Dufferin Grove Park is in Toronto, Canada. The Rinkhouse and Clubhouse: 875 Dufferin Street,
S of Bloor Across from the Dufferin Mall Phone: 416-392-0913 Email: email@example.com Click here to view a map
Rosie Dimanno in the Toronto Star, February 23, 2005(About the breastfeeding hubub at Dufferin Grove Park): "This is an intra-league ideological dispute - the granola left eating itself" ...and... "Discretion may not be enshrined in law. But neither is courtesy and we could all do with a little more of that." Read more >>
About us: who were the friends of Dufferin Grove Park?
posted January 31, 2005
/ updated August 19, 2008
Tia Dancing at Dufferin Grove Park
How the Park Works
Dufferin Grove Park is operated by the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. It is not operated by the friends of the park, nor by volunteers.
The friends of Dufferin Grove Park no longer exist. They were never an organization. There was no executive, no annual meetings, no formal status. There was no written agreement anywhere between the friends and the city. But in times of trouble, there were impromptu park-user meetings, usually attended by 30 to 100 people depending on the issue.
So how did it work then, in the day to day? And who were these "friends of Dufferin Grove Park"?
The friends were all those people - more every year until 2012 - who are friendly to that 14.2 -acre city-owned common space which is bordered by the Dufferin Mall, St.Mary's Catholic High School, and the mixture of affluent and subsidized housing that borders the park to the east and the south. Most park friends expressed their friendship only through their joy at what goes on in the park. At the other extreme, for about 15 years, Jutta Mason made friendship for the park her almost-full-time hobby. In between, there were many people who gave things (time, plants, music, theatre, toys in the sandpit, conversation, sports skills, etc., etc.) as they felt moved to do that. There was no schedule to how these things are given, no five-year plan - it was (sorry) organic. Some of the friends crossed over to being park staff, magnifying their friendship as they were able to increase their responsibilities there.
The City has a formal formula for advisory councils, which includes a range of possibilities ranging from formal election of local representatives to an informal yearly meeting canvassing park users about what they want for their parks. In 2001, the former Economic Development and Parks Committee put out terms of reference for any style of advisory councils. Advisors are to "provide comments, insights, and advice to assist staff in the performance of their responsibilities." They can "provide and, with City staff, manage funding designed to enhance existing City activities...Prepare and make public accurate financial records derived from fundraising activities." But in 2012, the City put in a strict hierarchy of central control at Dufferin Grove (as was already in place everywhere else citywide). Management redefined active collaboration between local staff and park users as "conflict of interest." Even the sharing of information was ordered to stop.
At the same time, the neighbourhood culture changed, with the increasing replacement of neighbourly conversation in the park by the use of electronic media. Social media swamped out more direct encounters, partly by filling in most of what used to be experienced as "spare time." People whose children were playing in the sand pit or skating at the rink no longer reached out very much to the strangers who were their neighbours, and who were also there with their children. More often the parents worked their smart phones.
Dufferin Grove continued its role as a kind of clickable icon of "community," with real estate values inflated by that reputation. But park users' basic familiarity with the many problems generated by the tightening central bureaucracy more or less stopped. The informal giving of gifts atrophied in the hurry and clutter of present-day social conditions. And so, at least for now, the friends of Dufferin Grove are no longer very active in the park at all.
Except for here and there, in an almost hidden way....
Read more >>
What is at issue in the bureaucracy of cities
"Of course it is important to the political and social sciences that the essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of people, and thus to dehumanize them. And one can debate long and profitably on the rule of Nobody, which is what the political form known as bureau-cracy truly is." Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Postscript.
In the fall when darkness comes so early, people sometimes put out candles in the park. One evening in September, little votive candles were set out all along the walls of the reflexology path, forming an infinity symbol pattern. When the Balfolk dancing group dances in the park, they put candles on the rocks near the cob courtyard. At Night of Dread, Clay and Paper staff define the performance space in the soccer field with a giant circle of candles stuck in sand inside hundreds of little paper bags. And sometimes campfire groups set out candles on the logs and the picnic tables, especially if someone is giving an inspirational fireside chat. All of it adds to the light in the park during the dark months – very welcome.
Book-keeping puzzles at Dufferin Grove:
There’s a popular saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But bureaucracies specialize in fixing things in case they might perhaps break later. They call it “risk management.” Two year ago, when CELOS asked city management to take over the income earned through the Dufferin Grove cafes and skate lending, the managers decided it was time to “regularize” Dufferin Grove to fit better into the Parks and Recreation hierarchy. So they revamped the program. They took away many of the leadership responsibilities of the on-site staff, those who had created the program together with CELOS. They added a new full-time off-site staff person to make decisions and handle the money. The theory was that accountability would improve, and the hypothetical risk of local staff fraud or conflict of interest would be removed.
