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Editorials 2008

Editorials 2008

JUST TO BE CLEAR: FOLLOW-UP On A May News Article

In the May newsletter I wrote an article that started like this:

SHOULD YOUTH WHO DRINK IN THE PARK BE PERMANENTLY BANNED?

Police recently informed a group of youth who were drinking beer in the park that they would be arrested for trespass if they were ever seen at the park again. Here’s a question for the community. Should such youth be permanently excluded?

The editorial went on to describe some of the work that recreation staff and park friends have done with youth in the park, over many years. It also mentioned the changes in some of the youth, and the ways they have helped out in turn. And finally, the editorial posed the question again:

Police assertions [that Dufferin Grove Park is a dangerous place] caused park friends to go through police occurrence reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These reports appear to bear out park users’ perceptions of Dufferin Grove as a generally peaceful place. The great majority of the reports were apparently random stops for “loitering” or drinking beer (see the park web site for more details). So here’s the question: do people in this neighbourhood want to clean their park by banning such people? A question that needs public discussion.

Some of the youthful park users read this editorial, and were pretty mad. They explained to me that calling for public discussion about banning them sounds as though the park is kind of like a reality show, where park users might get together and vote the basketball players, or youth who litter, or who drink beer, “off the park” for good.

Of course they’re right, and my question was meant to be rhetorical. If police find park users drinking beer, they have the discretion to give them a ticket. If they find park users smoking marijuana, they can arrest them and charge them and take them through the courts. But neither police, nor park users in general, can exclude a group from public space for drinking or marijuana use. CELOS has written a letter about the original police encounter to Police Chief Bill Blair, asking him to clarify whether in his opinion police powers extend to banning park drinkers permanently. If the answer is “yes,” we’ll want to canvass park users who are also lawyers.

Jutta Mason

EDITORIAL: SAYING YES INSTEAD OF NO

This year’s Jane Jacobs prize went to Nick Saul, the director of The Stop Community Food Centre at Davenport and Symington. Nick is often in the park playground with his family. The inspiring work he and his staff have done in converting a food bank into a community gathering place and social action centre is known to many park users.

Mayor David Miller was at the ceremony and took the occasion to talk about the importance of turning away from a municipal culture of saying “no you can’t” to finding out how to open the way to saying “yes.” He hit the nail on the head, and hopefully this maxim will sift down to the day-to-day operations of the city’s Parks management.

A radical restructuring over the past few years, meant to make parks work better, is still in a transition phase of saying NO a great deal of the time. Almost every activity mentioned in this newsletter goes against some sort of Parks management rule. The negative note injected into Park operations takes a toll on everyone who works to make Dufferin Park a lively, welcoming, easy place to enjoy. What to do?

The best course of action may be to keep doing good things in the park even if they meet with official disapproval. Campfires, the farmers’ market, community building projects, tree watering, gardens, community drop-in sports, soccer kids’ car-washes – and many more activities – have all run into trouble with Parks-management. And yet all these activities are still here. And perhaps Mayor Miller’s theme at his Jane Jacobs Day speech, of “saying yes” is a sign that change can still come.

Saying “yes” is worth working for, and we’re in it for the long haul. Mayor Miller, we’re willing to work on that goal with you – it’s the only way.

April 2008 Journal

posted April 19, 2008

Mayor's clean-up day mini-tour

Saturday April 19 -- sunny and high of 25. No leaves on the trees but people outside everywhere -- it seems like nobody stayed home.

Sterling Road

On Sterling Road, the Sterling Rd. and South Perth Residents Association (led by Phil Share) cleaned up the streets, especially around the empty businesses. They started at 9 a.m. and by 10 a.m. they were already loading old furniture, a barbecue, rain-soaked construction supplies into the city garbage truck that had come for pickup.


help from solid waste crew

Phil Share and neighbours
 


brooms are a help at empty factory

the sidewalk gets a sweep
 
Sorauren-Wabash Park

At Sorauren-Wabash Park, there was an Environment Day with all its trucks and oil drums of old computers and police sorting drivers into the right lineups. There was also an open house for the new Wabash field house, which was not quite finished but full of sunlight and enthusiasm.


a long-awaited day -- the field house is open for inspection

U of T architecture students made model park redesigns
 

The field house has a large multi-use second floor with lots of windows, which open to let the breezes cool the room. There will be a kitchen, already roughed in, on the ground floor, for community dinners and special events. There are public washrooms -- almost at the top of the wish-list for all the parents who use the playground or whose kids play soccer. There was a sign on the wall: "maximum allowed use: 25 people," but Cathy Allen of the Wabash Building Society said that's just a formula for the number of washrooms per number of people. The building can hold far more people and it looks very solid. Overheard: the city plans to charge $11 an hour for community use of the building. That sounds very odd, after so many community people put years into raising money and into every detail of getting it open, not to mention paying the taxes that keep it operating. The City may have to rethink that charge.

Near the entrance to the field house there was an information table about a planned farmers' market.


farmers' market coming soon

Pamela and Ayal, both residents and market supporters
 

cleanup organizer Gillian, and councillor's assistant Amy

Across the street at the playground, there was a park clean-up, and another information table giving out little sunflower seedlings. Gillian, the organizer of the cleanup, said that they have taken some inspiration from Dufferin Grove Park, which was pleasing to hear.

The garden landscape designer was showing her plans for landscaping around the building. Their planting weekend will be May 24, and they will likely have lots of help -- so many people have been involved in this effort, and their enthusiasm was manifest.

 
Trinity-Bellwoods

At noon, the clean-up was just finishing. The park in general had not been very littered, since the park crew had been picking up litter the previous day. The HGTV-show greenhouse is a wonderful new addition to the park:


new greenhouse, April 15, 2008

after-school students watering, with Jane Wells
 

The playground is still drying up after all the snow. By mid-May, the new section of the playground will be installed. The sandpit, on which the Dufferin Grove sandpit was modelled, also has mud remaining from the heavy snows. But when summer arrives, it will once again be full of summer day campers, for the "Art in the Park" program. The program is so excellent, and therefore so popular, that program leader Jane Wells says the waiting list could fill two whole camps.


muddy playground, April 15, 2008

sandpit area muddy and empty, but not for long
 

The park cleanup was announced on the Trinity Bellwoods web site and also on posters. The new community bulletin board at the farmers' market site had not only the Mayor's cleanup posted but also the annual Park Day, the restart of the farmers' market, and some of the community centre programs.


new community bulletin board, with spring announcements

clean-up headquarters: garbage bags and cookies

Editorial (by Jutta Mason): RINK ALERT -- time for e-mails and/ or phone calls.

Now that the outdoor rink season is almost over, there are suddenly some dark clouds on the horizon, coming up fast. Parks management has a restructuring plan, which is to be put in place in March. They intend to put the lead hands of the summer grass-cutting crews in charge of the all the city's outdoor ice rinks, as zamboni operators, in winters from now on, permanently. This is to be accompanied by a significant increase in wages and an increase in the numbers of zamboni operators. We calculate the increase in outdoor ice rink maintenance costs (same number of rinks) at $250,000. That seems like a bad idea.

CELOS has brought up this problem in many places since we learned about the plan two months ago, without results. On February 5 we deputed to the Budget Committee about the additional expenditure (not mentioned in the budget), without any result. We wrote to the director of management services about it, but when she responded after a long delay, she said the restructuring is actually "revenue neutral." However she declined to give actual numbers. It's unclear to us whether she or her colleagues know the numbers.

1. Since there are many other problems with Parks, Forestry and Recreations budgeting, it seems very likely that this additional expense will result in a cutback in the rink season next winter, to cover the extra wage cost.

2. Since the new jobs will be permanent, it is also likely that the resulting rink season cuts will affect every year after this.

3. Putting a lead hand of the grass cutting crews in charge of each rink doesn't make organizational sense.

On February 28 I wrote to Brenda Librecz, the general manager of this division, asking her to put the restructuring hirings on hold until the financial and organizational consequences can be examined more carefully. We also hand-delivered copies of this letter to Councillor Mihevc (chair of the Recreation Committee), Councillor Fletcher (chair of the Parks Committee, Councillor Carrol (chair of the Budget Committee), and to the Mayor's office.

Rink supporters may want to write to these same people (see e-mail addresses on cityrinks.ca), and to our councillor, media friends, anyone interested, to back up this request (links below). The city should to put the "lead hands" restructuring plan on hold, to explore the consequences for outdoor rinks more carefully, with rink users as well as staff.

This season's revised CELOS Outdoor Rink Report, now covering 47 city outdoor rinks, is almost done. It has lots of good suggestions, from rink users and front-line staff all over the city, for making the rinks run better, without costing more. The individual rink report cards that are in this report are already posted on cityrinks.ca. Neither the Parks, Forestry and Recreation management, nor the council committees, have engaged with CELOS on our rink reports, but it's time.

