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posted September 19, 2006

Rebuttal to a Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star

This letter was not published by the Toronto Star.

To the editor, Toronto Star.

Regarding the letter to the editor published in today's star, entitled "Toilet not welcomed by all" (dufferin grove park composting toilet):

The main reason for creating a toilet facility near the playground is that patrons of the playground requested it. Small children have trouble making it to the distant toilets in the park, and so commonly use a "pee tree" -- unsatisfactory to both patrons and neighbours. Having a toilet nearby will help enormously. Note that this is proven technology having been deployed for years by the National Parks service.

There are several reasons for selecting the composting toilet:

  1. It is only a fraction of the cost of installing a regular toilet, because plumbing and sewage drains would have to be laid for a regular toilet facility. The compost toilet (about $8,000) was donated by a friend of the park and most of the building cost is covered by grants raised by the community.
  2. It provides a pilot project of trying a composting toilet as a means of reducing pressure on the city's sewage system. This information will benefit the entire city.
  3. It provides a means of further increasing community involvement in the park, through the invitation to build the cob enclosure by volunteers.

Regarding some of the other points in the letter:

"Unfortunately, there is no process for disagreeing with projects initiated by the Friends of Dufferin Grove". Sure there is. There are many natural community meeting places in the park: the playground, the Thursday farmers' market, the Friday night suppers. And there are always dedicated park staff on hand to listen to any and all concerns. Plus there have now been two formal community meetings on the subject.

"If you have concerns about one of their projects and you live right by the park, this group does not care." Quite the opposite. The park is busy and successful because there is a strong ethic of openness, and mutual, multi-cultural respect.

"This was evident because they were too afraid to let the neighbourhood know about the composting toilet project." Not true. The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park publishes a monthly print newsletter (hundreds of copies distributed) which contains many articles about the project, and also a lively website (www.dufferinpark.ca) which is currently running at about 30,000 page requests per month. Just google "site:dufferinpark.ca composting toilet" and you'll find all kinds of material about the project there.

"Community residents on streets directly surrounding the park were not invited to a meeting regarding the "groundbreaking" idea of a composting toilet smack dab in the centre of their precious green space." The meeting was publicized in advance on the website, and on the neighbourhood yahoo group (groups.yahoo.com/group/dufferingrovefriends -- about 350 active members), as well as around the park.

"When challenged in person, Giambrone promised he would publish and distribute a notice of the more recent meeting reported in the article in the Star, but he failed to do so." The Councillor leafleted the neighbourhood about the September 12 meeting. In addition the meeting was advertised in the park newsletter, on the website, on the above-mentioned local yahoo group, and around the park. Interestingly, the few neighbours who had serious concerns, and who called this meeting, chose not appear at the meeting.

"I asked one of the activists who supported the composting toilet what she would do to ensure a working toilet and she said she would count and limit the number of users and check the toilet for foreign objects. I'm sure her dedication and her enthusiasm for this task would fade after a day or two." This provides prudent controls and safeguards, even though the toilet model was selected to accommodate anticipated usage. The park staff will take over monitoring of the toilet as part of their routine playground supervision. Parks, Forestry, and Recreation has approved the toilet model.

"A group of private citizens should not be able to build whatever they want on public parkland without following a fair approval process." Community initiative is at the core of a successful city. Many departments of the city have been involved in this process every step of the way. There has been a great deal of ongoing community consultation and input, and the plans for the composting toilet were recently formally approved by the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation department, and a prominent architect in the city, Martin Liefhebber.

If Ms. Seljak and others have concerns about projects in their neighbourhood, they should by all means speak up and get involved. However I don't think that unfairly "spinning" the facts and casting negative aspersions is helpful.

- Henrik Bechmann, webmaster, www.dufferinpark.ca

Note: On September 20 Councillor Adam Giambrone's office confirmed directly to the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park that the Councillor had distributed 350 flyers to the neighbours of Dufferin Grove Park announcing the public meeting of September 12.


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