But fixing what isn’t broken often makes problems. The park book-keeping began to look a little iffy. There were more and more layers of data entry, sent downtown to Finance but no longer accessible locally. So CELOS asked to see the central numbers entered downtown. It took almost a whole year to get detailed access to the city’s book-keeping for Dufferin Grove (including 4 months of delay after we finally submitted a Freedom of Information request).
What we found: in 2013, a total of $10,055 in income was not entered – it had disappeared among the layers of data. How that happened: petty cash was dispensed from Dufferin Grove earnings without being recorded as income, two weeks of income data entries were missed altogether, sometimes income was entered as expenses. On the expenses side, $3370 was wrongly listed as expenses (e.g. due to duplicate entries) – and at the same time, over $7000 was not listed as expenses when it should have been. And the various versions of income documents sent by the finance people each showed different totals. Finance calls that a “variance,” meaning the numbers don’t agree with each other.
Numbers are slippery things! And if you were to lay the 75-cent mini-pizzas, made at Dufferin Grove over the last 20 years, end to end, maybe they would reach the moon. Even careful book-keeping of so many small amounts – shoelaces for the skates, some hot dog buns, a box of bandaids – will have mistakes. The problem with the bureaucratic approach is that the mistakes get bigger, and also more remote. And the additional layers of staffing add expense without improvement. In the case of all the new layers of staff involved in “regularizing” Dufferin Grove, the additional cost is surely getting close to $100,000 a year.
Parks and Recreation management have not been interested in speaking publicly about the new problems. So CELOS recently went to the city auditor for help. We said – surely this way of running a local recreation program at a park is an example of waste. The auditor’s investigator didn’t disagree. But compared to the larger budget issues – for instance the ballooning $70 million cost of buying and adapting the city’s new “FPARS” financial software – we could see that it was not likely that the auditor could get involved with such small potatoes.
So there it is. CELOS will keep on reporting to the neighbourhood.
Three and a half hours west of Dufferin Grove Park, at the southwest terminus of Highway 401, there is Detroit – a kind of living museum, a post-industrial city where over 10,000 households have had their water cut off, and people gather with buckets at fire hydrants to bring home water for cooking, washing, and flushing their toilets. In city blocks of 10 houses, 8 might be abandoned, with four of those being just burned-out shells. Buying land is a bargain, especially for large buyers: recently a bundle of 6,350 mostly run-down and vacant tax-foreclosed Detroit properties was auctioned off to a developer for barely over $3 million. [Update: the developer changed his mind on Nov.5, and withdrew his offer.] Detroit is Exhibit A for the coming North American version of a “deep-austerity plan.” Shea Howell of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Centre in Detroit writes “Key to those legal frameworks is the elimination of public, democratic decision making.”
Back in 2010, eight people who either worked at Dufferin Grove Park or were doing research with CELOS, or both, drove down to Indiana in two cars to visit with Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize winner for her work on the commons. The route passes through Detroit, and on the way back, we stopped there for a night. The cheap hotel where we stayed had bullet-proof glass protecting the staff at its registration desk; so did the MacDonald’s counter where we ordered fries – a first such experience for any of us! But the people in the streets and in the bars and at community gardens, and in the soup kitchen were we ate lunch, were friendly and keen to talk – in fact we were bowled over by their hospitality, and we made some friends.
Two of us drove down to Detroit again in 2013, this time taking along our bikes, and stayed at the same hotel. This time the bullet-proof glass was still there but it had been moved off to the side of the registration counter, with the centre area open. The two of us biked all over town and were again met with friendliness everywhere, day and evening, nothing scary.
Then this past October, three of us went to Detroit for an ordinary-people conference called “Reimagining Work” – rich in content and in democratic deliberations. We had been asked to give a small session on bake ovens in parks. At that session we met park enthusiast Ulysses Newkirk, who later toured us through a park which had been taken over by neighbours when the city stopped maintaining it. The park was obviously well-loved, with many benches and picnic tables, barbeque pedestal grills and horseshoe pitches. Ulysses’ idea was that the park group would build a brick oven on an adjacent abandoned lot, which they had just bought for $1000, and make the oven a draw for visitors from all over the city. Just down the road, a strip of abandoned houses had been removed and replaced by a substantial market garden, with fall vegetables such as onions and spinach and carrots in long straight rows, and lots of fall flowers.
We hope to visit again next spring, maybe taking along Dufferin Grove’s portable tandoor oven so people could try it out. To find out more about what Detroiters are teaching us, here
Often the most interesting things in a park are those that are not planned events, but rather, people or gatherings that you just come across while walking through.
