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Dufferin Grove Park newsletter, July 2018

hands across the border: American youth visit Dufferin Grove

This newsletter is put out by CELOS, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space. Since 2000, when this little organization began at Dufferin Grove Park, we’ve been doing what we call “theoretical and practical research” into what makes public spaces – like parks – more hospitable and more lively. We’ve been researching what works and what doesn’t, and we’ve documented a lot of what we’ve seen and done, in this newsletter and on our four websites.

The Newcomers’ Picnic at Dufferin Grove Park

On Saturday, June 23, buses pulled up to the park with about 200 Syrian newcomers for a rain-or-shine picnic that involved free food, art and gardening activities, sports, music, and prizes. Organizer Anna Hill had called the park a few days earlier, when she saw the rainy forecast, asking if the picnic’s volunteers could borrow some of the park tents to provide awnings for the activities. (The park has a lot of tents because of the many food and market activities.) But she was told, no, the park supervisor says the city doesn’t lend tents anymore. Oh dear!

Mayor Tory with picnic volunteers

The morning did start off with steady rain. Happily, there was a sudden change of mind by park staff, and the tents were brought out of their sheds and set up. As the buses with all the families were arriving, the rain slowed and then finally stopped altogether for the rest of the picnic. Mayor John Tory came by, and stayed a good while – Anna said that his handlers were urging him to go to his next appointment, but he was hanging back, still talking to people.

When the picnic was over, the picnic organizers just had time to fold up the park tents and bring them back to the clubhouse, before the rain started again.

It may be that someone reminded the supervisor that the city lends tents if there’s an official visit by the mayor. But the tents that are used for the park food programs used to be available for many other community uses. Hopefully they will be again.

Fireside Tales, July 17 (the third Tuesday of every month)

Five years ago, Helder Brum and his friend Rhiannon Archer started a once-a-month fireside storytelling at Dufferin Grove,which they described as “true stories told around a fire.” It’s still going strong. Helder is a stand-up comedian, but he says not all the stories have to be funny. Five storytellers tell their tales for ten minutes each, and the poster says: Show at 8:00 pm SHARP! FREE

People are talking

A couple of years ago, philanthropist Judy Matthews offered the city $25 million to build a park underneath the highest part of the Gardener Expressway. She and her architect friend and collaborator Ken Greenberg went around and talked to people all over the city, asking them for suggestions for both the layout and the programs that would go on there.

One of the places they visited was Dufferin Grove Park, to find out more about the skating rink and the food. We (CELOS) recommended an outdoor rink, food, and campfires. Later, the Bentway (as the space is now called) built a very long skating trail, which was a big draw for skaters the moment it opened. They added food and warming drinks (including alcoholic cider), served up around tables with propane-fueled warming fires in the middle. At Mayor John Tory’s suggestion, they also established an alternative way of running the Bentway, through a non-profit “conservancy,” with members from both outside and inside government.

That started people talking. The board of the Toronto Botanical Garden (a part of Edwards Gardens) and also the Friends of Allan Gardens proposed that those parks would work better if they were run by a conservancy than by the Parks Department. Then in January the general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Janie Romoff, said in a speech that “we don’t have a one-conservancy-fits-all model, we’re actively working with each partner to create solutions that fit and that maximize our shared potential.” That sounded interesting.

In spring, people from CELOS started talking to the people at the Bentway, at Allan Gardens, and at Edwards Gardens, to find out how these partnerships would work. This summer we’re bringing the conversation back to Dufferin Grove, talking to people in the park: would this park work better if it was run by a community-city conservancy? And if so, what would change?

Morris dancers on the basketball court

In this newsletter, we’ll look at some of the reasons why a conservancy might be a good thing not only for citywide public-event spaces but also for smaller neighbourhood-focused parks like Dufferin Grove. Until 2012, Dufferin Grove Park was not run as “one-size-fits-all” but more like a de-facto conservancy. So we already have at least twenty-five reasons why such an arrangement can work, for example: public bake ovens, an adventure playground, a zamboni café, a DIY skateboard park, a bike polo league, a few campfire sites, impromptu music-making, Morris dancers on the basketball court, a Ukrainian “village wedding,” Norwegian or Night of Dread community parades, New Mayan Lunar Year or May Day celebrations…...and so on, up to and beyond 25 reasons.

