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Call for participation:

Trying to imitate Walter Gretzky.

posted March 23, 2005

City rinks manager James Dann says that most of next season's rink decisions will be made in the next two weeks. So if you love your rink and want to have your say, THIS is the time. More about that, but first, about being like Walter Gretzky -- RESOLUTE, to have our rink as long as we can.

Walter Gretzky

Even though the Dufferin Rink compressors were turned off for the season on Sunday March 20, there could have been some perfect games of shinny in the evenings following that, under the moon. If we had had half an hour of scrape each day by the zamboni, the rink would be smooth and solid. We have so much ice on the rink (maybe six solid inches) that it can't stop being a rink yet, and as soon as the sun goes down, the underneath ice starts to refreeze the top layer that the sun licked into little mushy bumps during the day.

But our zamboni was taken away first thing Monday, and parked in a storage garage.

When we realized how cold the nights were and how solid the ice was, we tried flooding it at night with the big hose, to see if that would smooth out the rough surface. It worked pretty well the first night, but the hose was too short to reach out into the middle. So we pleaded for more hose, and Parks staff brought it over. Only they brought pieces of hose that didn't fit together, so it was no good. However we thought of Walter Gretzky and his stories of how he used make sure that his backyard rink was as good as it could be for his boys. So we flooded as much as we could -- but a frustrating half inch of soft ice remained by evening.

The zamboni could have fixed it SO fast! (By just scraping off the soft inch or two, on top of the thick hard layer that you can feel underneath.) The city has zambonis. It has zamboni operators on staff who are seriously underemployed between seasons, waiting around at $23 an hour plus benefits. The only thing missing is Walter Gretzky's attitude: "let's just have a rink as long as it's possible."

This past winter was the best rink season in recent memory and a lot of things started to work much better than during the bad old days. Now if more of the neighbourhood rink lovers, all over the city, are willing to get acquainted with a few details of how rinks function, we can move to the next level for next year, together with the city's rink staff. So here's your chance -- please let us know if you would be willing to contribute your thoughts. (skating@dufferinpark.ca)

One aim: next year, let's find a way to be more responsive to weather conditions. This applies to all the rinks. Just because the money is not there to run all the rinks full tilt during all the cold months, that doesn't mean there can't be a flexible response to the weather, with scaled-down staffing. This year, for instance, most outdoor rinks were shut down on Feb.27. But the weather's been so cold that by March 23, almost a month later, Christie Pits Rink (as an example) is still full of hard ice except for a little strip along the boards. It would have been easy to start that rink up again for March Break -- one or two zamboni visits each day, open the washrooms -- so much fun for the kids and the night-time shinny players too.

In the spirit of Walter Gretzky, let's not squander what's in our reach -- let's make the rinks as good as they can be.

Jutta Mason


posted April 12, 2005

THE FIRST ANNUAL APRIL FOOLSí 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 doesnít mean the parkís friends donít 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 theyíve 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.

Some of the 80 or so people at the first annual April Fools' Day
"Active Park Friends" Supper,April 1, 2005,
at the rinkhouse/clubhouse (photo by Dave Nomura)

Other times, the gifts people give to the park are widely known - from David Andersonís Clay and Paper Theatreís 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 Simutisí gifts of red-and-green Rice Crispy squares to the rink rats, for all holidays.

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 Foolsí 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 wouldnít fit in the rink house. (If you didnít get invited and you should have been, weíll make it up to you.)

The park cooks rummaged in the freezer for the winterís farmersí 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 shouldnít have been a surprise, really - thatís 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 doesnít work very well. Itís 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 groupís time.

Perhaps that Emperor has no clothes. So weíll 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.