1. One early evening in September, park friend and anti-poverty activist Lesley Wood was introducing curious park strollers to two visitors from Berlin whom she had invited to a park campfire. The two were on a book tour, with their one-year-old son. Lesley wrote afterwards, “I invited Marina and Dario to Toronto to share their new book, ‘They Can't Represent Us: Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.’ The book is full of examples of moments where ordinary people, abandoned by governments and corporations, build alternatives that are creative and democratic - often in public spaces. Marina wanted to do an event in a public space in Toronto and I immediately thought of Dufferin Grove as a space where people come together in creative, multigenerational and nourishing ways that give me hope for the future. I know Marina from organizing with her in NYC, and knew that she would love the park.”
The park now has a copy of their book, ready for anyone taking a chair in front of the woodstove inside the rink clubhouse, when the snow flies.
2. On another evening, a group had set up candles in glass jam jars on the rock circle near the cob cafe. A person just walking by could stop and watch them doing a kind of folk dancing called Balfolk dancing, to the music of an accordion, a cello, and two guitars. At one point, some of the dancers went over to their bags and got out more instruments – and suddenly four accordions were playing for the dancers and taking solos for fun. The dancers say that now that it’s getting cold, they’re moving into the Smiling Buddha (961 College Street) at 8pm on Mondays, everyone welcome to join.
3. At a recent campfire orientation session, one of the participants said he was a lifelong skateboarder in his forties. He loves Dufferin Grove’s skateboard setup and helps to maintain it. He had lots of tales to tell the other orientation session participants, about skateboarding in different cities. He said that Toronto is one of the best skateboarding cities “because the police get what we’re doing, they get the culture and if they see people skateboarding they don’t treat us like we’re criminals.”
Since parks have no walls, if you’re curious and ready to be surprised, you get to see a lot and hear a lot of stories.
Many more newly painted benches and picnic tables: in the September newsletter we reported that the park program staff had painted some of the park’s roughest-looking picnic tables, with help from some youth and families. A few weeks later, city painters came through this park – and other city parks as well – in a wave, leaving behind not a single unpainted table of bench. Everything is green and protected against the winter weather. An excellent surprise!
What Dufferin Grove’s friends should know about the citys new Financial Planning Analysis Reporting System – “FPARS” – from the auditor’s report
What Dufferin Grove’s friends should know about the city’s new Financial Planning Analysis Reporting System – “FPARS” – from the auditor’s report
The September park newsletter had a story about the park’s messy money reporting. It raised a question: is the city’s book-keeping sloppiness at Dufferin Grove Park a warning sign of bigger problems with the city’s new $70 million “FPARS” financial system, citywide?
It turns out the answer is NO. FPARS has nothing to do with the sloppy book-keeping. Work on setting up this new financial system began in 2006, but the project of constructing it took so long that none of it ‘went live’ until 2013, and even now it seems to be still partly under construction.
Someone sent us the full report on FPARS done last year by the City Auditor. The report was rather astonishing. Auditor Jeff Griffiths, in his executive summary, wrote that at the outset there had been no “clear articulation to Council on the [complete] nature and benefits of FPARS” to the City. He also wrote: “the working relationship [for the FPARS project] between the Financial Planning Division and the Information and Technology Division has been uncooperative, challenging, and unprofessional.” Consultants’ and internal audit reports warning of problems were suppressed or ignored by the city manager. When four upper-level Information and Technology staff sent a report about their concerns to the city’s Director of Financial Planning (Josie LaVita – she is where the buck stops for FPARS), she criticized these city staff for writing a “report prepared without authorization.” But the auditor said that city staff have an obligation to raise such concerns, and that Ms. La Vita’s reaction was “not appropriate.”
The Auditor’s report, about how the troubled new financial system went from costing $7.9 million to $70 million, got limited media coverage, and the issue seems not to have bothered many Torontonians, nor most city councillors including our own -- councillors tsk-tsked but did nothing more.
City Council did ask for a written response to the Auditor from the Director of Financial Planning. They got a cheerful, optimistic restatement of all the promises made at the outset. The director wrote that the management of some city divisions was “starving” for broader information, and that FPARS would do so much more than just give accurate accounting details. The new system will show with a click whether each city program is being “effective and efficient,” and if not, FPARS will help staff with spreadsheets showing where the money could best be moved instead. As for the cost? “Since the project is still in its early stages of implementation, the cost and benefit estimates in this report will be subject to a post implementation review after the systems and related processes become rooted and fully operational.”
Follow-up “post-implementation” is not very common in government, but it does seem like a good idea. This big project seems to be based on the notion that computers can make complex assessments of the “effectiveness and efficiency” of every municipal government activity. That claim can certainly be tested on the ground, for example in the day-to-day of neighbourhood parks. Two examples:
1. wading pools: in the past four years, Parks and Recreation management has doubled the staffing-and-materials cost of wading pools to address the risk of waterbourne illness. The new protocols have caused wading pool visits by families to drop like a stone – wading pools are widely reported as too cold, too often shut down, too high in chlorine. There were no previous reports of illness when the more family-friendly protocols were in force, compared with the new, tighter protocols, so no improvements in “effectiveness and efficiency” can be entered into the system. What will FPARS say?
