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News 2013

News 2013

From the December 2013 Newsletter:

A big change in park benches:

In the November newsletter there was a piece about Dufferin Grove Park’s new benches. Ten cement platforms appeared in the fall, in various locations throughout the west half of the park. The platforms are bases for ten new benches, to be bolted onto the cement later. The benches cost $900 each and the cement platforms about $1000 each (a bit less when many are put in at once).

It’s wonderful to add more places to sit. However, there are a few problems with these sudden bench appearances. There was no consultation about placement or style, between the park maintenance (bench) staff and the park program (people) staff. Too bad, because benches can change the feel of the park.

The “bench philosophy” that developed at Dufferin Grove over the last twenty years is similar to that of many of the newer downtown urban parks worldwide – to have moveable benches so that they can be clustered for conversation or picnics, as desired by park users. This has worked out very well at Dufferin Grove. Loss of benches to theft is quite rare.

In contrast to the friendly bench groupings, the new park-bench platforms are all far apart. Each bolted-down bench will have a middle railing to disallow sleeping (something that one almost never sees at the park anyway). That means that only two people can sit, decorously separated, on each bench, with no other benches nearby. What’s the message here? Sit up straight, no hugging, and no groups?

The same principle seems to be applied in most other Toronto parks. Benches at playgrounds are usually set in straight lines far enough apart that they discourage conversation among child-minders. When park benches are closer together, some are actually placed back to back. (Happily, there are exceptions – see for example Little Norway Park across the channel to the island airport.)

Dufferin Grove still has about twenty of the older, moveable benches , some of which were scrounged from forgotten park storage rooms years ago, and given a new coat of paint every few years. As long as these benches remain, they can be moved around kitty-corner to the new bolted benches as desired, to keep the conversation-groupings alive. But the new Parks and Rec philosophy seems to be taking the park in a different direction, apparently as part of a citywide policy of uniformity. We asked Parks management how these decisions are made. It turns out that there is a Design Standards Committee, whose meetings are not public. This committee introduced standardized benches “in order to ensure quality of product and to simplify ongoing maintenance of park benches.” According to Parks Director Richard Ubbens, “standards are subject to change occasionally in response to various factors such as legislative requirements and public feedback.” Peter White, the general supervisor of Parks in the west end, has said he’s amenable to having some discussion about benches with park users. Watch this newsletter for a late-winter date for a broader, maybe even citywide “people’s summit” about park benches. Could be fun, with a benches-show-and-tell and bake-oven pizza.


From the November 2013 Newsletter:

Sunday November 10, 2013, 5.30 pm: Lantern Parade

The German International School (Kindergarten to Grade 10) recently moved into the first floor of Kent School near Dufferin Grove Park. They contacted the park staff to say that there is a German tradition called St. Martin’s Procession (St. Martin’s Umzug), every November. Schoolchildren make their own lanterns at school and then have an evening procession, singing lantern songs. They wanted to do this at Dufferin Grove Park this year.

So now there’s another ethnic parade taking place at Dufferin Grove (the other one is Norwegian Constitution Day in May). All are welcome to come a watch this festival of lanterns. The rink house will be open and so will the washrooms.

Germany and Canada have something in common – chilly days in late fall and mid-winter, with very short daylight. November can be particularly bleak. So a lantern parade to light up the darkness seems like a very good idea.

The new “Reflexology Footpath” for Dufferin Grove Park

Many people who use Dufferin Grove Park either knew Jenna Morrison personally or heard about her tragic death in a bike accident in 2011, crushed by a truck at the corner of Dundas West and Sterling Avenue as she was riding to pick up her son from school.

Jenna’s husband Florian Schuck, her family and friends, undertook to memorialize Jenna in Dufferin Grove Park, a place where Jenna and Florian often took their little boy. Florian wrote:

“When Jenna came back after a trip with her mother to South Korea in 2001, she was enthusiastic about her discovery of the reflexology footpath. The reflexology footpath consists of a bed made of concrete in which cobblestones of various shapes and sizes are embedded to various degrees. Some are upright while others are flat, protruding the surface of the concrete at slightly different heights. As one walks the path barefoot or in socks, the sole, and therefore acupressure points of the foot, are massaged. The design of paths varies, but more often consists of a loop that allows the visitors to engage more than once over. Accompanying the path are benches for rest and removing shoes, as well as trees and shrubs for an ‘oasis.’ “

The necessary funds (about $130,000, according to the councillor’s office) are now in place. Jenna’s family and friends raised about $20,000, and Councillor Ana Bailao obtained another $20,000 from her development-charges fund. The general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Jim Hart, was moved by the story and allocated the balance from the city’s capital budget. So in the last week of October, planners and park staff met in the middle of the park with Jenna’s husband Florian and her mother Darlene, to select a good spot for the footpath. They settled on the section of the park near where the free yoga sessions have been happening over the past few years. The area has peaceful shade from its huge old trees. Nobody plays frisbee or soccer or volleyball there. The planners say they think the path can be ready in 2014.

