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July 8 2011

I used to live in the area, just over one year ago, and nearby the year before. I made use of the park and its services year-round. I was greatly disappointed to learn of the changes to Dufferin Grove Park. When I was a child, my mother took me to play in that park. I have a very strong attachment to it, though I live in the Annex. I would use it more often, except that I have spent more than the past year dealing with my mother's esate. In my mind Dufferin Grove Park is the ONLY one that's run CORRECTLY - that is with community involvement.

Reading about the history of parks in Toronto on the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park website, was very informative. It seems as though traditional activities, as run by the city, have been absent for a long time. The friends of the park have stepped in, to fill in the gaps of what the city provides. This is exactly what SHOULD be happening everywhere. Instead we have citizen's advisory groups eliminated. Instead we have someone dictating changes based not on what the community has expressed a desire for, not what has worked and is working, but on some notion of what works elsewhere. How does that recognize the diversity of the city? How is this respect for the taxpayer?

If you look at the salaries mentioned in the article as well, you see that the current wage structure saves a tremendous amount over the proposed changes. How is increasing costs and cutting services respect for the tax payer? Respect for the taxpayer was supposedly the mayor's slogan, but I see none here. I see contempt. It's becoming all too common. Trying to fix "what ain't broke". The legacy of Mayor Ford is already "Pay more, get less."

I urge you to do what's right and allow Dufferin Grove to continue being run as it has recently.

R.R. wrote:

For seven years I have been going to Dufferin Grove Park, first with my infant son for the market and, over the course of the past seven years, taking advantage of all that the park has to offer. My three sons, husband and I have skated in winter, seen theatre productions, participated in birthday parties, clothing swaps, pizza baking and so much more.

I live in a neighbourhood not far from the park, where our local park is in an active revitalization process and Dufferin Grove Park comes up often as an inspiration for the incremental and logical changes that make a park a truly welcoming public space in a diverse community.

I worked for many years as a management consultant and understand very well the organizational benefits that can accrue from streamlining, centralization and cutting out excess. The problem with this particular application of that theory, is that it is already being accomplished by other means and will actually be curtailed by this approach.

Dufferin Grove Park is - although it may not appear this way on the surface - actually a well-oiled machine. There are efficiencies and appropriate redundancies built in to a system that allows for all aspects of the park to run smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that the community is often of the opinion that it runs itself, or perhaps is run by them.

Evidence for the success of this approach is at least three-fold: Local replications, diverse population attraction and national and international attention.

Dufferin Park staff has increasingly been able to apply many of its best practices at other local parks such as McGregor and Wallace Emerson, which has caused those parks to become more welcoming and has laid the groundwork for them to become community hubs in their own rights.

Dufferin Grove Park is an open secret among Torontonians searching for a welcoming place to host birthday parties, cultural celebrations and other gatherings. This is thanks to the variety of social and material infrastructure available there. By social infrastructure, I mean the skills, abilities and knowledge of the staff and their capacity to perform a variety of tasks in many contexts over a short time. By material infrastructure I mean spaces for both public and private gathering, playspaces supportive of many age-groups, winter and summer activities, and food access.

It is such a poorly guarded secret, in fact, that people come from as far away as the United States and Europe to see how the park does it. From the cob structure by the wading pool that serves as a snack bar, to the outdoor festivities that take place there year-round, tourists, Dufferin Grove Park builds things that others seek to emulate.

What the process undertaken by the new Recreation Supervisor fails to see is that in creating a laundry list of discrete tasks for individuals to do, it is attempting to duplicate in a few months and by people who have checklists, the work done by many people over the course of years to determine the best approach to the tasks required by the space, the environment and the people. It adds a level of rigidity while removing the ability to be fiscally responsible from the hands of those who actually know what is needed. Instead of making the city management the facilitator of innovative and cost-effective programs, it turns them into bean counters. In short it misses an amazing opportunity.

Rather than destroy this capital, Supervisor Jang could put the city's money to better use, if she had the City Recreation Programmer understand how Dufferin makes it work and then asked the Programmer(s) to enable other parks to do similarly amazing things in their parks.

Please keep this park humming and buzzing for years to come!

K.P. wrote:

Dear Mayor McCallion,

I am sending you this letter because I know that Rob Ford has tremendous respect for you and the way you do business in the city of Mississauga, and I sincerely hope that you might be able to share your wisdom with him with regards to one of Toronto's gems, Dufferin Grove Park. Dufferin Grove has given back to the people of Toronto the hope and reality that local community can make great things happen without burden of huge costs to tax payers. Dufferin Grove is a brilliant example of simplicity and common sense in action- something that is unfortunately rare in our life and times. I am sure that Dufferin Grove Park would inspire you; perhaps it can even inspire other great parks in Mississauga with its efficiency and creativity. The park has its own web site - - which is a great, volunteer driven resource, linking the community to the park.