2. playgrounds: the City has spent an estimated $18 million on new playgrounds from 2009-2013, and proposes to spend almost $24 million more between 2014 and 2018. Much of this spending has been justified as a safety measure, to comply with a non-legislated industry standard.
The fever of playground replacements began in 2000. Since then, playground-injury emergency room visits have increased (by 20% since 2006, the most recent measuring period), and so have hospitalizations. The injury increases are all the more puzzling because overall playground use appears to be going down – a lot of kids apparently find the newer generic 'safer' playgrounds very dull. Meantime the few older playgrounds still standing, like the one at Dufferin Grove, are very busy and very low in injuries. Dufferin Grove playground, built in the early 1980's, was supposed to be replaced in 2007, but park parents persuaded the city councillor not to go ahead. So city staff did some little repairs instead, a bit of welding, a bit of paint, a few slats replaced....and the old playground is in good shape. That cost very little.
There are few rewards for government frugality in a city as rich as Toronto. Nor are the spending numbers even reliable. The $18 million playground spending in the past four years has to be called an “estimate” because the city has no accurate summary of the cost of new playgrounds – there are many different and contradictory reports. CELOS, monitoring Parks spending, asked the city to be specific about the actual playground invoices. Freedom of Information wrote back that we would have to pay $4320 for staff to collect that information. Will FPARS also have to rely on such haphazard cost reporting? And if playground use continues to be low in many new playgrounds, and injuries show no improvement, what will FPARS say?
Park budget information leading up to the election
When our research group, the Centre for Local Research into Public Space, "CELOS," invited city management in 2012 to take over the food and skate-lending programs which we had helped to start, the city’s Recreation management stripped the local recreation program staff of many of their responsibilities (such as keeping accounts). They added a full-time (but off-site) staff person at a salary of approximately $72,000, one of whose primary responsibilities was data entry of the money that comes in with the programs. Also the off-site staff person had to accompany the park program staff on all grocery-shopping trips so that the city’s credit card could be used instead of cash.
This extra expense was in order to ensure that the park’s accounting would be done properly.
In 2013, CELOS tracked the city’s Dufferin Grove data entries closely, and found inconsistencies, duplicate entries, income entered as expenses, and missing expense records. It was obvious that the accounting showed no improvement – or even a deterioration – over the former Quickbooks method done by on-site staff who actually worked in the programs and could therefore catch more mistakes. But neither city management nor Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao seemed interested in addressing the problem when they were told about it.
In March 2014, CELOS must have complained about the accounting gaps and errors to city management once too often. Management directed the Dufferin Grove on-site staff to stop letting CELOS see the daily income-and-expense records. So CELOS applied to the citys Freedom of Information office for those records. Over a period of five months we got four often-contradictory financial summaries but never the straightforward lists we asked for. Finally we decided to make a complaint to the city’s auditor’s fraud and waste office. The issue was not fraud but book-keeping snafus leading to waste, including the adding of a costly layer of staff when there was no evidence of the benefit.
The response from the Fraud and Waste Office was pretty cloak and dagger. We got back a message thanking us for sending them the complaint. They would look into it, but their policy is that “if a complaint is actionable....we are unable to provide a complainant with any details as to the progress or outcomes of a review or investigation.”
Two days after making the complaint to the auditor, the Freedom of Information office finally sent over most of the information we had asked for five months earlier. The new spreadsheets gave us a fifth set of non-matching park income numbers. There were missing data entries for both income and expenses. Messy numbers point to other problems. It seems pretty clear now that the city’s experiment in reorganizing the Dufferin Grove programs needs a new approach. If there’s a change in our political representation at the end of October, perhaps a fresh wind can blow.
Pink umbrellas and blue umbrellas
Last August an argument broke out in the media about Toronto’s $14 million Sugar Beach Park with its signature pink umbrellas. Deputy mayor Norm Kelly was quoted in the Star saying that Sugar Beach is “a first-class investment that gets projected around the world and brands us, the City of Toronto, as world class and first class. And if you don’t understand that, I would argue that you don’t understand the world that we live in.”
Star architecture critic Christopher Hume didn’t want to limit himself to calling dissenters ignorant about the realities of today’s branded photo-op world. He characterised people who question Sugar Beach as “the angry, the bored, the dumb, the cynical, the intellectually lazy, the city-haters…..”