A big change in park benches:

Dufferin Grove Park has had an unusual amount of work done on it this year. The three old wooden stairways cut into the park’s small hills have been completely replaced by new, attractive, wood-and-cement stairways. That took many weeks of work. Now ten cement platforms have appeared in various locations throughout the west half of the park. The platforms are bases for ten new benches, to be bolted onto the cement.

Lucky park! There are large-ish parks in Scarborough that have only two or three benches/picnic tables for the entire park. Ottawa has some long, beautifully groomed parks with no places to sit down at all. So it’s wonderful to add more places to sit.

However, there are a few problems with these sudden bench appearances. There was no consultation about placement or style, between the park maintenance (bench) staff and the park program (people) staff. Too bad, because benches can change the feel of the park.

The locally-developed “bench philosophy” at Dufferin Grove is similar to that of many of the newer downtown urban parks worldwide – to have moveable benches so that they can be clustered for conversation or picnics, as desired by park users. Over the past twenty years this has worked out very well at Dufferin Grove. Loss of benches to theft is quite rare.

In contrast to the friendly bench groupings, the new park-bench platforms are all far apart. Each bolted-down bench will have a middle railing to disallow sleeping (something that one almost never sees at the park anyway). That means that only two people can sit, decorously separated, on each bench, with no other benches nearby. What’s the message here? Sit up straight, no hugging, and no groups?

The same principle seems to be applied in most other Toronto parks. Benches at playgrounds are usually set in straight lines far enough apart that they discourage conversation among child-minders. When park benches are closer together, some are actually placed back to back. (Happily, there are exceptions – see for example Little Norway Park near Porter Air.)

Dufferin Grove still has about twenty of the older, moveable benches , some of which were scrounged from forgotten park storage rooms years ago, and given a new coat of paint. As long as these benches remain, they can be moved around kitty-corner to the new bolted benches as desired, to keep the conversation-groupings alive. But the new Parks and Rec philosophy seems to be moving the park in a different direction, apparently as part of a citywide policy of uniformity. Perhaps at some point it will become clearer whose ideas are being reflected here. We’ll try to track down where the buck stops, in time for the next newsletter.


From the August 2013 Newsletter:

City Councillor Norm Kelly visits Dufferin Grove Park

On August 1, Toronto’s new deputy mayor and his wife were sighted near the adventure playground. The councillor told a park user who recognized him that he loved to see the playground with the kids building dams and bridges, playing with shovels and water. That’s a hopeful sign that the Scarborough councillor may be opening his mind a little: a welcome change. Back in November 2011, Councillor Kelly was the head of the Parks Committee. The committee was considering the new Bake Oven Policy that Parks management had devised. Dufferin Grove’s most knowledgeable baker staff, Anna Bekerman, tried to explain how bake ovens work, and why the policy would be bad for park ovens. Councillor Kelly harshly told her to be silent: front-line staff are not allowed to speak at committee meetings. The new policy was passed, and since then most park ovens get very little use. (This is not true for the Dufferin Grove ovens, “grandfathered” under the old rules.) Councillor Kelly also holds the view that citizens must pay extra fees for all “active” use of the parks (e.g. playing soccer or baseball, using bake ovens, having social gatherings, making music). Hopefully the kids digging in the playground won’t become part of the “active” category.

City workers construct new stairs in the park

Dufferin Grove Park is not quite flat, since it borders on the riverbed of the former Garrison Creek. Almost sixty years ago, shortly after the end of World War Two, there was a flurry of construction and repairs in all city parks, maybe partly as an antidote to five years of wartime destruction overseas. That’s when city workers first built the solid wooden stairways that traverse the little ridges and valleys of Dufferin Grove Park. Those stairs have lasted well, but lately, they finally began to “biodegrade” rather dramatically. The replacements of these classic stairways could have been done in prefab stone and cement by outside contractors, but instead, the city’s own Technical Services workers were sent in to rebuild the new stairs after the exact pattern of the old ones. The stairs curve to fit the terrain, and the steps are made of wood. The scheduling was such that the workers were rebuilding the longest stairway during the bad heat wave in mid-July, sometimes in full sun. But they did it (tough Canadians)– and the stairs look great. Now work is proceeding on two shorter stairways. Look and admire!

