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posted July 15, 2006

The politics of water in the park: Harmonization

On Monday June 23, the park staff prepared to open the wading pool a week early (the temperature was 31 degrees celsius and rising). But just before noon Ron Winn, the interim district park manager, called and said he had spoken to the general manager of Parks and Recreation, Claire Tucker Reid, and that we would NOT be permitted to have the wading pool open until the regular summer opening date, at the end of the week. The policy of "harmonization" of services mandated keeping all the wading pools closed until they could all be opened at the same time, on a previously established schedule.

We were told to turn on the four-foot spurt of water at the centre of the wading pool instead, to act as a "cooling station." So for two sweltering days we were treated to the spectacle of an empty wading pool with people sitting all around this little water spurt. Six or eight kids at a time had some fun versus the 30 or 40 who can dance in and out of pool when it's filled with water.

Jutta Mason e-mailed Ms. Tucker Reid, on Monday afternoon, to seek a change of mind, but she did not reply. People contacted their friends across the city, as the temperature continued to rise, and they passed phone numbers and e-mails back and forth. Our park phone rang and rang. Jutta put City Councillor Mario Silva's number on the voice mail since people couldn't be standing there answering the phone all the time. People got all sorts of replies from the city staff they lobbied: that the wading pool couldn't be opened because of security issues (?), lack of training, lack of budget, or because of various risk factors; that we already had a lovely splash pad (the four-foot water spurt), that maybe we'd open in two hours, maybe we'd open in July, maybe they'd put you on hold or give you another number to call -- chaos.

Then on Wednesday morning we were allowed to open after all. By noon the word was out and the pool was full of kids, normal for a hot day.

Many people who use the park wrote letters and called the city about the pool openings. Isaac Meyer Odell sent us a copy of his letter:

Dear Ms. Tucker Reid,

I'm writing to you in hopes that you might reconsider the decision to suppress the early opening of the Dufferin Grove Park wading pool. Today, I spent several frustrating hours petitioning Councillor Silva's office to open the pool. The answer we received from the councillor's office was that if there was sufficient staff there then the pool ought to be opened. Yet the park staff were told to keep it closed. This experience left us all with sour feelings about the bureaucratic mechanisms of the city that seem to have no way of responding to the immediate concerns of our community.</p> <p>As a new parent I have become keenly aware of what a precious thing it is to live close to such a park. My son and I go there every day to connect with our community and seek refuge from the tedium of daily life. As the summer heat has advanced upon us I have discovered that the only cool area of my home is the basement. I do not relish having to keep my son in the basement when there seems to be such wonderful resource just around the corner. Given that the weather report does not show that there will be any relief in sight, I ask you to please reconsider.

Isaac Meyer Odell

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