The designer of the pink umbrella park is Claude Cormier, from Montreal, where he previously designed a blue-umbrella park, located along a pier by the St.Lawrence River. Thinking that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” a CELOS researcher went to Montreal in August to see how a Claude Cormier umbrella-park might function after it had been around for three years. The first visit was too early in the morning – the park is gated and doesn’t open until 11 a.m. But you can read two eight-foot-high Rules signs outside the entrance, telling all the many things you're not allowed to do when the blue-umbrella beach is open. Before opening time you can look over the fence and see that the park is divided into two sections -- the non-alcohol strip, with pretty white sand and blue umbrellas but almost all the chairs removed, and a bar strip at the end, where most of the white designer lawn chairs are. From the bar strip, the view of the river with its fast-moving waters is stunning.
The second visit took place on a warm Saturday evening, when the park was open. At 7.45 pm the long river walk along the piers was full of people strolling and eating at cafes. But at the blue-umbrellas park, the non-alcohol strip was empty, the end by the bar less than half full. A DJ at the bar was playing loud uncensored music with lyrics about women being shoved around. Some groups of rough-looking people sitting in the chairs seemed like they were not having a very good time. – In Year Three, it looked like the blue umbrellas were in trouble.
We’ll send this newsletter piece to the Star’s architecture critic, to see what he says.
Saturday September 13, 6 pm: annual potluck and pizza-making for the Havelock Street Fair
This is the 26th year for the annual street fair. Most of the events take place in the daytime in the block between Bloor Street and Hepbourne, but at 6 pm the action moves to the Dufferin Grove bake oven (and of course anyone from all of the surrounding streets is welcome as well). This is usually a delicious potluck, and there’s pizza-making for the kids, run by Dufferin Grove staff.
Saturday September 27: Native Child and Family Services will be presenting their annual “Honouring our Children” POW WOW. This year it's called "The Ninth Moon of Creation." Sunrise and 12 – 5 pm. This event is a very popular, very colourful occasion with many craft vendors, two big tipis, drummers, dancers in beautiful costumes, some free food as well as food for sale, and a big “give-away” of donated goods at the end. The day begins at sunrise with a fire ceremony in the fire circle, lit by an elder. Then there is a pause while the soccer field is set up with tipis, vendors and information tables, a stage, and food areas. The grand entry of the dancers is at noon, and the give-away is at about 4 p.m. Drumming and circle dancing, all afternoon, everyone welcome.
Since having over five hundred people in the park all afternoon can lead to some problems, recreation staff will be at the playground this year again to supervise. Tipi poles and shovels will not be available at the sandpit on that day, to reduce the number of loose parts that can cause problems if there are too many kids packed into the playground together. But there’s lots of other fun.
Friday Night Supper continues to the end of September, so do school pizza days on Tuesdays between 11 and 3, and drop-in pizza days on Sundays from 12 to 2. To find out the Friday menus, go to the link on the home page of dufferinpark.ca. To book a school pizza visit, contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Park campfire program
This program goes year-round, and staff are already starting to fill up the volunteer spaces to the end of December. To find out about the program, go to dufferinpark.ca and click on “campfires.” Or call the park and leave the staff a message at 416 392-0913.
It’s NOT very common to get a surprise donation from a foundation. Usually you have to send them a long form and plead your case, and if you’re lucky and are good at writing applications, they fund your program. That’s how the park ovens were built, and the zamboni kitchen, and that’s how some of the park youth programs and family programs and the first native-species gardens were funded over the years.
But this past spring, CELOS got a phone call and then a visit from the GH Wood Foundation, asking us if we needed any funds – could we think of anything we might like to do?
CELOS stands for Centre for Local Research into Public Space. Since 2000, when we started our little group out of Dufferin Grove Park, weve been doing what we call “theoretical and practical research” into what makes public spaces – like parks – more welcoming and more lively. We’ve been nosy to find out what works and what doesn’t, we’ve documented a lot of what we’ve seen and done on our four websites, and we certainly had no problem making a little list for the GH Wood Foundation, about what we’d like to try next. To our surprise, they accepted almost all of it. They gave us funds to keep printing and posting the park newsletter and pay the yearly web server fees, they said they’d support experiments in making gardens and playgrounds more accessible, they’re willing to let us try making food in parks work better – that is, in other parks that have friends but no kitchen and no oven. They want to support good maintenance for the informal skate park that’s located on the Dufferin Grove rink pad, outside of the ice rink season. The foundation was intrigued by our ideas of how inexpensive areas of sociability are made (the opposite, in our view, of the $13 million pink umbrella park on Queen’s Quay). And the foundation wanted us to document all of it, for others to use as they wish. So here we are, still pinching ourselves a little – did this really happen? But we’ve begun, and over the next months we’ll report on the work as it goes along.