Park finances: still going down

Food and skate lending income is about 30% lower for the first half of this year than last year (i.e. income from January to June 2013 is $27,350 less than during the same period in 2012). It would help to compare expenses as well, but the city’s book-keeping is missing some categories, so we’ll have to wait until they make sure they can find all the expense numbers. The inconsistency of staffing and the organizational hurdles in buying groceries may contribute to the reduced income. So far, city management is allowing the programs at Dufferin Grove to continue. But last winter, General Manager Jim Hart said that the city can’t afford Dufferin Grove Park – it’s too expensive. If the city’s management troubles continue to shrink the park income, the general manager may feel it’s time to pull the trigger on the programs. Meantime. CELOS will keep following the numbers.

From the Summer 2013 Newsletter:

A surprise donation

On Thursday June 20, a call came through to the park, from the head of a charitable foundation that donated money years ago to help build the zamboni kitchen (in the rink house garage alcove). The Foundation wanted to give the park an unsolicited gift of $2500, because they like some of the things going on here. On June21, the cheque was already in the CELOS mailbox. Wonderful! The Dufferin Grove food donation money now goes straight downtown, so the funds that were formerly used to buy park supplies directly are no longer available directly at all. But when you put the surprise donation together with the $1600 donated to CELOS by park users during the past half year, those funds can really accomplish something. $200 is going out right away to buy the first skatelite board for the skateboard pad (see the story on page 1). Another $125 bought a honey locust tree, a tough, fast-growing, drought- and compaction-resistant tree to provide shade for the Friday Night Supper area beside the big oven. (The big old sugar maple that used to be there finally died from the pressure of all those feet.) The Garden Club planted the honey locust. So: this donation means a return to a little bit of flexibility. More suggestions welcome!

Chairs for the park: bring along your cast-offs, and help your neighbours sit down

Public spaces (like the rink house) wear out chairs. After a thousand bums have sat on a chair, it falls apart. The clubhouse stock of normal-size chairs is down to FOUR only. Are there any still-solid candidate (chairs) hiding in your garage or your storage locker? Chairs or stools that you don’t need any more could have a fulfilling twilight period at the park. (Will trade for bread or a campfire!)

Reflexology Footpath in Dufferin Grove Park.

Many people who use Dufferin Grove Park either knew Jenna Morrison personally or heard about her tragic death in a bike accident in 2011, crushed by a truck at the corner of Dundas West and Sterling Avenue.

Jenna’s husband Florian Schuck, her family and friends, have undertaken a project to memorialize Jenna in Dufferin Grove Park, a place where she and Florian often took their little boy. Florian wrote: When Jenna came back after a trip to South Korea in 2001, she was enthusiastic about her discovery of the reflexology footpath. The reflexology footpath consists of a bed made of concrete in which cobblestones of various shapes and sizes are embedded to various degrees. Some are upright while others are flat, protruding the surface of the concrete at slightly different heights. As one walks the path barefoot or in socks, the sole, and therefore acupressure points of the foot, are massaged. The design of paths varies, but more often consists of a loop that allows the visitors to engage more than once over. Accompanying the path are benches for rest and removing shoes, as well as trees and shrubs for an “oasis.”

One of Jenna’s friends was Joey Gill, who wrote that they have to raise about $120,000 for the footpath (to be locate just north of the new armour-stone circle near the playground). Joey sent this news in May: This is Joey Gill, one of the driving forces behind the Reflexology Footpath - I'm happy to say that from our collective efforts, since I first contacted you, we've raised about $23,000 towards the Footpath project and are in talks with Rio Alcan re: a donation.

Councillor Ana Bailao has hosted one fundraiser already and is now putting on a second one: all donations collected at the councillor’s Ward 18 Community BBQ will be given to the Reflexology Footpath campaign. The BBQ is at Dufferin Grove Park, at the northwest end near Dufferin Street (west of the bake oven) on Saturday June 22, from 1 to 3 pm.

The glitches of Dufferin Grove Park

Back in July 2011, the management of Parks, Forestry and Recreation introduced an Action Plan to Assume Operations of Dufferin Grove Park. City staff were already running everything at the park, but not in the way that was “compliant” with the many new centralized city policies. So the part-time staff who were working at the park were downgraded in their responsibilities, and a series of new full-time staff persons were put in to tell them what to do. The new staff were only following orders from downtown, and the job was really tricky: imagine if you were told to go to a Starbucks with no experience and be in charge of running it (from a remote location). Not an easy task! And not really possible to do well, either. Dufferin Grove is a pretty busy place, and under the new system there are lots of glitches – and lots of frustration. We’ll report on how it’s going as the summer goes along.


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