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October 2014

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter

Comments? editor@dufferinpark.ca

October 2014 newsletter


Montreal's blue umbrellas
 

Events in October

Tuesday October 7, 8pm to 10 pm: Rhiannon Archer and Helder Brum present Fireside Tales -- storytelling. The third in a series of free shows at the main campfire circle. For more information: helderbrumcomedy@gmail.com. Saturday October 25 2014: Clay and Paper Theatre presents the 15th annual Night of Dread, which gathers participants together to wander the streets of Toronto in the spirit of banishing fears. 4pm - Participants begin assembling in Dufferin Grove Park. 6pm - Parade begins 7:30pm - Parade returns to DGP for pageantry and celebration.

Clay & Paper Theatre has many costumes and puppets available for the public to wear in the parade.  Come early to the Dufferin Grove Park Rink clubhouse to avoid disappointment!


Dress Code: “Black & White & Dreadful”

Admission: Pay-What-You-Can/ $10 suggested

From the organizers: This year's Big Fear of the Year is The Fear of Them and Us.

What will happen when Them and Us come face to face?  Clay & Paper Theatre master puppet builders and mask makers will be joined by many volunteers to make 120 life-sized masks and two giant masks come to life for this year’s raucous celebration.   All are welcome to help us build imagery, masks, puppets and shrines for the event. Free! No experience necessary.

Making: We need many hands and many volunteers to make this year’s Night of Dread the most dreadful yet! Drop by or contact us for other ways to get involved!

September 25 - October 19 @ The Clay & Paper Theatre studio, 35 Strachan Ave. (@ Ordnance St.) Thursdays & Saturdays 1 - 8pm, Sundays 1 to 6

October 20 - 24 @ Dufferin Grove Park in the Rink House: Monday - Thursday 1 - 8pm, Friday 10am - 6pm

For more information: clayandpaper@sympatico.ca · 416.708.3332

Park campfire program

This program goes year-round, and staff are already starting to fill up the volunteer spaces into January. To find out about the program, go to dufferinpark.ca and click on “campfires.” Or call the park and leave the staff a message at 416 392-0913.

A walk in the park

Often the most interesting things in a park are those that are not planned events, but rather, people or gatherings that you just come across while walking through.

1. One early evening in September, park friend and anti-poverty activist Lesley Wood was introducing curious park strollers to two visitors from Berlin whom she had invited to a park campfire. The two were on a book tour, with their one-year-old son. Lesley wrote afterwards, “I invited Marina and Dario to Toronto to share their new book, ‘They Can't Represent Us: Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.’ The book is full of examples of moments where ordinary people, abandoned by governments and corporations, build alternatives that are creative and democratic - often in public spaces. Marina wanted to do an event in a public space in Toronto and I immediately thought of Dufferin Grove as a space where people come together in creative, multigenerational and nourishing ways that give me hope for the future. I know Marina from organizing with her in NYC, and knew that she would love the park.”

The park now has a copy of their book, ready for anyone taking a chair in front of the woodstove inside the rink clubhouse, when the snow flies.

2. On another evening, a group had set up candles in glass jam jars on the rock circle near the cob cafe. A person just walking by could stop and watch them doing a kind of folk dancing called Balfolk dancing, to the music of an accordion, a cello, and two guitars. At one point, some of the dancers went over to their bags and got out more instruments – and suddenly four accordions were playing for the dancers and taking solos for fun. The dancers say that now that it’s getting cold, they’re moving into the Smiling Buddha (961 College Street) at 8pm on Mondays, everyone welcome to join.

3. At a recent campfire orientation session, one of the participants said he was a lifelong skateboarder in his forties. He loves Dufferin Grove’s skateboard setup and helps to maintain it. He had lots of tales to tell the other orientation session participants, about skateboarding in different cities. He said that Toronto is one of the best skateboarding cities “because the police get what we’re doing, they get the culture and if they see people skateboarding they don’t treat us like we’re criminals.”

Since parks have no walls, if you’re curious and ready to be surprised, you get to see a lot and hear a lot of stories.

Many more newly painted benches and picnic tables: in the September newsletter we reported that the park program staff had painted some of the park’s roughest-looking picnic tables, with help from some youth and families. A few weeks later, city painters came through this park – and other city parks as well – in a wave, leaving behind not a single unpainted table of bench. Everything is green and protected against the winter weather. An excellent surprise!

What Dufferin Grove’s friends should know about the city’s new Financial Planning Analysis Reporting System – “FPARS” – from the auditor’s report

What Dufferin Grove’s friends should know about the city’s new Financial Planning Analysis Reporting System – “FPARS” – from the auditor’s report The September park newsletter had a story about the park’s messy money reporting. It raised a question: is the city’s book-keeping sloppiness at Dufferin Grove Park a warning sign of bigger problems with the city’s new $70 million “FPARS” financial system, citywide?

It turns out the answer is NO. FPARS has nothing to do with the sloppy book-keeping. Work on setting up this new financial system began in 2006, but the project of constructing it took so long that none of it ‘went live’ until 2013, and even now it seems to be still partly under construction.

Someone sent us the full report on FPARS done last year by the City Auditor. The report was rather astonishing. Auditor Jeff Griffiths, in his executive summary, wrote that at the outset there had been no “clear articulation to Council on the [complete] nature and benefits of FPARS” to the City. He also wrote: “the working relationship [for the FPARS project] between the Financial Planning Division and the Information and Technology Division has been uncooperative, challenging, and unprofessional.” Consultants’ and internal audit reports warning of problems were suppressed or ignored by the city manager. When four upper-level Information and Technology staff sent a report about their concerns to the city’s Director of Financial Planning (Josie LaVita – she is where the buck stops for FPARS), she criticized these city staff for writing a “report prepared without authorization.” But the auditor said that city staff have an obligation to raise such concerns, and that Ms. La Vita’s reaction was “not appropriate.”

The Auditor’s report, about how the troubled new financial system went from costing $7.9 million to $70 million, got limited media coverage, and the issue seems not to have bothered many Torontonians, nor most city councillors including our own -- councillors tsk-tsked but did nothing more.

City Council did ask for a written response to the Auditor from the Director of Financial Planning. They got a cheerful, optimistic restatement of all the promises made at the outset. The director wrote that the management of some city divisions was “starving” for broader information, and that FPARS would do so much more than just give accurate accounting details. The new system will show with a click whether each city program is being “effective and efficient,” and if not, FPARS will help staff with spreadsheets showing where the money could best be moved instead. As for the cost? “Since the project is still in its early stages of implementation, the cost and benefit estimates in this report will be subject to a post implementation review after the systems and related processes become rooted and fully operational.”

Follow-up “post-implementation” is not very common in government, but it does seem like a good idea. This big project seems to be based on the notion that computers can make complex assessments of the “effectiveness and efficiency” of every municipal government activity. That claim can certainly be tested on the ground, for example in the day-to-day of neighbourhood parks. Two examples:

1. wading pools: in the past four years, Parks and Recreation management has doubled the staffing-and-materials cost of wading pools to address the risk of waterbourne illness. The new protocols have caused wading pool visits by families to drop like a stone – wading pools are widely reported as too cold, too often shut down, too high in chlorine. There were no previous reports of illness when the more family-friendly protocols were in force, compared with the new, tighter protocols, so no improvements in “effectiveness and efficiency” can be entered into the system. What will FPARS say?

2. playgrounds: the City has spent an estimated $18 million on new playgrounds from 2009-2013, and proposes to spend almost $24 million more between 2014 and 2018. Much of this spending has been justified as a safety measure, to comply with a non-legislated industry standard.

The fever of playground replacements began in 2000. Since then, playground-injury emergency room visits have increased (by 20% since 2006, the most recent measuring period), and so have hospitalizations. The injury increases are all the more puzzling because overall playground use appears to be going down – a lot of kids apparently find the newer generic 'safer' playgrounds very dull. Meantime the few older playgrounds still standing, like the one at Dufferin Grove, are very busy and very low in injuries. Dufferin Grove playground, built in the early 1980's, was supposed to be replaced in 2007, but park parents persuaded the city councillor not to go ahead. So city staff did some little repairs instead, a bit of welding, a bit of paint, a few slats replaced....and the old playground is in good shape. That cost very little.

There are few rewards for government frugality in a city as rich as Toronto. Nor are the spending numbers even reliable. The $18 million playground spending in the past four years has to be called an “estimate” because the city has no accurate summary of the cost of new playgrounds – there are many different and contradictory reports. CELOS, monitoring Parks spending, asked the city to be specific about the actual playground invoices. Freedom of Information wrote back that we would have to pay $4320 for staff to collect that information. Will FPARS also have to rely on such haphazard cost reporting? And if playground use continues to be low in many new playgrounds, and injuries show no improvement, what will FPARS say?

Park budget information leading up to the election

When our research group, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space, "CELOS," invited city management in 2012 to take over the food and skate-lending programs which we had helped to start, the city’s Recreation management stripped the local recreation program staff of many of their responsibilities (such as keeping accounts). They added a full-time (but off-site) staff person at a salary of approximately $72,000, one of whose primary responsibilities was data entry of the money that comes in with the programs. Also the off-site staff person had to accompany the park program staff on all grocery-shopping trips so that the city’s credit card could be used instead of cash.

This extra expense was in order to ensure that the park’s accounting would be done properly. In 2013, CELOS tracked the city’s Dufferin Grove data entries closely, and found inconsistencies, duplicate entries, income entered as expenses, and missing expense records. It was obvious that the accounting showed no improvement – or even a deterioration – over the former Quickbooks method done by on-site staff who actually worked in the programs and could therefore catch more mistakes. But neither city management nor Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao seemed interested in addressing the problem when they were told about it.

In March 2014, CELOS must have complained about the accounting gaps and errors to city management once too often. Management directed the Dufferin Grove on-site staff to stop letting CELOS see the daily income-and-expense records. So CELOS applied to the city’s Freedom of Information office for those records. Over a period of five months we got four often-contradictory financial summaries but never the straightforward lists we asked for. Finally we decided to make a complaint to the city’s auditor’s fraud and waste office. The issue was not fraud but book-keeping snafus leading to waste, including the adding of a costly layer of staff when there was no evidence of the benefit.

The response from the Fraud and Waste Office was pretty cloak and dagger. We got back a message thanking us for sending them the complaint. They would look into it, but their policy is that “if a complaint is actionable....we are unable to provide a complainant with any details as to the progress or outcomes of a review or investigation.”

Two days after making the complaint to the auditor, the Freedom of Information office finally sent over most of the information we had asked for five months earlier. The new spreadsheets gave us a fifth set of non-matching park income numbers. There were missing data entries for both income and expenses. Messy numbers point to other problems. It seems pretty clear now that the city’s experiment in reorganizing the Dufferin Grove programs needs a new approach. If there’s a change in our political representation at the end of October, perhaps a fresh wind can blow.

Pink umbrellas and blue umbrellas

Last August an argument broke out in the media about Toronto’s $14 million Sugar Beach Park with its signature pink umbrellas. Deputy mayor Norm Kelly was quoted in the Star saying that Sugar Beach is “a first-class investment that gets projected around the world and brands us, the City of Toronto, as world class and first class. And if you don’t understand that, I would argue that you don’t understand the world that we live in.”

Star architecture critic Christopher Hume didn’t want to limit himself to calling dissenters ignorant about the realities of today’s branded photo-op world. He characterised people who question Sugar Beach as “the angry, the bored, the dumb, the cynical, the intellectually lazy, the city-haters…..”

The designer of the pink umbrella park is Claude Cormier, from Montreal, where he previously designed a blue-umbrella park, located along a pier by the St.Lawrence River. Thinking that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” a CELOS researcher went to Montreal in August to see how a Claude Cormier umbrella-park might function after it had been around for three years. The first visit was too early in the morning – the park is gated and doesn’t open until 11 a.m. But you can read two eight-foot-high Rules signs outside the entrance, telling all the many things you're not allowed to do when the blue-umbrella beach is open. Before opening time you can look over the fence and see that the park is divided into two sections -- the non-alcohol strip, with pretty white sand and blue umbrellas but almost all the chairs removed, and a bar strip at the end, where most of the white designer lawn chairs are. From the bar strip, the view of the river with its fast-moving waters is stunning.

The second visit took place on a warm Saturday evening, when the park was open. At 7.45 pm the long river walk along the piers was full of people strolling and eating at cafes. But at the blue-umbrellas park, the non-alcohol strip was empty, the end by the bar less than half full. A DJ at the bar was playing loud uncensored music with lyrics about women being shoved around. Some groups of rough-looking people sitting in the chairs seemed like they were not having a very good time. – In Year Three, it looked like the blue umbrellas were in trouble. We’ll send this newsletter piece to the Star’s architecture critic, to see what he says.

Using the pizza ovens: this is your chance

Now that most of the oven programs are over for the year, it’s a good time for anyone who wants to try using the park oven for a family event or a gathering of friends. Staff or a volunteer will show you how to load the oven, how to do an even burn, and how to clean the hearth. The “zamboni” community kitchen is available for preparing the food (but you have to clean up after!) No need to have a lesson beforehand – help is at hand during your event. You have to bring your own wood, but there’s no cost otherwise. To book: dufferinpark@gmail.com.

The special gray-and-orange swings in playgrounds

Dufferin Grove, like many other parks, has a heavy-duty plastic swing that’s intended for use by children who are physically disabled. But you hardly ever see those swings being used that way – more often there are a few teenagers on them, sitting on top of each other and laughing their heads off. Part of the reason there are not more disabled kids on the special swings is that soft straps that are needed to keep the kids buckled in, and those straps are usually not there. When the straps are left on the swings, they can be vandalized, or just twisted around awkwardly by people who don’t know how they work. So nowadays those playgrounds that have the proper straps on site (not many) usually protect them by keeping them locked up until someone asks to use them.

Park users who know a family with a disabled child, please tell them that Dufferin Grove staff have the right straps and are eager to bring them out. If a parent calls or emails ahead, the staff will make sure they come down with the straps. Swings are a great pleasure for almost all children, including those who need the straps. Here’s a recent email from park friends Christina Serra and Dan Watson, about their son:

“We were there today, collected the straps and he was on cloud nine! Dan was swinging him so high, I was starting to get motion sickness.  Our son, however, was laughing so hard that he was losing his breath.”  

Fun! In spring, park staff will put up a sign to let parents know about the straps. To contact staff and arrange for the straps to be brought out, email staff at: dufferinpark@gmail.com or call the park at 416 392-0913 and leave a message. Any such request will get the highest priority.

The new McCormick Park shipping-container-eatery:

A novel idea for putting food in a park. The cafe is run by the Angen Community Centre, and it’s open Tuesday to Friday 2 to 7 and weekends 10 am to 3 pm. They sell some groceries, too. Have a look!

Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, every Thursday, 3 to 7 pm.

Now on the rink pad, to take advantage of the rink lights as the days get shorter.

Credits:

Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Web sites: Aseel Al Najim celos.ca, cityrinks.ca

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site: www.dufferinpark.ca

E-mail: mail@dufferinpark.ca


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