Hereís how becoming a more active park friend works: if you want to put something into the park that isnít 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 canít 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 youíre inspired to do - just remember to start small. Then if your project doesnít work - no problem. But if your talents bear fruit, you can keep growing what youíve begun, maybe with other park friends who want to help you.


posted May 10, 2005

LOST SOULS AT THE PARK AND THE FEAR OF STRANGERS

Any big city has lost souls, and they sometimes come to parks (or even try to live there). We remember Mimo, an older Italian man who used to stuff cardboard down the menís toilet because Jesus told him to, and who even took down his pants at the playground water fountain once so he could wash his privates (itís hard to keep clean if youíre homeless, harder if you hear voices). On that occasion the staff chased him away fast (after getting him to put his pants back up), and as for the toilets, we had to keep the menís washroom locked for two summers because it was so expensive to have the plumber here every week. Eventually park friend Judy Simutis helped track down Mimoís story, and we discovered that some restaurants on College Streets had been giving Mimo food and shoes and blankets for years, which is why he was so lively despite his lostness.

Finding out more often leads to a solution. We were able to connect Mimo with mental health workers Walter Brierley and Moira Hynes, who worked with great ingenuity and compassion to get Mimo into a shelter and, later, into a retirement home in the Beaches that seems to suit him well.

Every few years the park seems to get one or two new lost souls. Being strangers at the beginning, they often worry people. Sometimes the police are called for strange behaviour, but the police canít usually do much about it, other than taking the person out for an hour or a day. The park staff are equipped to follow up over the long term, however, and so are some park friends. If a park stranger frightens or concerns you with strange behaviour, try to find a park staff person. Theyíll find out more about the person, and see if there are ways to fix any problems the person may be causing. If you have a cell phone, you can also call the rink house - 416 392-0913 - or park friend <b>Jutta Mason</b> at home - 416 533-0153. Dufferin Grove Park is solid enough that it can carry a few lost souls at a time, with some good effort.


posted May 16, 2005

Letter to the Editor: An "Incident" (involving a man and some kids) at Dovercourt Park

My partner witnessed what I will loosely call an incident at Dovercourt Park on Monday that concerns us. There is a young man who spends most of his days at the park playing with and/or interacting with the kids. Last year he used to spend a lot of his time at Mary McCormick park. Apparently his family has moved into our neighborhood. The young man is mentally challenged, to what extent I am not really sure (apparently he suffered a serious brain injury when he was younger). Based on our experience over the last couple of years with the man at Mary McCormick Park and at Dovercourt Park this year, there has never been any cause for concern. In fact the kids quite enjoy playing with him. We have no reason to believe that he is a threat to anyone, child or adult. Given the frequency of his presence at these two parks over the last two years and the number of kids he has interacted with, it is highly probable that if this young man had behaved in any way inappropriately we would have heard about it from other parents at the park.

So what my partner witnessed was a police cruiser parked next to the park and the officer talking with this man in a friendly manner while escorting him away from the playground. The young man appeared very concerned or worried. My partner intervened on the man's behalf and spoke with the officer. The officer advised her that the police had received a call from someone concerned by the man's presence at the playground. The police officer was very polite and professional.

My partner informed the officer that she knew this young man as a regular park attendee and that he was harmless and interacted with the kids on an almost daily basis. That she had absolutely no concern with him interacting with our kids (3 1/2 & 5 1/2). The young man was very relieved by my partner's words and seemed to brighten up considerably, stating to the officer 'see, I told you' or words to that effect. Soon thereafter the police officer left and the man was 'allowed' to return to the park and resume whatever he was doing.

The real problem that this event highlights for me, is that we as a community are not communicating to each other very well. It is, unfortunately, reasonable for a parent to be concerned by the presence of a single young man apparently unkown and in his 20s or 30s who is interacting with kids in the park without the parents invitation. It would have been preferable for the concerned parent to have approached the young man directly and if their concerns were not assuaged to have approached other members of the park community to find out more about this young man. Calling the police should be a last resort. It might also have been a good idea for the man's parents or guardians to have approached members of the park community when they moved into the neigborhood.

Louis Richer


posted June 10, 2005

Girl gangsters

[ed: the following story was taken from the friday night supper notes for June 10, 2005.]

