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posted June 8, 2006

Editorial: The Right Size

The question of permits for events in Dufferin Grove Park seems to be the issue of the moment. There are three major problems:

  1. One-size-fits-all permit fees: This year, for the first time, the City wants permit fees from everyone who does any event in the park, including groups like Clay and Paper Theatre who have brought their gifts to the park from the beginning, and who have helped to shape the park by their long-term involvement. These permit fees apply even if the event requires no extra work from any City staff: pure profit.
  2. New-found popularity: It seems that almost every day, park staff get new inquiries from new groups, including for some events that might swamp out the park (such as this request to hold an open-air concert for young adolescents who can’t go to clubs on account of their age: “We're planning on bringing in everything from noise-punk to electro to experimental jazz to twee-core indie pop.” ......Too big for this park!)
  3. Central control: There is the enduring problem of central versus local permitting. City Hall permit staff recently rejected a dance performance permit request because it was on a Thursday evening – and that day already has the farmers’ market permit from 3 to 7. The central permitting software only allows one permit a day for a park this size, without being able to distinguish between groceries and dance.

The new Recreation manager for Toronto and East York, Kelvin Seouw, is coming to the park soon to get better acquainted with the issues around permits. Meantime, park users had better keep talking to each other, about what kinds of events fit the park. A neighborhood park should not only be hospitable and lively but also peaceful enough that it’s not a circus. One way to accomplish that might be by sticking to events that are grounded in the local neighbourhood – not too big and not too generic.

No such rule can be ironclad – on May 29, for instance, a “No one is illegal” immigration march that began at Queen’s Park ended with a concert and a picnic at the park. Not suitable? But one of the organizers has been a long-time park friend, and many of the young people who participated were local kids who wanted to show solidarity with their Portuguese neighbors. In the end there were only 200-300 people in the Garrison Creek Hollow over by Dufferin Street, the music was not too loud, and the mood was friendly. One thing that seems helpful is if events are put on by people who have a connection with the park already, rather than people who just pick the park from a list of handy locations. And if annual events get too big and successful, they may need to migrate to a bigger park with better facilities, even if they had their beginning here. One example is the annual Fall Pow Wow put on by Native Child and Family Services, which has been growing every year. Last year they had over a thousand people, and the number of vehicles, the washroom use, and the supervision in the playground just didn’t work. This year the Pow Wow will probably be at Christie Pits, which has internal roads, larger washrooms, and a playground that’s easier to control.

The park can more easily absorb the many smaller events that enliven it. Most of these events don’t even need a permit. On a recent weekday June evening at the park, there was a small group of musicians practising near the cob courtyard, a knot of dog walkers chatting at the crossroads in the centre, a full-court basketball game, a soccer practice, some kids and families in the playground, one baby and its mother in the sandpit, a theatre rehearsal in the rink house, a martial arts practice in the west central area, a drummer playing along with his I-pod near the marsh fountain, a woman working on her computer at a picnic table – and still there was plenty of space for other park users to sit on park benches and read, or chat, or listen to the evening songbirds. The park works very well at this rhythm, not actually scheduled by anyone.

For larger events that do need scheduling, for example whole-school picnics and anniversary celebrations and performances like the Dusk Dances, the park staff can help to gauge what fits together. It’s the role of the on-site park staff to reduce the headaches and help organizers find what they need. The staff are also good at figuring out which events are the right size for this particular park. If you want their help with an event, e-mail or call the park at 416 392-0913 and leave a message.

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