At the moment it is on the verge of being essentially shut down by bureaucracy, policies and procedures that have little relevance as we all move into new times with the need for new ways of conducting the business of city life.

I am forwarding a letter I recently wrote to Rob Ford on this matter, and my hope is that your down to earth, wise influence will reach him before it is too late...

I would love to invite you to join me for a community dinner at Dufferin Grove Park, any Friday night this summer. I can promise a delicious meal and a fantastic experience inside the richness of the community. I would love to host you and I know the community would be delighted to have you there.

K.P. wrote:

Dear Mr. Ford,

Perhaps you are aware of proposed city changes to the administration and running of Dufferin Grove Park ( Dufferin and Bloor). This park has been an amazing example of community engagement and creativity over the last 20 or more years, and in case you weren't aware, I wanted to bring it to your attention.

I truly believe that this park is a template for how other public space can be used. Over the last years, this park has been virtually transformed into an outdoor recreation centre for hundreds of toronto families and it is a gem of our city, with families crossing town to spend the day by the sand pit, or to enjoy a community supper or theatrical event. This park raises money through creative means- renting skates, which were donations from the NHL, is one example of a creative way to raise funds for the park.

There is tremendous community spirit and thus reduction of crime in the park, as well as a sense of community responsibility and ownership for the space. This translates in actions - people clean up and care for the space as if it were their own- a spirit we could only hope for in other parks and parts of the city.

One of the things that makes Dufferin Grove tick is it's unconventional 'out of the box' thinking around tasks and functions of staff. When you research hugely successful businesses like Google and Facebook it is clear they have figured out that the future is in the people and in tapping their desire to be engaged, to have autonomy and creativity in their work. Best selling business authors like Daniel Pink have proven it too- that to be effective and efficient and to make amazing profits, people need to be freed from the constrictions of the organizational structures of the past. The Dufferin Grove model is a perfect example of this- able to do much more than an average park- even more than many community centres, with much less resources and cost to tax payers.

I am certain that it will interest you from this financial standpoint alone. Dufferin Grove offers practical, time-proven examples of how to do more with less money, and how to also build the community, which is critical to the health and safety of our city.

As I am sure you know, there can be dreadful complacency in 'government' positions, where people end up doing the bare minimum to meet the requirements of their contracts. This attitude effectively drives up all costs, as the complacent worker needs more supervision and more external enforcement to follow the rules- rules that often also restrict intelligent decision making.

In recent times a new recreational supervisor, Wendy Jang, has been assigned to Dufferin Grove. Clearly she hasn't caught up with the times, and is trying to force the staff and programs at the park into an old, restricting framework that causes the very complacency and increase in running costs. Apparently the manager of Toronto East York Recreation, Kelvin Seow also has plans to 'assume operations' at the park, which would be a devastating blow to the vibrancy of the park and the people who work and partake in its community happenings.

I urge you to look into the matter, and to offer these administrators some guidance in how to update their attitudes so that they can see the opportunity and new template that Dufferin Grove offers to the whole city. If more parks could engage people in such a way, Toronto could save hundreds of thousands of dollars while also strengthening the community life; clearly a win-win for everyone.

I am sure you would be a welcome guest at the park anytime, should you wish to get a hands-on experience and understanding of the practical nature of the operations there. A great guide is Jutta Mason, a local volunteer and very knowlegeable person on the finances and workings of the park. I have cc'd her her in case you wish to get in touch.

Thank you very much for your efforts to 'stop the gravy train'. Before this park gets tossed onto the train, I hope you will find a way to put the breaks on and to let it be a new example for a flourishing and fiscally responsible way forward, as opposed to the high cost, little value models of the past.

July 9, 2011
K.W. wrote:

Hi Ana,

I think the park is a jewel in the crown of Toronto parks and is well run, vibrant and a big asset to our ward just the way it is.

There are some things the city should NOT tinker with and leave it to the dynamics of neighbourhood involvement, and this is one of them. The place works well the way it is.

Please do NOT let the city bureaucracy dsimantle what has grown to be an exceptional local attraction, simply iin the name of conformity. Remember: Diversity is Our Strength

D.A. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao.