To those market friends who are worried because of the 30 or so youth who were arguing and threatening each other by the oven during the market between 4 and 5.15, here's the story. Some girls from the St.Clair area, several with their faces covered by bandanas, plus a cheering section, came to get revenge on an enemy girl at the park. The enemy girl and her many supporters (both male and female) did not want to fight. So there ensued lots yelling, cursing, attempts at provocation etc. My attempt to get the youth to leave mainly led to them including me in their abuse. Eventually if became clear that the girls would continue to try to step up their nonsense. Park staff called police but that rarely brings timely results. After an interval, police were called again, and still no results. My two attempts to ask market customers with cell phones to call the police as well (to strengthen our requests) were unsuccessful. (The customers were unwilling to act without more detailed information -- not a good time to give it). However, Alvaro of Plan B, as soon as he became aware of the problem, also called 911.

The threat of police led the several groups to move toward the main path and continue their cursing, mocking, provocation. Eventually my patience ran out and I took hold of sleeves and backpacks and pulled the girls toward the edge of the park. This led to increased threats and shouting and eventually, shoving me around. At that point some of the basketball regulars intervened energetically and made it clear to this rude posse that they must leave immediately and not touch me again. They finally left and did not return.

Later on, the police arrived, but by then the problem was over.

I found it astonishing that this big scene could play itself out right beside the market with me not being able to rally more help from the people at the market. It seems clear to me that a park must have standards of behaviour or it won't be a good place to come to. Youth problems have a history in our park as elsewhere in Toronto and decisive action is needed when there is unlawfulness. I am mulling over the events, but for now, I am grateful to the basketball youth for supporting me when I needed it (wholeheartedly, grasping the situation). I think that market users don't need to worry about their safety, but may need to think about everyone's role in how a park becomes safe.

Jutta Mason

A couple of letters to the editor on this topic:

I'm sorry I wasn't at the market this week. Thank you for intervening because I know ACTION is necessary to stop mounting violence. I do think this is worth discussing and perhaps we could start with a web dialogue and then a market day event. I was just at a conference in Malvern last weekend where gangs were addressed at a forum. Dealing with gang behaviour is necessary because it IS everywhere- not just in Malvern. And girls are as bad as boys! Thank goodness for those basketball boys coming to your rescue. (another example of why kids need places to belong).

Laurie Malabar

I remember the first thing in Psych 101 that they talk about is that people are less safe in a crowd, where others can imagine that the responsibility is spread around, and that they themselves don't need to intervene, whereas one or two bystanders can see that if they don't intervene, no one else will. I also remember in Bronze Cross training that they emphasized the same thing. One phrase that I will remember til I'm old, "You in the red shirt, yes you, call 911 and then come back here immediately!"

Georgie Donais


posted June 10, 2005

City TV news item about the park:

At the playground I heard last night that an item done by City TV at 6 p.m. said that the City (i.e. Parks and Recreation) has fought what is going on at our park all the way. I didn't see the newscast, but if that's what was said, it was in error. The good things that happen at the park could not be so without continuous cooperation between the parks and rec staff and the neighbourhood busybodies who set up what happens there. Although it's true that Parks and Rec upper management have often dug in their heels, and continue to do that, manager James Dann and supervisors Tino DeCastro and Brian Green have made things work a huge number of times, as have many other front-line staff.

Loose talk on TV! Better to turn off the set and just enjoy the park and talk face to face.


posted August 5, 2005, from the August Newsletter

AN OPEN LETTER TO BRENDA LIBRECZ, THE GENERAL MANAGER OF PARKS, FORESTRY AND RECREATION:

Dear Brenda,

I am writing to you to ask for a meeting with you as soon as possible.

Here's why: friends of Dufferin Grove Park have been discussing the effect, on our park, of your Division's new operating model, to begin in September. We are very concerned.

Some background: In November 2003, a few weeks before the most recent municipal government was sworn in, Parks and Recreation announced a radical change in how they would run their operation. From our point of view it meant that we would be dealing with a different supervisor for every element of the park Ė one for wading pools, another for skating rinks, another for park maintenance, another for children's programs, another for special events, another for improvements to the park (if any), etc. We protested against this new conception, and it was put on hold. After some consultations to fix the problems, it seems that the same approach is back, as of this September.

The new operating model seems to spell the end of the idea of a park as first and foremost a neighbourhood meeting place. In its place, there is what is called a "functional approach," taking apart all the elements of a park and managing each separate element centrally (and perhaps staffing these elements centrally as well).

It's hard to know how our park can continue to flourish under such a system, since Dufferin Grove Park is a very specific place that has grown organically out of the activities of its many friends, from the volleyball players to the picnickers to the playground kids to the "rink rats." All the activities are intertwined, and the great support we have got over many years, from the Parks and Recreation Division, has been the support of local (not central) staff who know what we're doing, and who have a history with us.

Adding to our concerns is the fact that the examples we've seen of a centralized "functional" approach have been pretty alarming. The Health and Safety Inspectors' visit in 2003, resulting in a threat to shut down the rink, is one example. The C.S.A. playground replacement/ repair program is another. The Policy and Development Division's centralized approach to park improvements is another. The list is long.

So we're writing to ask you to declare our park an alternative site. If the City is bent on trying their "functional" experiment, we would ask you to keep our park as an alternative laboratory, to see if what we do here is worth learning from as well.

We look forward to your invitation for a small group of us to discuss this with you, as soon as you can accommodate us. We regard this matter as urgent.

Yours sincerely,
Jutta Mason, friend of Dufferin Grove Park


posted August 5, 2005

Letter to the Editor: Call for help/advice from Cleveland

Date: 18 Jul 2005

My family visited Dufferin Grove at the beginning of the month. I joined the Withrow Park group and we had nice chats that day and when we returned with friends on Sunday for pizza.

Well, naturally I was so inspired that we went right home and moved up our cob oven project, which had been a pie in the sky, maybe-in-a-couple-years project for our community garden on a nearby vacant lot. Amazingly, within a week, a neighbor asked me if the garden could use her leftover sand (exactly the right type), a nearby retaining wall came down (providing perfectly sized concrete block), fresh straw was spread for a groundbreaking and then abandoned, a friend pointed me to a local pallet-remaking business that provides the same sort of scrap used in the Dufferin Grove ovens, and a local pastor called in search of service projects for their youth group. What better match than building the same kind of oven that baked the bread Jesus ate?

All we had to buy was the powdered clay and the firebrick for a total cost of about $100. My best interpretation of the code was that the oven fell under the agricultural use exemption, since it would be used primarily to process food grown on site (along with dough and cheese from elsewhere)...

The first stage of the oven was almost complete when the next-door neighbor appeared, shouting "I never agreed to this" and "I'm taking you to court." The relationship with this neighbor had been three years of good-faith negotiation producing what I thought was a fairly trusting relationship. He is Spanish-speaking and I only know Dora the Explorer Spanish, so I had always insured that a native Spanish speaker translated in order to assure that any disadvantage was on my side. I had discussed the oven with him several times, in that vague maybe-someday way, but the project had come together so fast that I had not discussed it with him again before we started.

I should say that the garden is on private property - the vacant lot is owned by a bank that was not aware they owned it until I told them. The house on it burned down 3-4 years ago, probably arson, and had been the subject of much shady dealing. In addition, there are so many back taxes that the lot is nearing foreclosure. From the very beginning, I had asked the neighbor repeatedly whether he wanted to try to buy the lot and convert it into his own side yard, and he repeatedly refused. We have implicit permission from our contact at the bank (who went so far as to suggest that we name the garden after his daughter), but no letter. The agricultural extension office that funds community gardens agreed to squat and provided us with topsoil and plants.

Long story short, the irate neighbor called the community development organization, the councilmember, the inspector, and God. We stopped work on the oven until the conflict could be resolved.

