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News 2005

posted July 7, 2005

STAFFING THE PARK

In 2005 we had as many really hot days in June as in all of last summer. Park staff opened the wading pool when it was 28 degrees or hotter, and people came from all over the city to cool off in our shady park. Our park staff got very tired from being so busy, although they also got a lot of compliments from happy park users.

Our park has become like a very busy community centre without walls (which means there are a great many interesting things to watch). A community centre with walls costs about $600,000 a year to run. Without walls it’s cheaper – we only need about $120,000 this year. But we only have $80,000 in our budget, and the park manager says they can’t find us any more. They’re right: even though the annual parks budget is over $200 million, it’s all committed. (That’s why, for all those days in June when it was over 30 degrees, almost no other wading pools were open in the City – no money for staffing. )

We’ve been puzzled for years about where the money goes. One thing we wonder about is the cost of paying so many consultants and planners. An example: a simple fence installed last year around Dovercourt Park playground cost $50,000, of which almost $10,000 seems to have been just for designing and project management fees. On a larger scale, the City appears to have hired a very large American company to figure out how City rinks can save energy (something that City staff can perhaps figure out for themselves). Parks and Recreation is on the hook for paying $1.3 million for this project this coming year – using money from the operating budget. But how to find that money is a problem. A shorter rink season? No extended swimming hours? Close Rec centers during school holidays?

We think it’s time to examine some of these spending decisions as a community. For that, we need better information – always a tricky thing to get. We’ve begun to compile a list of consultant spending, with the help of many, many freedom of information applications and appeals. As the information comes in, it gets posted on the park web site research page. With this information, let the public conversation begin!

posted April 12, 2005

THE FIRST ANNUAL APRIL FOOLS’ DAY "ACTIVE PARK FRIENDS" SUPPER

From time to time, people ask: "how does one get involved with the friends of Dufferin Grove Park?" The fact is, the park friends are not an organization (no membership, no board, no annual meetings, no charitable status). That doesn’t mean the park’s friends don’t really exist, though. Year by year, there are more people who love the park and give their gifts to it (and to this neighborhood) in all sorts of ways.

Many of the gifts are secret - for example, nobody knows who brought all the toy trucks to the sand pit last summer, but this year they’ve shown up again, some of them with "property of Dufferin Grove Park" written on them in indelible marker. Nobody knows who planted the swamp willow down near the marsh garden, or who brought over the big ceramic turtle planter with herbs planted in it, for the rink house window sill.

Other times, the gifts people give to the park are widely known - from David Anderson’s Clay and Paper Theatre’s giant puppet performances and his grand annual Night of Dread Parade, to all the events and workshops listed in this newsletter, to Joe Adelaars' monthly newsletter posting, to Judy Simutis’ gifts of red-and-green Rice Crispy squares to the rink rats, for all holidays.

photo by Wallie Seto


More of the guests from the April Fools' Day "Active Park Friends" dinner.

At the end of the rink season, after the cybernetic e-storm around the human rights complaint at the rink had finally eased up, it seemed like a good time to count these blessings. The idea was to have a little post-season April Fools’ Friday Night Supper, for the particularly active friends of the park who are currently planning something for this spring and summer. At first we thought there would be a table of fifteen or twenty people who could tell each other about their plans. But when the park staff actually sat down and made a list, the numbers grew - and grew - and grew. Once the families or collaborators were added in, we had a list of 78 people. There were more, but we stopped calling people because more wouldn’t fit in the rink house. (If you didn’t get invited and you should have been, we’ll make it up to you.)

The park cooks rummaged in the freezer for the winter’s farmers’ market leftovers and produced a spectacular meal. The talk at the various tables was lively and people swapped their stories, although there was of course no unified conversation, with so many people. But it was a chance for the very active park friends to meet and admire one another. Who knew there were so many of us? But it shouldn’t have been a surprise, really - that’s why the park is so lively.

posted April 12, 2005

HOW TO BECOME AN "ACTIVE PARK FRIEND"

From time to time, someone has suggested that the park friends should now become more formal, elect a board, get an executive, call meetings and have the board make important decisions. After the budget shortfall last summer, we looked into incorporating. What we learned made us decide, instead, to stay with our twelve-year experiment in growing park friendships organically.

The reasoning: it seems that the meeting-incorporation-constitution format often doesn’t work very well. It’s such a problem that there is a whole new industry growing up - folks who hang out their shingle as professional community builders. They take courses from other people who have taken courses, and then they do workshops to set up and help run community groups. They help people to write up vision statements, and to resolve board conflicts, to set targets and to schedule focus groups (maybe to find out what the community wants, with multiple choice questionnaires, patterned on product testing - !!?!) All this means lots of meetings, and funding applications to pay the professional community builders. This often takes up a lot of a group’s time.