I understand that the community based approach and unique programs (also supported through significant community donations) currently run through the Dufferin Grove park are at risk because some bureaucrat working fpr City Hall who makes over a hundred thousand dollars a year basically wants all park programming to fit into her cookie cutter model of how a park should operate. I humbly suggest that the Mayor's current review of unnecessary expenditures consider exactly this kind of bloated bureaucrat- the kind whose main concern appears to be making her own overpaid position easier to administer and who has absolutely no connection or accountability to the community whatsoever. Slash the top-heavy bureaucracy and let the people run their own park with the parks staff who work there. We don't need more money, just let the community keep doing what works the way they have - the city can keep whatever it saves, the park will run just fine without this useless extra bureaucrat, and her replacement might get an important message. If she keeps going the way she's going, there will hopefully be enough complaints to fire her.

Our kids and families are not well served at all by these upper managers with nothing better to do. And we will make noise, and not just the so-called "progressive left", NDP voters in the neighbourhood. Many people of a more centre-right, conservative, cost-cutting persuasion are locking arms with our traditional political opponents on this one.

For example, I used to work in the provincial government in the 90's, and I quit for just this reason. The bureaucracy was bloated, top heavy, ineffective and inflexible beyond belief, often creating work for itself in ways that actually harmed the communities it was meant to serve. This is why people like Mike Harris and Rob Ford get elected. Unfortunately, while MIke Harris was able to cut a lot of important services and beat up a few welfare cases and Indians on the side, he couldn't really do anything effective with the provincial bureaucracy, which remains as bloated, inflexible and inefficient as ever. Please help our mayor understand what he was really elected to do - trim the actual waste, no matter how hard they kick and scream. Because if he caves to these overpaid clowns, the real, useful, and necessary services will be the ones to suffer. Don't let that be his or your legacy or our legacy.

D.M. wrote:

Re: This is another note in support of Dufferin Grove

While other neighbourhoods dream of having a park like Dufferin Grove, Dufferin Grove innovators at CELOS continue to waste energy in discussion with Park city supervisory staff that don't get it. Dufferin Grove and CELOS should have a special status as a park think-tank understood to be forging new working models for Toronto parks to follow. Parks that build engaged communities make a better city for everyone.

July 11 2011
J.L. wrote:

Hello Councillor Bailao,

I live on Delaware Ave and have lived there for 25 years. I knew Dufferin Park then and I know it now. It has developed into a jewel of a park; a park with life, with intelligence, a park with people that visit it and love it. The city has problems. WHY would the city waste valuable time and money changing something that works?

Here is a place that tourists visit- that makes Toronto special. Please wake up and help wake up the rest of the city officials that continue to waste time and needed monies on this issue.

a very up set Toronto citizen,

July 20, 2011
M.S. wrote to


I look after a lot of children and take them to Dufferin Grove all of the time. I love it and am always telling my non-TO friends about how wonderful it is and how lucky we are to have it. I am very troubled to hear that you chaps are having problems and want to write to Anna Bailao. However, I'm finding it hard to work out exactly what the proposed changes are. Although it's great to have to much backstory, I'm finding it hard to pick out exactly what it is I want to object to her about.

Is there any chance that on the website, you could maybe do a bullet-point list of the proposed changes, or something similar to outline them?

Thanks, and good luck!

July 28, 2011
Jutta Mason wrote back for CELOS:

We've just put out an update, which may have a bit more of the information you asked for.

The problem with saying exactly what the changes are is that it all comes down to one thing: the ability of management to throw a spanner in the works. Dufferin Grove -- like any place where a lot of stuff gets done -- is a mini-ecology, where staff rely on one another, step in when needed, and continuously revise what needs to get done next. When there is suddenly an outside person who blocks the existing relationships and puts themselves in as the central task organizer, people get tripped up all the time. In a way, the park this summer is a textbook example of why modern bureaucracies cost so much to do so little.

What developed at the park is on its way out, no question. How the citywide money crisis will affect the park is still unclear, since the current problems arise out of a management intention to exercise micro-control, not to just cut funding.

It's an interesting time. If you want to talk in person, how about a cup of tea or coffee at the park? Let me know if you want to make a time.

July 28, 2011
C. P. wrote

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I dread the effect of rumoured changes to Dufferin Grove Park's staffing and programs. The park works very well and the staff are really doing excellent work. In fact, I would say that one staff member at Dufferin Grove Park does the work, hour for hour, of two staff members at other recreation sites I've been to in Toronto.

In particular, I would like to point out the innovation and excellent service I have experienced at the mini-cafe near the wading pool. The staff at this simple cafe serve nourishing meals to my family and even my five-year-old eats the quinoa salad!

Innovations like these allow parents and caregivers to stay in the park while the children get the exercise and social contact they need to grow into responsible loving members of our city. Not to mention, of course, the good fun everyone has on this lovely park.

Please do all you can to preserve the awesome work being done in Dufferin Grove Park and promote it as a model for other parks and recreation centres in Toronto.

If you need any information I would be glad to meet with you or your staff.

