Imagine a café next to the skating rink, where kids can sip hot chocolate on a cold day. Or munch on homemade pizza baked in the outdoor oven at a city park.

Those are the little things that could make a big difference for visitors to Toronto’s parks, and with the political will, communities could become bigger players, says a new Metcalf Foundation report Fertile Ground For New Thinking: Improving Toronto’s Parks, being released today.

Many of the changes would not cost much — such as assigning staff to specific parks and posting their contact information, so the public knows who to call and staff take greater ownership of their work.

“The easiest thing is to just say yes more often to community groups. The city has made it very hard, very frustrating,” says author David Harvey.

“Too often, it’s the city’s park and not the public’s park.”

Harvey points to permit requirements that have shut out seniors on a walk, or placed restrictions on new pizza ovens, as bureaucrats study a city-wide policy. Insurance rules make it tough for groups to organize formal events.

However, he conceded permits will still be needed to assign baseball diamonds and soccer fields.

If the city were to embrace more of each local community’s ideas and energy, it could lead to improvements — from gardens to farmers’ markets.

Given that the municipal election is four weeks away, it’s a good time to ask candidates where they stand on the city’s parks, he said.

“This campaign just seems to be focused on pocketbook issues,” Harvey said.

“Parks really matter to the people of Toronto. We need to stir up a debate about parks and public spaces.”