There’s more chance for cross-pollination of ideas with conservancies. This summer the Bentway is trying out a six-week skateboarding program on their shaded, breezy skating trail, with moveable structures a bit like those at Dufferin Grove. It’s a big hit. Because our rink is hot and unshaded, many Dufferin Grove skaters have temporarily moved down to the Bentway, and they’ll bring back new layout ideas when they return to their home turf here. Maybe Dufferin Grove Park could offer mulled wine to warm up skaters on Sundays next winter….

Hands across the border

The Toronto-based organization 8-80 Cities has this motto: “We believe that if everything we do in our cities is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people.” The organization (whose founder, Gil Penalosa, is originally from Bogota, Columbia) works all over the world, consulting about how to make streets, neighbourhoods and parks friendlier and more animated. In June, 8-80 Cities hosted 30 “Emerging City Champions,” young people from all over the U.S., for four days, to talk to each other and to visit different sites in Toronto. They visited Dufferin Grove too. A comment from a young man from Memphis, on seeing the campfire sites, the ovens, and children using real metal shovels to construct dams at the sandpit: “in our city we just wouldn’t be allowed to do that. At all. No point in even asking.”

In July, 8-80 Cities is bringing a different group to visit Dufferin Grove: elected officials, heads of planning and transportation departments, and business leaders from Philadelphia, Detroit, Akron, Memphis, and Chicago. They’re part of an American multi-city project called “Reimagining the Civic Commons,” a $40-million initiative to “revitalize and connect public spaces in the U.S.“ The visitors want to learn from Toronto (The Bentway, Evergreen, and Regent Park are also on their list).

Why visit Dufferin Grove? The 8-80 Cities director, Amanda O’Rourke, says they want to walk around and see the bake ovens, the rink clubhouse, the fire pits, the playground, to show that a park doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.

But there’s a problem: since the Parks and Rec management imposed its centralized model on Dufferin Grove in 2012, the cost of running the park has increased every year and it now takes about $1.3 million a year to operate. What’s more, the city has hired DTAH, an architectural firm, for $700,000 to plan and manage a $3.1 million “revitalization”of the rink area including the ovens. So the park tour will have to be about the how things were in the past, not now – Dufferin Grove is hardly an example of an inexpensive park.

Reason #26 for a conservancy: to get back our status as a cheap but lively neighbourhood park, by reducing costs with small fixes, not elaborate ones, and a simpler staffing structure.

If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway

Dufferin Rink is still one of the best-functioning

Katy Aminian, the project coordinator for the Dufferin Grove Northwest Corner revitalization, writes that part of the DTAH architectural firm contract is for replacing the skating rink. There will be no 2019-2020 skating season, and “construction may be extended to December 2021.” Remarkably, Dufferin Rink, although 25 years old this winter, is one of the best-functioning outdoor rinks in the city.

Reason #27 for a conservancy: don’t replace the rink or the clubhouse, just fix them up a bit and give most of the money to another neighbourhood that can use it. (Maybe some housing?)

The edible park

Quite a few years ago, some park friends were weeding a new vegetable garden near the bake oven, throwing the weeds onto a pile at the side. A man came over and watched a while in silence. Then he said, “I am from China. And I don’t understand why you’re getting rid of those plants. Do you not know that you can eat them?”

The gardeners were pulling up pigweed. It’s also called amaranth, or in the south, callaloo. Our new Chinese friend gave us a good pointer, and we learned later that pigweed is not the only edible and tasty green that can be foraged in the park. There’s lamb’s quarters, stinging nettle, and plantain leaves. All can take the place of spinach. Burdock, which is grown commercially in Japan, is harvested for its roots, like carrots (but tricky to dig up).

If you want know what these plants look like, there are signs on some of these plants near Dan’s Table. The park has pineapple clover and linden flowers, too, for tea. And for fruits, there are lots of serviceberries and red currants and cherries near the ovens, elderberry bushes down in the Dufferin hollow, and raspberries growing behind the cob café. Reader: If I’ve left some out, tell me and I’ll put them into the next newsletter.