Moveable chairs and benches in parks are very common in Europe, also in some newer
parks in North America – and in Dufferin Grove Park. This summer the park got some fine
wooden patio chairs, donated by Maria Remondini (whose daughter is a new part-time
recreation staff at the park). Maria said that after a household in her extended family downsized, the chairs were put in storage, and she thought they would be better used at the park. She was right. Around the campfires, at the skateboard park, following the sun or the shade on the park lawns --- the chairs were useful everywhere. So Maria next brought over a sturdy wooden table and stools to use in the rink house in the winter. This is how a gift can build park sociability, six chairs and four stools at a time. Thank you, Maria!
Dufferin Grove Park got ten new benches last year, but apparently there were not enough funds left in the budget to repair and maintain the park’s existing heavily-used picnic tables. So the recreation staff got permission to put out a call for a public picnic table repair-and-painting session. In the week before the session was scheduled, recreation program staff sanded some of the most needy tables, but nobody was able to get time or materials to replace bolts or broken boards. On the day of painting, five youth came plus two playground users and their kids. They and the program staff were able to paint 12 tables (sustained by pizza from the bake oven). The paint they used was fast-drying acrylic, which was just as well because as soon as any table was barely dry, picnickers would come and take it to their picnic. And still there were not enough tables for the park users who wanted them.
But Dufferin Grove is lucky in the number of its tables – in many parks there are only one or two, or none at all. This is sometimes intentional – in some neighbourhoods there is a worry that picnic tables or benches will attract the wrong crowd. Having enough places to sit certainly does bring people into a park, and if there’s shade and drinking water and washrooms and trash cans, family picnics will multiply. So will the number of people sitting at tables working on their laptops, or reading on a bench, or strumming a guitar. Having more benches and tables in a park makes it safer – and more interesting for people-watching. But then the money has to be found to keep the park furniture in good repair. Maybe after the coming election there will be a change of priorities, with less expenditure for new stuff and more for good maintenance instead.
John Ota is a freelance writer on architecture and design and says he “grew up in Dufferin Park in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.” He sent us these comments:
The path is wonderful. The walls are not.
With delightful patterns of river-bed pebbles, an undulating curving path and a symphony of rustling leaves in the breeze, the new reflexology walk is a lovely and meaningful addition to Dufferin Park.
Soothing, respectful and visually pleasing, people walk the path with a sense of reverence, honouring the life of a passed neighbour. Reminiscent of walking along the beach, the path reinforces the quiet atmosphere of what has historically been for decades, a passive part of the park. The different stone patterns, although not always comfortable, not only massage the feet, but they slow you down, to make you think about who you are, where you are and to slow your breathing. Delicate and imaginatively quirky – just like everything else in Dufferin Park, the stone path only enhances the magic of the natural, organic character of the place. A place to get away from a harsh man-made environment. An oasis.
Unfortunately, the reinforced concrete retaining walls are not so wonderful. Totally out of character with the rest of the park - both visually and philosophically, they look like they landed with a thud from outer space. While everything else in the park seems to grow out of the earth, the concrete sticks out like a sore thumb.Heavy handed and over-designed -- there is no need for the concrete walls. The site should be consistent with the thoughtful and ethereal path - horizontal, respectful to the natural surroundings and gently meld into the landscape like a dream.
Report card for the election: how the bureaucracy is doing at Dufferin Grove Park
In the middle of August, there was a surprise announcement at city hall: two of the city’s top bureaucrats, city manager Joe Pennachetti and deputy manager Brenda Patterson, are retiring.
Before Brenda Patterson became deputy city manager, she spent a few years as general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation. Under her watch, the transformation of park culture that began with the city’s forced amalgamation 17 years ago was completed. Parks and Recreation changed from its former emphasis on local neighbourhood collaboration, strong support for and encouragement of volunteers and frontline staff, and a culture of flexibility and “let’s make it work” -- to a strict hierarchy with central control, a multiplication of complicated policies, and the discouragement of volunteers through the almost universal charging of permit and insurance fees for any contribution that park neighbours might wish to make to the liveliness and fun of parks.
Dufferin Grove Park lost its long-time “let’s make it work” recreation supervisor, Tino DeCastro, who was moved to supervising city caretakers, and the program staff were downgraded in their responsibilities. The programs these staff had devised and run were put under the authority of a full-time staff person with the new name of “community recreation programmer” (CRP), not placed directly at the park. The programmer now made all decisions off-site, about park programs and staffing. She or he (there were frequent re-assignments of staff) accompanied the park food program staff on all grocery shopping trips, since the programmer was the only one now allowed to pay for anything. The programmer then submitted all expense figures to yet another city department, whose staff entered the numbers into the city’ s central accounting system, called SAP.
