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posted November 11, 2006


For some time now, a group of neighbours whose houses are close to the park have been calling for more formal community input on all decisions made about the park. Last November, the City called a public meeting at St.Mary's High School to find out whether other voices in the community were calling for a more formal advisory structure as well. Every household in the area got an invitation, and the cafeteria was almost full. But at the end of the meeting it was clear that there was minimal enthusiasm for a formal community council with an executive, by-laws, and regular meetings. So no further steps were taken. Park friends continued to connect mainly informally, all over the park in all seasons, with one another and with the park staff who watched the wading pool in the summer, served Friday Night Supper by the oven, or laced up kids’ skates in winter.

That was before the playground bio-toilet and then the arrival of Foodshare and their youth teaching-garden in the park. To stop these initiatives, the same park neighbours put the question of "community control" back on the table. It has even become an election issue. Ward 18 candidate Simon Wookey says in his election pamphlet that he will work to create "Park Trusts" to "take the authority from the politicians and put it into the hands of the community."

Park trusts are an unfamiliar concept. Would that mean -- perhaps -- that the community would have the authority not only to vote on a new kind of toilet, but also on replacing grass with a new garden bed, paving the central path to make the park wheelchair-accessible, giving permission to hold a cultural event -- every detail?

If such a system is installed, here's a puzzle: who will be eligible to be a part of any “community parks authority”? If membership is by election, will everyone in the ward get to vote, or only the people who live within a block of the park? Will frequent park users be allowed to vote, although they live six blocks away, or even in an adjacent ward? (Dufferin Grove Park is only two blocks from a ward boundary.) If not, will that mean that parks are possessions of their immediate neighbourhood, not an amenity belonging to the wider community? If yes, how frequently will people have to use the park to be allowed to vote on the park authority? How will they prove frequency of use?

In a follow-up pamphlet, Mr.Wookey calls for a “Citizens’ Assembly” to put parks “beyond the whim of politicians and developers” and instead provide “a legal framework for park stewardship in perpetuity.” The Assembly “could be struck from among the various constituency groups that will examine the options and create a plan.”

This proposal sounds rather similar to the option of a more formal structure that was rejected at last year’s community meeting. It seems to leave the park friends at last year’s meeting, who wanted to avoid formal groups, out in the cold. The park staff who are employed by our taxes are also not mentioned. Such an approach would certainly transform Dufferin Grove Park completely. Park friends might want to discuss this new approach with all the councillor candidates in depth. Perhaps it needs more thought.

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