Perhaps that Emperor has no clothes. So we’ll stick with what works here - a park with many friends, the Parks Department officially in charge, activities based on good will and an openness to surprise. It makes the park vulnerable to ambush from time to time, but it also brings considerable enjoyment from of the unexpected gifts of strangers - whom we can then get to know as our neighbours.

Here’s how becoming a more active park friend works: if you want to put something into the park that isn’t there now, or help out with some existing element you like - a new garden, an old garden, a concert, a cricket mat, a playground cob wall - find a park staff person and talk to them about your idea. (The spring-summer staff are Zio Hersh, Matt Leitold, Dan Malloy, Eroca Nicols, Caitlin Shea, Mayssan Shuja Uddin, Mary Sylwester, and Amy Withers). If you can’t find the staff around the park, you can leave them a message at 416 392-0913, and one of them will call you back. Or you can e-mail them at staff@dufferinpark.ca. The staff will try to remove any blocks you might encounter, and introduce you to other park friends. You can go ahead and try the project you’re inspired to do - just remember to start small. Then if your project doesn’t work - no problem. But if your talents bear fruit, you can keep growing what you’ve begun, maybe with other park friends who want to help you.

posted March 15, 2004

Friends of Dufferin Grove Park
by Jutta Mason

There is a not-well-defined group called "Friends of Dufferin Grove Park" that's busy in and around the park. It started with four people in 1993, and over the years it's picked up between 80 and 100 people. There are no membership cards, nor a fee. We don't have a mission statement. We rarely have meetings (the nature of open space is that people are talking to each other enough that most of the issues are talked about as the occasion arises).

The goal is to establish public space as a place where people in a neighbourhood can come to know each other, as little or as much as they want. The programs are mainly ones that other people -- all sorts -- bring to the park (dance, theater, stories, sports, music, whatever). My objective, my full-time hobby, is to remove blocks to such gifts to the neighbourhood. Somebody asked us what our "target population" is (tsk tsk, such language, targets are what you hit with weapons!). It is, quite simply, everyone in the neighbourhood. That means that the bad guys don't get squeezed out when they're acting good, and the middle class don't get humoured when they're acting bad. But the order of the day is "everyone welcome."

Finances are somewhat precarious but not terrible, patched together between park budget allocation and food sales.

Governance is: whoever shows up and hangs around has influence. So there are very many degrees of influence, mine obviously the largest at the moment, but entirely informal.

And because we have influence on who gets hired by the parks department to work at our park, the many part-time staff we've had over the years have all been remarkable and unusual in their way. Lately they tend to be young people in their twenties (sometimes older, a few younger) who are interested in the nature of public space. Some are school dropouts and some have more than an undergraduate degree. Many of them consider the park as part of their life education and they're therefore willing to work, often quite hard, at very low wages. They always move on eventually (a study of park alumni would be pretty interesting) and then new folks come along. They have lots of stories to tell.

posted March 7, 2005

Media Watch

February [2005] was the month when the park made all the papers. Peter Kuitenbrouwer wrote a piece about shinny hockey in the National Post. It didn’t mention our rink by name but this is where he often plays, and he described it lovingly. Then there were the trio of human rights articles - first by a journalism intern named Jenny Juen in NOW Magazine, then by a freelance writer named Julie Traves in the Globe (who quoted our human rights complainant as comparing herself to Rosa Parks), then a long piece by veteran columnist Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star, who wrote that our troublesome breastfeeding issue was an instance of "the granola left eating itself." In between, the Star also did a big shinny hockey piece] by Dave Bidini marking Dufferin Rink as a "hockeytopia." And finally the Toronto Sun ran an impressively detailed sports section article by Mark Keast on the different cultures which have adopted hockey. That piece included a photo of one of our favorite rink rats, Johnny Leung, posed in front of our NHLPA yellow-skates shelf. When the reporter asked Johnny his age, he said 13, which is what was printed on the photo’s caption. But he’s really only 11.