Money puzzles: Before the changes, on-site recreation staff used to record every expenditure and every donation (for food and skate lending, i.e. donations totalling between $150,000 and $200,000 a year) into the Quickbooks accounting program, and those numbers were available for anyone to inspect. Summaries were posted yearly, sometimes monthly, on the dufferinpark.ca website. Under the new system, the extra levels of staff in the accounting chain brought confusion. For 2013, CELOS (the Centre for Local Research into Public Space, a little charitable research group founded in the park in 2000) continued to monitor the park’s income and expenses, to see if the numbers matched the City Finance figures. They often didn’t. Expenses were under-reported by about $3000 during the winter season, a mistake partly balanced by mistaken duplicate expense entries totalling over $2000 in June and July. CELOS asked to see the City financial reports to check income reporting, and found that they reported about $5000 less income than CELOS showed in Quickbooks. We asked City Finance to check their numbers, and got a new set of numbers, different than the previous City report. Neither report matched the CELOS records. When we asked about this problem again, the City lowered the boom. An order came down to the Dufferin Grove program staff: they were no longer allowed to let CELOS see the daily income and expenditure counts, to stop us from comparing the locally reported numbers with the central Finance entries.
Hiding information about public income or expenses is not allowed under the Freedom of Information Act. So CELOS applied to the City’s Corporate Access department to get the information. That was in March 2014. The Act gives an institution 30 days to respond to a request. Finally in July and again in August, the city sent back two new versions of their Dufferin Grove income and expenses documents – so that we now have four versions in total, none matching. Neither of the recent FOI responses fully answered the questions we had asked. In the documents that the city did send, again there were duplicate entries, and some numbers were entered as expenses when they were really income. Obvious data entry mistakes that we reported a long time ago had not been fixed. Depending on which city financial report we choose, the difference in the total 2013 Dufferin Grove Park program income between the Quickbooks records and the City financial records might be as little as $2000 or as much as $12,000.
Of course, this level of reporting error is peanuts compared to the city’s entire budget. Who cares about a few thousand dollars’ sloppy financial reporting when the city budget last year was $9 billion?
But what if the details in this grass-roots view show a larger problem in the city’s book-keeping, amounting citywide to a lot more than a few thousand dollars? Certainly there has been concern within the city government for many years, about the level of transparency in their reporting. To improve accuracy and clarity, the city signed a contract for a new reporting system in 2006, called the Financial Planning, Analysis and Reporting System (FPARS). The contract was originally supposed to cost $7 million, but that amount had increased to almost $70 million by March of 2013.
Is the city’s financial reporting about Dufferin Grove the ‘canary in the mine’ – a sign that the new $70 million system didn’t fix the book-keeping?
The response by Parks and Recreation management so far was to simply pull down the blinds. Our efforts to interest the Ward 18 Councillor, Ana Bailao, in the problem, early on, also came to nothing. The only door left open within the City is the City Audit Department, so a copy of this newsletter will go to the auditor this month, to see if he’s interested.
The book-keeping puzzle is not the only budget problem generated by Brenda Patterson’s departmental changes. Her legacy at Dufferin Grove Park increased the expense of running the park. The additional full-time off-site staff person assigned to the park, added to make every small decision and to cover shopping trips, costs an additional $76,000 a year. The additional levels of downtown data entry staff, centralised food ordering (with complex approval processes often requiring complex changes), and management time for central meetings to control local problems, add up to an unspecified but surely considerable extra expense. So when it’s time to fix the park picnic tables (see the article on page 5), the money is not there.
Seeing this, a question comes to mind: Can thrifty, sensible, open-door government become an election issue in a city as rich and complacent as Toronto? More on the challenges in the October newsletter.
Here’s a short tale about how stories play themselves out at Dufferin Grove Park. Back in 1995, when the sandpit was new and permission had just been given to have cooking fires, two park friends, Margie Rutledge and I (Jutta Mason), got a small grant from the Maytree Foundation to do a “practice-your-English-at-the-park” day once a week with families living in a downtown refugee shelter. The parents were given bus tickets so they could bring their children to the playground, where there was a cooking fire for snacks and coffee, and lots to talk about. One day when they were all there, well-known Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy and his wife came to the playground with their two small boys. (I knew Jamie a little because we had once gone together to depute to a provincial committee, in favour of expanding food offerings on street-food carts.)
That day at the park, Jamie was interested in the cooking fire, and watched as we made coffee – only to have the pot tip over on our new cast-iron trivet and fall into the fire. A new pot of coffee was made, and that one fell over too. That was our level of clumsiness when we first brought food into the park. Embarrassing.
We got better over the years, built the bake ovens, and the park got fuller. Then in 2002, farmers from the Riverdale farmers’ market (at that time the only park-based market in the city) asked if they could set up a market in the west of the city, at Dufferin Grove. They chose their spot, permission was given, and despite the lateness of the season (November), the market had lots of customers from the very start.
