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Overview | Library of Stories and Information
posted October 24, 2005
Playground Destruction: Why we're concerned
The much loved Dufferin Grove Park playground jiggly bridge was removed
by City workers. We think that was a mistake.
In the early 1980’s, the playground at Dufferin Grove Park got a new play structure, made of wood, and very long. This structure had everything – baby-swings at one end, then broad steps leading up to a platform with two steering wheels, and a wide slide with a shiny surface fast enough to be exciting, even though it was short. Then a jiggly bridge leading over to a broad platform with a higher, longer slide, with room for two at the same time. That end had various interesting ways of getting up or down – a chain ladder, a fireman’s pole, and a steep slanted board with tires as footholds/handholds. As well, branching off to one side next to the steering wheels, there were some pretty challenging monkey bars a good ways off the ground. Underneath the baby platform there was, for good measure, a shop counter, for playing store.
This many-faceted structure was immediately popular with all ages, up to and including the Grade nines from St.Mary’s, who used to come over during their lunch. They would lounge around on the platform up above the long slide, eating their sandwiches and behaving like unruly pirates on the bridge of their ship.
The best-loved part of the structure for the little kids, without a doubt, was the jiggly bridge. The fairy tale called "The Three Billygoats Gruff," was often heard at this bridge, as adults shouted out "Trip, Trap, Trip, Trap, WHO’S GOING OVER MY BRIDGE?" Laughing, squealing children would run shakily back and forth over the bridge, making the most satisfying rumble to spite the monster underneath.
Unlike a real suspension bridge, the handrails were not attached to the bridge (and swaying along with it), but were stationary, with the slats of the bridge jiggling along independently. Also unlike a suspension bridge, there was no netting on the sides, and so parents sometimes watched the children anxiously, as they swayed across – wondering whether someone would lose their balance and fall out the side. This was mainly an issue with very little children who were shorter than the handrail. Nothing like that ever happened, but it seemed prudent to add some netting for protection.
Parents made that request from time to time over the years, but it never went anywhere until we got to know the park staff a bit in the mid-1990's. Then it turned out that the request was not as straightforward as we'd thought. An inspector came out, then a planner, and they looked at the bridge and scratched their heads. Any netting they could think of could cause entanglement of a head or a limb. Besides that, they said, the structure came with a provision that nothing would be added or altered – if changes were made, the manufacturers' insurance would refuse to pay for any claims arising out of an injury.
So the bridge stayed as it was. The worry about falling hovered in the adults' minds as before. The delicious queasiness for the children, the shaking underfoot and the "trip, trap, trip, trap" to spite the monster, continued as well.
The monster we didn't know about was a document about playground risk released by the Canadian Standards Association. It's an association made up of mostly manufacturers (almost half of them not in Canada) but the City government swallowed their document as though it was law. Soon after the new "standards" were released, pieces of playground equipment began to go down. One morning the children who came to the playground found to their shock that the jiggly bridge was gone. In its place was a stolid, immovable wooden passageway with a thick double handrail. The fireman’s pole was gone too, and the opening nailed up.
The three billygoats gruff faded away. The monster had won the contest most brutally. The brave little goats, bridge, story, thrilling game – all had been made to disappear, along with the fireman's pole.
The City staff who had told us that no alteration could be made, and who had then wrought this radical change, were like thieves in the night. They never came to explain or to justify – no need. From their point of view, they had done the responsible thing by removing a risk. From our point of view, they were vandals. But nobody knew how to undo the damage. And it turned out that was just the beginning.
[ed.: Through Access to Information legislation we obtained a city inventory of about 780 playgrounds and plans for changes as of 1999 (see Library below). We were unable to obtain an accounting of the spending of a playground budget of millions of dollars since then (the City testified at a hearing under Access To Information legislation that it couldn't find one). We're still trying to get an explanation of what they're doing.]
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Library of Stories and Information
Access to Information
July 25, 2005
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The City's 1999 Plan
December 6, 2004
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