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Follow-up posts about the Northwest Corner Project

1. Capital Projects staff’s BIG Problem: covering their payroll


Lots of people have noticed that even though city staff hold many public consultations for new public building projects nowadays, what gets built at the end may not closely resemble what people asked for. When all the questionnaires and stickies on plan boards have been collated, the projects still often look a lot like what Capital Projects staff originally put into the city budget. Here’s one reason why --

Not long after the four different cities that make up the current Corporation of the City of Toronto were first stitched together in 1997, a park supervisor told me something strange. read more


2. Social engineering at Dufferin Grove Park

There are building projects all over the city, and design firms are busy, busy. Many of the projects involve holding “community consultation” meetings before construction gets going. So design firms are often hybrids, doing both design and meetings with residents. One example is the Toronto-based Urban Strategies “global design and planning consultancy,” which has been shaping open-house information meetings with residents around the Wallace-Emerson rec centre as well as doing high-level planning for the developments there. Now they’re doing the same for the tall towers at the Dufferin Mall.

For the Dufferin Grove “Northwest Corner Revitalization Project,” though, the city asked a specialist firm called Lura Consulting to run the show. Lura’s website says that their staff know how to use “integrated behavioural change principles and social marketing techniques in community planning processes.” read more


3. Social engineering: Experts will decide

One of the reasons why things went a bit sour during and after the first two meetings of the Dufferin Grove “community resource group” (CRG) in February and May of 2017 was that the CRG members thought they were supposed to help decide what to change (a lot? or only a little?) at the rink and the clubhouse. After the February meeting, Lura, the community consultation firm, e-mailed the CRG members a correction to this mistaken idea: "Please be advised a decision of tearing down the clubhouse is first discussed and evaluated by the City staff who are responsible to review and weigh many related policies and regulations such as the mandatory Health and Safety requirements, Building Code, Life Cycle of Assets and Cost evaluation, State of Good Repair and Capital programs."

In the social engineering toolbox for community consultations, that’s the fifth tool: instilling self-doubt in non-designers as to their competence. Who but the experts would understand those "many related policies and regulations" well enough to make smart decisions? read more


4. Social engineering tools #7 to #11

In early June 2017, Lura, the city’s community consultation contractor for Dufferin Grove, posted the city’s “State of Good Repair” (SOGR) and “Feasibility” studies on its website. The following week, big foam-board posters went up all over the park encouraging people walking by to “have your say” about “your vision” for the northwest corner and the clubhouse. The posters invited people to go to the website. But during the following five months, there were no new posts on the website. There were also no messages for the Community Resource Group (CRG) members. The group dwindled from 13 to 9. Silence is the seventh tool of social engineering. The earlier urgency to choose options had suddenly gone. read more


5. Design: “Why it has to be that way” (Part one of two.)

At the city’s February 6 public meeting about re-making Dufferin Rink and the clubhouse, the design firm that was hired by the city, DTAH, gave a presentation showing five alternative plans for the people at the meeting to consider. All of the plans called for a complete overhaul of the park’s kitchens. In her presentation to that meeting, DTAH’s lead designer, Megan Torza, said that the clubhouse has a kitchen that’s so below code it isn’t really a kitchen at all. This was acknowledged by nods from the Capital Projects staff sitting at the staff table. read more


6. Design: No Clubhouse

DTAH’s alternative design proposals for the rinkhouse – based on the instructions they got from the city planners at Capital Projects – are NOT for a clubhouse. The line item in the city’s capital budget is called “Dufferin Grove New Community Centre.”

Community Centre is a technical term that the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division uses for what they also call “facilities”— places like this: In such community centres there are always one or more offices. There’s often a front desk with a trained “customer service” staff person, an institutional kitchen, and various “multi-purpose” rooms with (mostly) pre-registered fee-based programs. The common areas tend to be set up like waiting rooms. read more


7. Déjà vu: Environmental Costs of the Rink Project

The official city statement about Dufferin Rink is: the rink and its refrigeration system, rink slab, concrete header trench, dasher boards, fencing, and rink's flood lights are assessed to be in fair condition, but are near the end of their life cycle and require replacement.

Déjà vu: When we read the city’s “rink requires replacement” statement, those of us who remember the Dufferin Grove wading pool replacement dustup of 2008/09 thought: oh no, here we go again. read more


8. The councillor's role in the Dufferin Grove project

In her Fall 2016 newsletter, Ward 18 city councillor Ana Bailao announced a public meeting about the “Northwest Corner Revitalization Project.” At the meeting's start, the councillor introduced the team, which included Lura (community consultation specialists), city planners (Parks Capital Projects), and Parks and Recreation management. Many neighbourhood people said they didn’t know what needed to be revitalized - why fix what isn't broken? Councillor Bailao said there were building-code issues to address, and she suggested that people apply to join the consultation group that Lura was putting together, to give local input. About a dozen people signed up. read more


9. The staff

In her most recent defense of the changes proposed for the Dufferin Grove rink house and rink, City Councillor Ana Bailao alluded to “the incredible neighbourhood involvement and mix of community and cultural programming that is unique to Dufferin Grove Park.” A lot of people say this was done by volunteers. One consultant’s report said that “these uses have grown organically over time” – like a garden that just emerges and flourishes on its own.

Actually, that's not the way it happened. read more


10. What next?

In the middle of February the West End Phoenix newspaper published an article by music journalist Michael Barclay, about the February 6th public meeting, with the title “DON’T EFF WITH THE DUFF.” The piece began with a quote from a person who was unhappy about how the city’s Dufferin Grove “revitalization” plan was proceeding. Barclay wrote “After taking very Canadian pains to not blame anyone officiating the meeting, the frustrated woman went on to describe the process as ‘diabolical.’ This got loud applause.”

Barclay’s reportage brought some online pushback. read more


Back to p.1 of the Northwest Corner Revitalization notes

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