During the winter, there was often a bad scene (fighting, bullying) at Dufferin Rink, on Friday nights in particular. We reasoned that if we could attract more families, the rink wouldn’t be just a ghetto of teenagers in a bad mood. Two of the rink staff, Lea Ambros and Dan DeMatteis, loved to cook and bake in the park wood ovens, so in January 2003 we made a plan – they would cook a tasty meal every Friday, using farmers’ market ingredients, and advertise it as a time for people to bring their kids to eat and skate at the end of a tiring work week.
We put up posters all over the rink house to let people know. The week before the suppers began, Jamie Kennedy came skating with his now-much-older sons, and he read the signs. We introduced him to the cooks. He was very enthusiastic about the changes at the park – the zamboni cafe, the ovens, the farmers’ market, and now some good meals. We felt like we had got a famous chef’s stamp of approval, before we even began. The suppers flourished, and the Friday Night bad-mood youth-ghetto mellowed right out.
Park staff Dan DeMatteis decided not long after that he wanted to cook all the time, and he left for Italy to apprentice. There he and Jamie Kennedy ran into each other again, at the Slow Food convention in Turin, and Jamie asked Dan about the Friday Night suppers. They talked for a long time, and got on well. At the end of the convention, Jamie offered Dan a job at one of his restaurants back in Toronto.
Dan worked for Jamie, and learned from him, for some years. Then Dan became a chef at another restaurant, and dreamed of opening his own place. Sometimes he came back to the park as a guest cook for the Cooking Fire Theatre Festival, or just to meet friends at Friday Night Supper – which by then had spread over the lawn all around the bake oven during summer, with several hundred people, including many children, coming to eat good food.
Then, in June of 2012, Dan suddenly died, of a blood clot in his lungs. Jamie Kennedy was one of the speakers at the memorial service, very shaky and sad, as was everyone else there. Dan’s friends have gathered at Friday Night Supper on the anniversary to talk over the old stories, in each of the two years since.
Meantime, on Thursdays at the farmers’ market and on Fridays for the warm-weather suppers, the hillside and all around the ovens is full of people sitting together on the grass, eating good food and enjoying one another’s company. Sometimes I have to rub my eyes, thinking back of the earlier times when all this began, before there was an oven or a market, and the hillside was mostly empty.
This year on the last farmers’ market Thursday in August, market manager Anne Freeman invited two guest cooks to the market. They were cooking fries using Ontario organic potatoes. They tossed them in a giant bowl with sea salt and thyme and sold them in paper cones, in the old style. Word got around how good the fries were, and soon there was a long lineup.
It turned out that the two cooks, working away at their deep fryer in the middle of all the farmers and the talkers and the eaters, were Micah and Nile Kennedy: Micah was little kid with his dad Jamie Kennedy at the park on that day way back in 1995 when the coffee pot kept falling off the trivet into the campfire, Nile is the third son, not yet born then. It was great to see these young men cooking at the market (but I could still feel our embarrassment about the coffee, after all these years).
On Saturday Nov.3 , 2012, between 9 am and 7 pm, CELOS is holding an all-day Open House/Exhibition at the Dufferin Grove rink house and surroundings.
At the Open House, you'll be asked to register your opinion: in December, which programs should be shrunk or let go, and which ones should be preserved?
There will be lots of photo displays and storyboards about the different programs that were developed over the years, with some Parks and Recreation budget and organizational displays as well. There will be three half-hour briefing sessions -- at 11 a.m., 2 pm, and 5 pm, take your pick -- about the four Ward 18 parks at issue. The zamboni cafe will be open, one of the bake ovens will be fired up (with bread samplings), and there are bound to be some lively conversations among neighbours.
Read more >>
The making and unmaking of Dufferin Grove Park. Summer Serial
City management says it's run the WRONG WAY. How did Dufferin Grove Park develop into a park that gets in so much trouble?
Working in public space, with the people who use it, is the job of Parks and Recreation Division. But at Dufferin Grove Park, the recreation supervisor who matched local initiatives with the needed support was moved away from contact with citizens completely, on February 19. We believe this is meant to send a warning to his colleagues across the city: don’t collaborate with local projects unless specifically directed from downtown. The current administration's top-down approach, mostly speaking with very little listening, is a very bad thing for our parks and community centres. It should be the other way around.
Read more about Dufferin Grove is in trouble
Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao
Click on poster to enlarge it.
City Councillor Ana Bailao, the new elected representative for Ward 18, is holding her first Town Hall meeting, about the upcoming budget. This will be at the end of a whole week of City Hall budget briefings, so she'll have lots to tell. Location is the Wallace Emerson Community Centre, 1260 Dufferin (just south of Dupont, west side).
Read more >>
The making and unmaking of Dufferin Grove Park
Click to watch
Click to watch slide show
Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis