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Editorials 2009

Editorials 2009

THE TORONTO STAR COLUMN ABOUT DUFFERIN RINK – the aftermath

During the week of ice-making at Dufferin Rink (starting on Nov.16), Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter said she wanted to write about the rink opening. She did her homework –she came to the rink at midnight on November 18 to interview me for an hour and a half, while I was flooding the ice with the big rink hose. The column she wrote, and the picture Star photographer Carlos Osario took on Friday night just after the rink staff had completed their round of floods, got lots of reactions. Examples:

(1) On Sunday morning, Nov.22, Vincent Muia approached rink program staff Anna Bekerman and startled her by giving her three $100 bills as a gift for the rink. He said he used to come to Dufferin Rink a lot as a kid. He had just read the Star article and he was so happy to be reminded of that time that he came right down to give this present. After some urging by Anna, he left his card: he’s an insulation contractor, with a company called Dominion Insulation, located at 295 Garyray Drive in Weston.

Small world! Back in 1995 when the first bake-oven was built, the Toronto Sun covered opening day. As a result of that article, a skid recycler named Hussain Alli called the park and offered us as much dry hardwood as we ever wanted, because he loved the idea of bread being made in the old way they used to bake it in Guyana, where he came from. Hussein’s little skid factory was also on Garyray Drive, and we often went there to get wood. (He often delivered it, too, in his beaten-up old van.)

Now the park has two good friends on Garyray Drive. And for those rink users who need insulation done, you might want to call up Vincent Muia at 416 743-6688, for an estimate. (“The Fraternal Order of rink users.”)

The rink program staff went out and bought a new printer with some of Vincent’s donation, and right away printed up the new season’s skating schedules. The rest went to grow the skate rental collection.

(2) On Monday afternoon, a rink user told us that she was very excited about the Star article because she had just put her house on the market. Her real estate agent had clipped several copies of the article and posted them at the open house.

(3) On Tuesday morning, Lillian Michiko Blakey e-mailed that seeing the photo of the rink in the Star brought back many memories of skating at Dufferin Rink fifty years ago. She sent us an account of those days, and of her family’s establishment in this neighbourhood after being interned in Alberta during WW2, for being of Japanese descent. Lillian’s rink account is on page 6, and more of her stories are here the new “people” section of “about us.” We’ve also posted her evocative painting of the rink, which she created to illustrate how it looked when she and her sister used to skate there.

(4) It would have been lovely if this article had resulted in getting faster responses from people when we contact them for problems or information. But no such luck. 95% of our queries get no response – not from the auditor, not from the general manager of Parks and Recreation, not from other city staff or from city councilors in other parts of the city.

Well, if fame doesn’t help, we’ll have to keep trying persistence.

[Jutta Mason]

EDITORIAL: WHAT’S WRONG WITH “HIGH-LEVEL” AUDITS

One way to approach a “state-of-good-repair” is to make an inventory of ALL the repairs that need to be done to ALL Parks properties. Such inventories usually try to include not only what needs to be repaired now but also what will maybe go wrong in future, and when it might go wrong. When such an inventory is supposed to cover all the parks, rinks and recreation centres across the whole city, it’s an overwhelming job.

In 2001, city staff hired the firm of WGA Wong Gregerson Architects to tell them what needs to be fixed in “recreational and cultural facilities.” That report cost $392,448. Inspectors went from place to place checking roofs and walls and wiring and water lines, etc., and writing down what shape everything was in. They wrote down what needs repair now and what may need repair or replacement later, up to a period of 25 years, making a separate, detailed report for every facility owned by Parks and Recreation.

In 2004, CELOS researchers examined a sample item of this state-of-good-repair inventory: the Dufferin Outdoor Rink report, which runs to ten pages. We found that three years after the audit (a) none of the audit's recommendations for that rink had been undertaken and (b) not one of the things that did in fact go wrong with Dufferin Rink in the course of those three years was predicted by this audit.

It may be that there were similar problems with the audit in other parts of the city. The response of the Policy and Development Division was to ask City Council for another $803,000 to do a repeat state-of-good repair audit of exactly the same facilities. They said they needed more details. Our researchers looked over the proposed new audit contract. The new details that the planning staff wanted this time were remarkable similar to the old details. So in July 2004, a group of us tried to interest city council in stopping the second audit and reallocating the $803,000 to be put into the actual Parks repair budget.

No luck at all. The $803,000 expenditure for a consulting company called Accent Building Sciences passed through council in an eyeblink.

Once the City hires such a company, the machine grinds on as before, while the company’s staff make their visits. At Dufferin Rink, a consulting engineer with a badge and a clipboard passed by one day to check for asbestos. After he had gone over the building, he asked the rink staff when the rink was built. When he heard that it was in 1993, he sighed. The information he got from city planning staff said 1961, which is why he had come to do the asbestos check. No asbestos had been added to any city buildings since 1973, so he had wasted his time.

The engineer gave the rink staff a short unhappy litany, about the troubles connected with this inventory – missing or wrong information on his facilities sheets, building visits where the doors were locked when he arrived to do his checks, unhelpfulness from staff when they did show up. Dufferin Rink staff gave him a cup of coffee and a zamboni café cookie, and then he left.

Other inventory engineers must have come and gone without making themselves known to the rink staff. The only other direct encounter with the consultants was one chilly November day in 2006 at the Dufferin Grove wading pool. I saw a man with a clipboard, struggling to open the lock on the central water outlet of the pool – his key didn’t work. It turned out that he was doing the wading pool audit, so I opened the hatch for him. I showed him the big mechanical pit too, with rusting pipes. The wading pool worked fine except for those pipes. Wading pool staff had been asking to get them fixed for five years or more. The response had always been: no money. The engineer seemed puzzled by the wading pool, and said that he didn’t know much about such pools, since his company usually did much bigger projects. But he went all around with his clipboard, writing things down. Then he left.

The 2006 audit of the Dufferin Grove’s wading pool problems showed only one “high priority” item – the broken drinking fountain. Despite this, the Dufferin Grove Wading Pool was put on the replacement list, with a price tag of $250,000. In the end, the state-of-good-repair renovation cost a bit less – $220,000. The problems with the low-priority plumbing (which had been truly in bad repair) were only half-fixed.

From a “broad, high-level” point of view, this might make sense, but on the ground – and multiplied many times all over the city (think of the playgrounds) – it adds up to trouble, with a surprising root cause. (To be continued in the December issue.)

EDITORIAL: DIVERSE VIEWS ABOUT PUBLIC SPACE

A few years ago, at Thorncliffe Park, a City consultant held a meeting about parks – what would newcomers like to see improved in their neighbourhood parks?

The newcomers said that what they wanted was probably unachievable. They wanted fewer rules and more liveliness. They wanted parks with tables and benches where they could picnic with family and friends on any sunny day without worrying that a bylaw officer would come by and ask for a permit. “But Canadians don’t like that,” they said. “Canadians like a rule for everything, everything organized a long time before, and quiet.” They said that in our parks they badly miss the interesting, diverse scenes in the public plazas back home. Their comments were not unfriendly, just resigned. Parks are for regulated activities, not for spontaneous occasions of neighbourhood sociability.

Were they right or wrong? Maybe a bit of both. Many city parks are lively with picnics and frisbee games and uncles playing soccer around the trees with nephews and nieces. At the same time, in the past decade the pendulum at City Hall, and at Parks, Forestry and Recreation, has moved ever more to central regulation. This may be leading to a kind of bureaucratic despair – if staff are overwhelmed by the tasks of keeping up with central task lists of thousands of parks items, it begins to seem easier to turn staff attention to enforcing standardized rules, citywide, all the same everywhere. No surprises, no extra trash from sudden eruptions of local sociability, no impromptu music jams, no unscheduled pickup ball hockey games: “where is your permit?”

Centralization leads to big projects like the 3-1-1 line, to track every pothole and broken branch and rink schedule, which so far has cost over $60 million and is not yet launched. Locally, at Dufferin Grove, centralization leads to (one example) a three-week delay in resetting the lights for the rink-pad basketball hoops (on-site park staff know how to do this but must wait for a work order to be centrally processed and executed). Frayed tempers abound. What to do? Steer public space back in the direction of local. Resetting the compass to lively and local is the way to go, for park users.

AN OPEN LETTER TO ACTING GENERAL MANAGER BRENDA PATTERSON: GOOD NEWS, THE GOLD IS HIDDEN UNDER YOUR OWN DESK!

Click on image to enlarge it


"Storyteller" by Jane LowBeer

Dear Brenda: do you know the old folk tale about a man who goes out into the world to hunt for a buried box of gold, and after many travels he returns to find it under his own stove? That story may be true for you as well. You’ve been hired to fix what’s not working at Parks, Forestry and Recreation. I’m guessing you’re faced with a mountain of choices – a lonely job! There’s a rumour that you’re working on a “potential transfer plan for all recreation supervisors” across the city. But those are the supervisors who have the most links to our neighbourhoods. They also have the closest links to the almost 10,000 part-time recreation workers who run most of the people- programs in your community centres and your parks. Are you sure you want to erase those links right at this moment? Wiping the slate clean on that scale gets rid of the good as well as the troublesome!

The “park friends” in various neighbourhoods, the non-city agency partners, and the many diversely talented part-time rec staff, are the “gold” under your desk. They have knowledge, good will, and shared experience, on offer all over the city. They need their familiar recreation supervisors to support their contributions. All they’re waiting for, is for you to give the sign that their contributions are welcome, and that the recreation supervisors at last have your ear.

You’ll be impressed with the “gold” you find there.

MILESTONE: THE NEWSLETTER MOVES TO VOLUME TEN

The first volume of the Dufferin Grove newsletter began in September 2000, enlivened by Jane LowBeer’s friendly illustrations. There have been so many stories since then, with so many different people in them. It’s a tale of picnics, and campfires, and concerts, and tournaments, and building projects, and codes of conduct, and local businesses, and police visits, and election times, and North American hydro blackouts, and tree watering, and sandpit-building, and on and on – different elements of community life in and around the fourteen-acre (six-hectare) parcel of grass and trees that is this neighborhood’s “public commons.”

The parallel story all the way along has been that of the city bureaucracy as it fosters – or blocks – public life in this commons. Two storylines, all tangled up together, with the outcomes still as unclear and unpredictable as the outcome of a hockey game. (Which players will tire first? Who knows?)

Meantime, kids who were playing in the sandpit when the newsletter began, are now working at the rink, finding out what their strengths are, putting those strengths back into the public space that helped to grow them. And there’s a group of city part-time staff who have brought their best efforts to this commons for years, in and out of their other projects, travels, studies, new babies, and leaves of absence. Their participation in the park stories is another bright thread in the weave of this newsletter. So is the steady, sensible support of the recreation supervisor, Tino DeCastro, whose motto, even before the newsletter began, was “let’s make it happen.” Will it continue to happen? Nobody knows for sure, but the newsletter will chronicle whatever comes next.


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