The wading pool

Last summer was unusually cool, but this summer is making up for it. On June 29, the first scheduled day of the wading pool, it was 30 degrees by mid-morning. But to their surprise, the staff who came to open the pool on that day found that there were no keys for them, no park phone, no tool to turn on the water, and their off-site supervisor was not picking up the phone. There were about 150+ kids and caregivers at the park, and they were not happy. A different supervisor came by at noon and then the pool was opened. The city’s recreation director, Howie Dayton, in his explanation afterwards, translated the lack of keys as a “focus on set-up and staff site orientation,” the lack of backup as “dealing with an issue at another location,” and the missing water valve tool as “a mechanical issue with the fill valve.” Really.

Reason #26 for a conservancy: the wading pools, instead of being a centrally-run silo in the park, could once again have all staff based at the park, as they were until 2012. The keys, the tools, and the coordinator would all be in one place. And the staff could again take turns doing many park tasks instead of getting bored sitting by the pool all day. A win-win.

Reason #27 for a conservancy: the wading pool closes at 6 p.m. now no matter how hot the weather. It’s good that the city keeps some swimming pools open until 11.30 p.m. when it’s extra hot, but under a conservancy, the Dufferin Grove staff can schedule the wading pool to stay open late too -- until 8 pm on very hot days – as it used to until 6 years ago. That way, when the parents in the apartment buildings bring their kids over after work, they can cool off and have the enjoyment of the long summer evenings.

“What if”: lawsuits at Dufferin Grove in 25 years – only six in total

In public spaces, it sometimes seems like there’s more effort put into stopping good things from happening – “what if there was a lawsuit?” – than into helping to make good things happen. For instance, one of the current recreation program supervisors at Dufferin Grove Park, Jaydee Cornwall, has been worried about the use of the real metal shovels at the adventure playground, and even about the kids being hurt by the water coming from the tap. He says he’s seen small children being “severely” splashed when the tap flow is strong enough to create the stream that turns children into little engineers all the way down to the lane. Someone could be injured and then there’s a lawsuit.

Since CELOS is a research organization, we decided to find out how serious the problem of injury lawsuits against the city really is. The sandpit has been going for 25 years now, and there were always metal shovels. The water tap was added about 20 years ago, after the kids lobbied hard for water and kept moving the garden hoses over to the sandpit.

It costs only $5 to make a freedom of information request, so in early May, CELOS asked for “a complete, detailed list of every legal claim made against the City of Toronto for any event occurring at Dufferin Grove Park since 1993.”

On June 22 we got the answer. It said that there have been only six claims against Dufferin Grove Park over the past 25 years, all apparently resulting in a payout.

In October 1999, there was a claim (payout: $380.55) for “1st floor collapse due to….[blank].” We remember that: during a routine building check that month, staff discovered that the Dufferin Grove rink house floor had sunk four inches due to the vibration of the compressors (a full account is on our website). So who was suing who, for $380?

In 2001 there was a claim for an incident on March 31 described as Rd/Sidewalk - Weather Cond – TP alleges slip. Payout: $49,152.31. The historical weather report for that day was unexceptional. Apparently TP stands for Toronto Police. Who slipped and who sued?

Clarification, March 13, 2019:
Cause: trip and fall on raised interlocking brick in path
The trip ledge was created when City Parks Trucks were sodding on either side of interlocking brick path.The injury was a fractured left wrist.\\ Settlement was $36,250.

In 2004 there was a claim for Nov.5, described as “Stolen vehicle struck iron fence.” Payout: $2082.71. Did the city sue the thief? (Good idea, maybe….)

In 2011, there was a claim for Feb.22 for “Ice pad hazard – sustained injuries due to ice.” Payout: $799.20.

Clarification, March 13, 2019:
Dog ran out on rink and claimant fell over dog injuring his back.

In 2016, there were two claims. The first was on March 8 for “INSURED STRUCK TP VEHICLE WHILE EXITING PARKING SPACE.” There are of course no parking spaces in Dufferin Grove Park, and the claim is listed under the city’s Solid Waste Management division. Did a city garbage truck hit a police car in the park? Payout: $100. (Yes, really.)

Later, in September of 2016, there was a claim for CLAIMANT SLIPPED AND FELL IN DUFFERIN GROVE PARK. Payout: $1078.

Clarification, March 13, 2019:
Cause: tripped over parking curb
Broken left collar bone

And that’s it. We’re following up with the FOI office to clear up the most puzzling parts of the descriptions.