On Friday, another service group came to build more garden beds, and he approached these kids (10 and up) screaming profanity, with a friend filming the lot in an attempt to show that it was full of trash (a plastic bag of straw for cob, concrete block used in the project, etc.).

A little later, one of the kids filmed the lot with my narration, explaining what each "mess" was.

The inspector showed up and was not sure about code, said I should assume I needed a permit, and referred me to the head of the building department with his blessing. He also cited the neighbor for the dead cars, defunct engines, etc. littering his lot.

Sometime on Saturday - three days after it was built - a person or persons unknown smashed the oven. All the materials are recoverable, but about 180 volunteer hours were lost, and everyone involved is stricken and infuriated.

I'm trying to stay philosophical and use the conflict. We're having a community meeting Thursday night with the councilmember. My feeling is that many of the factors that led to the initiation of the project have changed. The two other garden organizers have moved, and the apartment building next door is about to be foreclosed and everyone evicted. The kids who lived there provided 90% of my personal motivation. And if the neighbor is going to fight anything beyond a basic garden tooth and nail, a good part of the benefit of having a gathering place is lost (this garden would have little raised beds - we can grow much more food in another local garden with large plots).

So, while there will probably be plenty of talk about what's already happened, I want to go back to the beginning and decide together what the best use is for this lot. At the same time, I'm not willing to set the precedent that if you don't like something, you bash it and you win. I can't back down from the necessity to do something positive with the lot that will fill the vacuum (we started this when the dumping got out of control).

Thoughts? Ideas? Cautions?

Thanks - Mati Senerchia


posted October 24, 2005

Vandalism of the Cob Courtyard

Letter from Georgie Donais:

Well, the cob wall is finished and it looks amazing. Apparently too amazing, as we had some rather substantial vandalism there last night (October 19).. Most of the little "glass bottle windows" were broken, and some plaster was pulled off. (The good news is that the mosaic counters weren't touched, and the cob walls themselves would need three tons of dynamite to bring them down. Not that we want to give people ideas...)

I am asking people who use the park to keep an eye on the wall and the area around it when you're there, especially folks who are walking dogs in the late evening and early morning. If you see anyone doing any damage, you can call the police but they're unlikely to come just for vandalism. You can also alert the basketball players if they're in the park -- they really like this structure and they're pretty interested in speaking to whichever silly kids are doing this damage. Also, if you see vandalism in progress, please try to memorise descriptions so that we know who to watch for.

To get more of a neighbourhood presence in the park during the fall and winter months, park staff are offering cob fireplace permits at no charge with free firewood and your own butler. (Just kidding about the butler.) So get together with your family and friends one evening!

See you in the park....

Response from editor:

When I do my night-time checks on the park with my bike, the bright streetlight near the cob courtyard makes all the mosaic bits twinkle in the dark. It looks magical. Even the holes where the bottle ends were smashed look good -- since there's still a glass sleeve left in every hole, those twinkle too, and even look a bit mysterious.

Silvie Varone, who together with her partner Simon made the cupboards with the sinks and the mosaic counter, came by the cob courtyard a couple of days ago with two newsletter boxes she made. They are also beautiful. Simon put them up. (Have a look!)

I said to Silvie -- "you do random acts of beauty," and she grinned.The fact is, way more people do random acts of beauty in the park than random acts of vandalism -- important to remember and take joy in.

The first few months of a new thing's existence in the park seems often to be the time when ambitious vandalism happens. (The first bake-oven got the roof stripped off a month after it was finished.) After that, it settles down. For now, the more that park friends* incorporate the cob courtyard into their dog-walking route or their route home from a late party, the more chance those spoiler goofs will lose interest (too much action). And if you see people doing damage, just tell them you're leaving the park to call the police (even if you don't do it). Threats work well here!


* Definition: park friend = anyone who is friendly to the park. There are no official, card-carrying park friends, but many people who feel friendship for the park. That's what makes it a good place, and that's also why vandalism doesn't thrive there.


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