BEWARE THE DANGEROUS ZAMBONI

At about 10.30 a.m. on Thursday February 7, the zamboni driver who was clearing the snow at Dufferin Rink suddenly drove out of the rink and across the public walkway that leads to the zamboni garage. There he ran into Sandy Gribbin, one of the rink staff, who was bending down to pick up some trays lying on the ground, and hadn’t had time to see the zamboni coming. The zamboni hit Sandy in the back and knocked him flat into the snow. Zambonis are so high in front that the drivers can’t see what’s directly ahead of them, so the driver was unaware of having hit Sandy, couldn’t hear him screaming (the zamboni drivers wear earplugs) and kept driving. Another rink staff happened to come around the corner at that moment and saw her colleague disappearing under the zamboni, between the front wheels. She ran up and shouted and waved her arms wildly, and the driver stopped. The driver backed up the zamboni, and the shaken rink staff crawled out from underneath, bruised but able to stand. Other rink staff came running and surrounded him. Sandy yelled to the zamboni driver “you drove over me!” The driver said, “I didn’t see you!” Then as the rink staff walked with Sandy into the rink house, the driver followed and asked if they would pick up the spilled trays blocking his way into the garage.

Nobody paid attention, too focused on checking out Sandy’s bones and trying to help him calm down.

Zambonis have a very large augur underneath at the back, and anything that gets into the augur is ground up. Sandy was about two feet from the augur when the zamboni finally stopped. This was the thought on everyone’s mind for the rest of the day, and for some days afterwards. Sandy went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a mild concussion and bruises, but he was in one piece, miraculously.

The zamboni driver went back out onto the rink right after the accident, and – astonishingly – carried on clearing the snow as though nothing had happened. But among skaters the story made the rounds for days. Parents of young kids spoke of all the times their kids run along that walkway, and what if at that moment the zamboni would have…....(unspeakable.)

The zamboni driver was not taken off the rinks after this accident. Remarkable and strange! But some rink friends put up stop signs at each rink exit. The stop signs are meant to remind all zambonis drivers to do what most of them do already: STOP, look, and listen before you drive out of the rink and across a public walkway. It’s a very sensible rule of the road, and hopefully it will soon become official.

posted February 09, 2008

INCREASED USER FEES AND THE CITY BUDGET: editorial by Jutta Mason.

The CELOS group (CEntre for LOcal Research into Public Space) has been tracking the Parks, Forestry and Recreation budget for some years. Last year we hired an economics researcher to find out the budget trends from before amalgamation to now -- no easy feat but not entirely impossible either. He wrote a paper that we published on the cellos.ca web site, and on Tuesday February 5, I made a deputation to the Budget Committee, drawing in part on that research.

CELOS has been trying to find out what has caused Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PF&R) to be so "cash-strapped." This year (for example) this department’s net tax funding will be around $235.5 million, and yet they say they need $84 million more (from user fees etc.).

Since payroll is the biggest expense by far, we looked there. Our budget researcher found an increase of 787 full-time-equivalent jobs over the last ten years. That's could certainly be one reason why the budget has gone up so steeply.

But this year’s 2008 City Budget document says there was a PF&R "staffing growth" of only 186 in the ten years since amalgamation. So: what’s the real number? The general manager said our numbers are not right, even though our researcher used all the previous city budgets as his source. We asked her to show us our mistakes, but got no response. At the same time, the new budget request by Parks, Forestry and Recreation asked for another increase of 64 full-time-equivalent staff, bringing the total number of “full-time-equivalent” positions to 4186.

CELOS wanted to bring this piece of confusing information, and other omissions and contradictions, to the Budget Committee's attention in our deputation. We suggested that the councillors need to know more in order to make good decisions. However, for now the councillors seem to be uninterested in finding out more -- when my five minutes were up, they thanked me politely and returned to the Arts presentations.

But CELOS will continue to publish our research about budget details. By now we’ve learned quite a bit -- and what we’ve been unable to find is just as interesting. For example, the recent "Everybody gets to Play" user fee report often cites a program review which city manager Shirley Hoy also emphasized in her Budget address: the "review cost recovery model for recreation." The 2008 city budget lists this report as completed, but after three weeks of trying to get a copy, CELOS found out that it's being held for publishing until March. Yet the abolition of the Priority centres, and perhaps also the permit fees, are based on this unavailable report.

To find out more about the budget, go to www.celos.ca.


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