Conclusion: the cost of lawsuits at Dufferin Grove Park - not much

During the past 25 years of liveliness, although some kids must have broken their arms falling off the monkey bars, some soccer players must have turned their ankles on the playing field, some shinny hockey players must have crashed into each other on the ice, park cookies and mini-pizzas must have disagreed with somebody’s digestion, thousands of park campfires flickered close to people’s clothing, youth did gravity-defying stunts on their DIY skateboard rink pad – the city reports only 6 claims, and none for any of those good+ things that happen in the park. Total claims paid out over 25 years: $53,592.

So there’s good news. It seems that people who come to the park are NOT very litigious. That should mean the shovels and the water can stay, and the campfires and musicians and the shinny hockey (without mandatory helmets) too.

More good reasons for having city staff work with a Dufferin Grove conservancy:

women's washroom, all Canada Day weekend

Reason # 28: park staff can learn how to keep the cob café in good repair
Reason # 29: the park washrooms can have longer open hours, and be kept clean and stocked
Reason # 30: staff and park friends can work with DTAH landscape architects to make the wading pool water available to the park trees when the pool is draining
Reason # 31: the slippery coating can be peeled off the wading pool surface
Reason # 32: staff can work with DTAH to make the existing rink house work better
Reason # 33: a parks maintenance person can be assigned to the park, instead of rovers
Reason # 34: park friends can get keys again to the playground shed for shovels and games
Reason # 35: park friends (parents, caregivers) can get keys again to regulate the in-ground sandpit water source
Reason # 36: adventure playground sand and building materials can be topped up regularly
Reason # 37: the playground can be better maintained, including bi-weekly loosening of the sand under climbers and monkey bars
Reason # 38: public book-keeping can be restored, for clarity on the park income
Reason # 39: the gardens can be fixed – gardens that are no longer looked after can be removed, and so can unnecessary or broken fences, and broken compost bins; some benches or logs to sit nearby can be added
Reason # 40: an AODA (disability) group can be formed to work with DTAH to fix curbs, rough paths, and other barriers

And that’s just a beginning list. When such requests are sent to the Parks supervisor and the Recreation supervisor, there’s often no answer. Most park repair-needs are still stalled in the regional lineup. A conservancy could skip the lineup.

“BIG on Bloor” street festival, July 21, from Dufferin to Lansdowne

This year, the annual BIG on Bloor Festival of Arts and Culture has a section called Parksite, at the Dufferin St. end of the festival. The organizers want to give park friends an “opportunity to share news about parks, present projects and exchange ideas.” The Dufferin Grove Park section will have chess and checkers tables and a “crankie movie” (sort of like a paper film strip) of the last 25 years of park history. Plus lots of information and props to tell the story. We’ll demonstrate naan-bread-making in the tandoor (Middle Eastern oven) that we shared with the Thorncliffe Park women’s committee before they got their own permanent park tandoor.

The new DOLA

Katy Aminian, the capital projects coordinator for Dufferin Grove (and for many other projects), must be very busy, but she kindly tracked down the city’s minutes for the Nov.2017 public meeting about the DOLA (stands for Dogs Off Leash Area) that’s coming to Dufferin Grove Park. The document is linked on the home page. It reads like everything was decided before the meeting ever happened. That may be because of the giant 2,219-units condo project planned for Bloor and Dufferin – with so many new dogs expected to move in there, the informal accommodations between dogs and people at the park probably won’t work anymore.

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

Besides having over 30 local vendors selling what they’ve grown or raised or baked or fermented or cooked, the market has special events every market day. On July 5, there’s the Word on the Street Pop-Up, featuring local authors reading from their work: 4:00 - Star Spider, Past Tense; 4:30 - Cary Fagan, The Hollow Under the Tree; 5:00 - Laurel Croza, TheWhirlpool; 5:30 - Harriet Alida Lye, The Honey Farm; 6:00 - Toronto Poetry Slam Team and BAM! Youth Slam Team. On July 12, You can do it – Zero Waste Solutions: “Learn great ways to reduce your footprint and join in the fun with Nikki Daley of Boomerang Bags. This time we will focus on food solutions.” On July 19, Come make some art! “Art Hives provide free access and shared resources, including the abundant materials available for creative reuse.” Also on July 19, a Slow Food Toronto Demo featuring chef Luciano Schipano. And on July 26, another “We can Fix That” session with the Repair Café: Bring along an item in need of fixing, and one of their volunteers will have a go at repairing it–free of charge.

Editor: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer


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