Heroes of the Park 2005

posted August 13, 2005 from the August Newsletter

GOOD DEEDS FOR THE PARK

We got a wonderful gift from long-time park friend Kyla Dixon-Muir: two brand new chafing dishes for serving Friday Night Supper: stainless-steel hot water basins, food tray inserts, gleaming lids and all. Kyla found them in a dumpster! But she now lives in on the other side of the Don Valley, and people have been so busy at the park there was no one to go across the viaduct and pick them up. Then Kyla sent a message for us to post on the Dufferin Grove Friends list serve and we got four offers for pick-up within the day. Sheila Pin went and got them (we thanked her with fresh park oven bread and cinnamon buns). Thanks to Kyla, Sheila, and also Emily Visser and Bernard King, faithful moderator of that list serve for almost five years now.

The August 2005 special double edition newsletter was sponsored by '''Tere Oulette, the owner of a wonderful toy store called Scooter Girl''' (187 Roncesvalles), and by Abe Altman (one of the regulars helping at the cob courtyard) and Nathalie Grondin. They are all friends of the park and together they contributed $92 for us to print 350 copies of this newsletter.


posted March 3, 2005 From the March 2005 Newsletter

THIS MONTH'S PARK HEROES, March 2005

...the City's Property Department's electrical foreperson Al Berney, who was successful in finding us the scarce replacement lights for our donated (and now discontinued) track lights inside the rink house - the main room is once again beautifully lit

...the homeschoolers who gather at the playground on Thursdays in the summer and who decided, out of the blue, to give the park a $75 donation, delivered in February by Stefani Brown (we bought seeds from Colette Murphy, and dirt to start them, at the Thursday farmers' market)

...Suchada Promchiri of Osogood Foods on College near Ossington, for making colourful cookies-on-sticks for the kids to nibble at "Puppets on Ice"

...Judy Simutis, for bringing over Valentine treats for the snack bar in February (in the past, Judy has also made dog pizza for the park dogs in the bake oven)

...Anne Ruetz and John Dent, for organizing a "love the park" better-late-than-never Valentine Friday Night Supper on February 25, a wonderfully peaceful, friendly dinner that also gave our park's Hungarian staff intern Gabriella Mihalik a chance to shine as a cook (and she'll do more)

...Janet Nicol and Peter Wall, for ordering up some firewood for the park from the Happy Farme. Now the rink house wood stove can keep a fire in for the extended-rink season in March

...Alan Carlisle for persuading Downtown Lumber to give him skids, and then hauling them up to the park to keep us in bake-oven wood for the whole winter (so we could bake park bread)

...Connie Chisholm, carpenter, who's fixing the park's rocking bench that Leemala Ragubance and Shanti Nahata gave the rink house, so that two can rock together in front of the wood stove

...Alvaro Venturelli of Plan B Organics, who donated leftover produce at the end of the farmers' market almost every week, for the rink suppers

...Ben Sosnicki, who donated whole boxes of organic onions to the snack bar to go along with Jessie Sosnicki's delicious perogies

...the city rink staff, supervisors Brian Green and Scott Atwood and their never-say-die crews, for giving rink lovers the best outdoor artificial ice rink maintenance of any winter in living memory (no exaggeration!); and the Parks and Recreation city rink manager, James Dann, Director Don Boyle and Acting General Manager Brenda Librecz, who supported the improvement in rink service - and to the mechanics who kept even the tired old zambonis running: James Lamb and his colleague CK . A triumph after years of struggle. All these people should get an Oscar.


posted June 7, 2005

THANK YOU'S TO (June 2005):

Connie Chisholm, park friend and carpenter, who fixed the rink house rocking bench that Leemala Ragubance donated last winter. The rocking bench was really popular but not designed for use by so many people. Connie reinforced it so well that it's all set for the next five hundred people who want to sit and rock in it (not all at once).

Park supervisor Brian Green: despite (or because of) his strained park maintenance budget, Brian scrounges things for the parks he looks after, whenever he comes across anything lying unused in a back corner of a parks service yard. So he found some old pieces of plywood and his crew fixed the worn-out, holey tennis practice board on the rink fence. Now he's located some solid chess/checkers tables and stools that are being removed from other parks (at the community's wish) (?!). Those tables will let Chris Schallert expand the kids' chess club this summer, down by the playground.

Shanti Nahata: he had the idea that every Sunday at 10 a.m., park friends who like exercising could meet at the rink for 20 minutes of park cleanup followed by a 30 minute run/walk/stroll and refreshments. Shanti's motto: "Help your community and your body." If you want to join them, just come to the park at that time or contact: Shanti at sln@itgsys.com or Bruce Whitaker at whitaker@rogers.com.

Forestry supervisor Mark Procunier: he came to the park at our request to do a tree inventory and figure out which trees may have to come down (before they fall down on someone) and where some replacement trees could be planted. After many years with no new plantings, Mark was very encouraging about our chances of getting some new trees.

The Future Of The Park

posted November 25, 2005

The City Parks and Rec Department called a surprise meeting about the future of the park for November 7 2005. We couldn't find out for sure what the meeting was about, but couldn't rule out, from what we learned, that Parks and Rec was intending to impose a formal governance structure. This worried us. In the end, the meeting was just a confirmation of what many had been saying anyway: things work well, but we could use some more city support.

This page lists the notices that were posted.


posted November 24, 2005

Article about Dufferin Grove Friends in Now Magazine: Dufferin Grove all fired up ("Anarcho Hive"). An article about the meeting regarding the future of the park.

posted November 21, 2005

Local Councillor Adam Giambrone will be at Friday Night Supper Friday December 9 for the whole time (6:00 - 7:30), to talk to people.


posted November 8, 2005

Results of the November 7, 2005 City Meeting about the Future of the Park:

posted November 8, 2005

Friends of Dufferin Grove Park invite Councillor Giambrone to Friday Night Supper.
Friday November 25, 2005 in the rinkhouse. A friendly and frank talk.

As posted on the Dufferin Grove Friends email list service

Dear park friends,

I'm almost allergic to meetings, so I was all the more astonished last night that so many people gave up much of their evening to come and sit under ugly fluorescent lights and try to decode/ stave off whatever difficulty might be on the menu at that St.Mary's meeting. Like Kim Fry wrote in her earlier e-mail, I was also surprised by how many familiar faces there were -- faces that I haven't seen for a while because of what Kim calls the "shoulder seasons," when people stay inside more. Even though many of us hardly know one another, it is a pleasant shock to see all those familiar faces in one room, and new faces too! For me it was also a shock of admiration -- for the grit that it takes for all those people to leave a warm house or cafe on a dark November night on behalf of our neighbourhood commons.

I hope we don't have to do a meeting like that again for a very long time, but that admiration for my gritty neighbours will warm me through the winter. Kim wants to continue or deepen the conversations between neighbours. Her idea may turn into a council or it may turn into an "open corner" conversation during/after Friday Night Suppers -- whatever she wants to put together.

But for the first Friday Night Supper of the winter season I'd like to invite Councillor Giambrone and see if he wants to explain himself. As many of you know, there are some credible rumours that it was Mr.Giambrone who put us through that meeting last night, without wanting that to be known. It certainly seems that City staff's explanations last night of "City Council demands" are fairly weak, since they seem not to be applied much elsewhere.

In the past few weeks I have heard a fair bit of dissatisfaction with our councillor, as he must realize too. It's his first time at City Hall, and he's dropped some important balls and stirred up some troubles. At the same time, the chaos at City Hall may be approaching a critical point, and it's no wonder that our elected representative gets into difficulty -- anyone would.

A frank conversation, not unfriendly but also not evading the specific issues, would perhaps clear the air. If the councillor could get some helpful critique of his actions (not only re the park), and also have a chance to give some thoughtful explanations, maybe he would benefit and so would his constituents.

The first Friday Night Supper was scheduled for Nov.25, the day we were originally told would be the first day of the rink season. We've since found out that all the rinks will open two weeks later. I think we should restart the suppers on the original date anyway -- there's nothing to prevent a good dinner and candles -- and there's nothing to prevent a stimulating dinner conversation, around a couple of the tables, with City Councillor Giambrone, for whoever wants to take part. I'll report back if the councillor accepts the invitation.

Jutta

P.s. maybe there can also be a puppet show for the kids, and if there's frost, maybe we can spray some water on the rink surface for a slide, certainly there can be a campfire.....other ideas?

P.p.s. if you want to contact City Hall about the rink opening:

and the current chair of the Economic Development and Parks Committee:

and those councillors who voted for the 2001 rink season to be cut to ten weeks a year (still on the books):

Maybe they'd like to fix their mistake.

I've attached my rink information pamphlet, if you want to pass it along to any of these folks.

Jutta Mason

posted November 8, 2005

November 7 meeting about future of Dufferin Grove Park comes and goes.
No external governance structure imposed; well established concerns re-stated

[ed.] There were over 100 people at the Nov 7 meeting, who mostly re-iterated support for the park and the issues that have been raised by the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park (eg. rink opening, park budget, park path paved). A couple of new ideas: a leash free zone or time for dogs; and a natural ice skating rink. About half of the people drifted away during the meeting, when they realized there would be no externally imposed governance structure, and most of the ideas had already been presented to the city through other means.

City staff have indicated that they would forward to us the minutes that they recorded, and we will publish them here when we receive them.


posted November 8, 2005

The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park distribute supplementary information at meeting
Rink issues; City spending issues; Budget for "Community Centre without walls"

The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park distibuted three "newsletter inserts" at the November 7, 2005 City meeting about the future of Dufferin Grove Park:

- Rink petition: In April 2001, the Budget Committee recommended a major cut in the rink season in their budget. They called for "harmonization" of the rink season across the city, so that our 47 compressor-run neighborhood outdoor ice rinks would be open only ten weeks a year. City Council voted for the cut, on the grounds that people could skate at indoor arenas during the time lost outdoors. Read more >>

- Where the money goes – and maybe shouldn't: When city staff say they can’t open the rinks because they have no money, CELOS researchers say: we have some suggestions. Redirect your spending. This little research group has been looking into where the Parks, Forestry and Recreation funds go (they have an annual budget of over $220 million). Doing this research is like pulling teeth, there are so many secrets. Here are some examples of what CELOS researchers have learned. Read more >>

- How much does it cost to run a community centre without walls?: The Parks and Rec General Manager said this was an "interesting idea". We're waiting for some followup... Read more >>


posted November 8, 2005

Councillor Giambrone sends a letter to Dufferin Grove Park Area Residents
Sends regrets for not attending Nov 7 meeting, promises followup on several matters

From the letter:

I wanted to be with you to participate in tonight's discussion, but I'm unfortunately unable to attend. I hope you'll welcome Erika Manata from my office, who is attending on my behalf, and will let me know what happens. Read more >>


posted October 31, 2005

Open Letter to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park:

Worrisome Meeting

All,

I am writing to call your attention to an upcoming meeting to discuss the future of Dufferin Grove Park, on Monday, November 7th at 7pm, at St. Mary Secondary School, 66 Dufferin Park Avenue. The poster says,

''"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a framework for setting future directions for the Park use."''

When I read that, I feel somewhat alarmed, for at least two reasons:

1) I read "framework" to be "governance structure" and am worried about how such structures have worked against innovation and action in other parks;

2) It seems to me that this park already has its own unique way of deciding its own "future directions" and doesn't need help from the city for this.

I do think the city should be requesting meetings with the friends and neighbours of Dufferin Grove Park, so that they can learn how we make this park such a vital and exciting place, and how they can help other neighbourhood communities develop their own rich community gathering places. With our farmers' market, Friday night suppers, and community-supported building projects (the ovens and cob wall), you might agree that we have a lot of expertise to share with the city.

We do need the city's help in many other areas, namely to open our rink in a timely fashion and to provide the park with an adequate budget to operate it like the "community centre without walls" that it has become. Maybe we can ask them about these issues at the meeting.

I am asking you to come to the meeting to lend your voice in support of the organic way that Dufferin Grove Park has evolved, and to declare your confidence in its continuing ability to do so.

I note that the picture on the poster (attached) seems to be of some other park. If this is an indication of an attitude that all parks are interchangeable, then the city does indeed have a lot to learn from us. The poster says that "your input is valued and appreciated". Let's go and find out if that is really true.

I have just heard that there will be child care at the meeting, so feel free to bring your kids. Thanks for your time.

The Parks & Rec poster talks about RSVPs, so it would be wise to send your attendance confirmation to Tino Decastro at tdecastr@toronto.ca. I think that there is room for 150 people at the meeting, and I would be sorry if attendance was limited to those who had called or emailed ahead.

Georgie Donais
Project leader
www.cobinthepark.ca

PS: If you are as concerned as I am, please consider phoning three friends to let them know about this meeting, and to ask them to phone three friends.


posted October 27, 2005

Dufferin Grove Park named Best Community Park by NOW magazine (third item on linked page).


posted October 19, 2005

Surprise City Meeting About Dufferin Grove Park

Called by Parks, Forestry, & Recreation, at St. Mary's School, Monday November 7, 2005, 7:00pm

See the flyer being distributed by Parks & Rec.: Read more >>

The day after the rink petition began making the rounds, Tino DeCastro sent over a poster to the park. It said that on November 7 there will be a meeting at St.Mary’s High School to "discuss a framework for setting future directions for the Park use." It would be chaired by one of the managers from the office of Shirley Hoy, who is Toronto’s Chief Administrative Officer. We contacted this manager to find out more. She said she's planning to bring along some "Organization Effectiveness Consultants" to help. Help with what? She couldn't say yet, but as soon as we find out, it will be in the newsletter.


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