4 in particular are significantly short on usable parkland,” says Matt Saunders, candidate for Ward 4. “By counting large tracts of wetland and forest as parkland instead of conservation land, the city looks to be on track – but under our official plan, these natural areas are not considered parkland. For example, Ward 4 currently has just 62% of the parkland it should have.

“Guelph prides itself about being a very green city with a strong commitment to our outdoor spaces -- but these numbers make it look like we’re losing that part of our identity. We need to have meaningful public engagement to figure out what should count as parkland, and how to make sure we’re building enough to accommodate our growth of 40,000 new citizens by 2031. Last council had the opportunity to tap into new sources of parkland funding, but delayed, leaving millions of dollars on the table.”

In addition to wetland and forests, the data analysis shows that the city count also includes future parks that are yet to be built, and private buildings which are inaccessible to members of the public.

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The Data

According to the Official Plan targets, Guelph should have 3.3 hectares of parkland per 1000 people — amounting to 436 hectares across the city.

According to a recent City of Guelph report (.pdf, 3 MB), the city owns 442 hectares of parkland and leases an additional 39 hectares. However, a closer analysis of the data shows that only 329hectares of this land can be counted under the definition of parkland, with only 301 hectares owned by the city.

This amounts to a total of just 2.48 hectares per 1000 people across the city. In Ward 4, with a population of 20,175, there is just 41 hectares of parkland, or 2.04 hectares per 1000 people.

Further details about the methodology, along with examples of the over-counting, can be found in the Preliminary Report (.pdf, 10 MB).

In addition, the full parkland data, combining the data in the City report with the calculations performed by the GIS software, can be found in the GIS Data spreadsheet (.xlsx, 396 KB).

Those with access to GIS software (including the free and open-source QGIS) can use the Guelph Parkland shape files (.zip, 326 KB) to reproduce the area calculations. Other shape files can be found in the Guelph Open Data portal, including a data set of all property parcels and a base data set containing most Guelph parks. Wetland and watercourse data can be found in the Grand River Information Network.