Thank you,

A. M. wrote

Dear Councillor:

As a long time resident near the park and user of the park for many things, I must express my concern over proposed changes. The park is currently an excellent example of community spirit and community building. I do not believe that all parks must be the same in order to function. I have been using this park for more than 20 years and have seen how it has grown and flourished and how residents of the area continue to flock to the park because of it's wonderful programs, atmosphere and staff.

The children's pool and play area are excellent examples of social interaction, community building and co-operation. This is demonstrated by the building of the cob structure for serving food. It is loved and used - often. My children are grown and no longer play there but I walk my dog in the park several times a day and all I ever see are happy families - escaping the heat, hanging out, being with their children and having a wonderful time.

The Friday night dinners have grown and continue to be a welcome place for people to meet. I see people who are new to the community coming here and integrating themselves, meeting other families and feeling part of something. This is very important - especially to newcomers to Toronto.

In winter the skating rink is always full of teenagers, families and older people just getting exercise.

The park is a safe and happy place - please help us to keep it this way. This park should be used as a 'model' example of a working neighborhood park. Please do not let the city destroy it!

July 28 2011
From E.G. to Ana Bailao

The Dufferin Grove Park was working well and was the envy of other parks and other city communities too.

I don't understand why any new arrangements are needed or even being considered at the park.

We had wonderful food being sold at the wading pool, convenient to moms and kids.

If a mom and her kids are at the pool and need to get a snack, the way the proposals indicate now, the mom would have to pack up everything to take the child to the rink house instead of sending him (within sight) to the cart by where they were. It was convenient and simple the way things had been.

It is impractical to adopt these recommendations.

The system was working well, everyone was not just happy but deliriously thrilled with the way everyone collaborated. I don't understand why things have to change from a system that was functioning for all participants to an impersonal one like the one that is proposed.

We live in the city and put up with a lot of crime, smog, overcrowding and horrid other things that our suburban friends don't have to contend with. This park is well used and loved.

The Dufferin Grove park is one of the best things about the city, not for the rules but for the collaborations and work people like Jutta Mason, park friends and park staff have put into making things better.

Please don't allow the new Park Supervisor undo all the good that has been accomplished. It seems unnecessary to break something that is working well in favour of something that will serve fewer people.

Let us enjoy this park as we had always done.

From M.A.

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I am writing because I feel the urgent need to do so. I am very concerned about the recent staffing and programming changes that the Parks, Forestry & Recreation has been making at Dufferin Grove Park. I live in the community and spend a lot of time at the park for different activities. Dufferin Grove Park is probably the best park in Toronto because of all the different activities that happen there and because of the staff who care about their work and the users. For this reason, the park is so popular - many people want to be there day after day. It is truly a place where people gather and there is a strong sense of community there. All these are achieved without costing the city much. It should be a model that should be repeated in other parks, rather than something that should be forced into existing model of how parks should be run. The changes that are proposed would destroy all the good things that make Dufferin Grove so special. Below are some of my main concerns:

1. Staff - one of the reasons I like spending time at Dufferin Grove Park is the staff who are welcoming, care about and enjoy their work. I go to other parks and recreation centres in the neighbourhood and do not find the staff helpful or welcoming. Many staff at Dufferin Grove work there year after year and as a park user, you get to know them. This summer I noticed a big change at the wading pool. In other years, more matured staff were working at the wading pool, while they also took care of other duties, such as the food sales and preparation. In previous years, the staff were always very helpful and engaged with children at the wading pool, knew many of the children and the parents who visited the park. This made the entire playground area very lively. This year, I was sad to see wading pool attendants most of whom were sitting or standing there looking completely bored. They weren't interacting with children at all. This made the Dufferin Grove wading pool look like other wading pools (except that we still have a lot of kids in the pool). It made me realize how much the staff contributed to the liveliness of the park. Of course, it's boring to have to watch the pool all day. The previous model of the staff engaged in various tasks throughout the day makes their job more interesting, and in turn, the job attracts the kind of people who have multiple skills, including interpersonal skills.

2. Programming - one of the things that make Dufferin Grove Park so special is the availability of healthy reasonably priced food in the park. This includes the cafe beside the wading pool during the summer, rink house cafe during the winter and Friday night supper. Healthy food available at a reasonable price makes it very attractive to stay in the park for an extended period of time. Parents and children who sit around the wading pool and playground to have lunch and snack create a gathering place where people meet. I met so many people in the Dufferin Grove Park this way. It is also important that the food be available close to where people are. I'm opposed to the proposed move of the wading pool cafe to the rink house , because it would make it difficult for people to get to the food.

3. Big sandpit - PFR seems to be interested in controlling access to shovels and the sandpit itself during high-use times. As far as I know, and according to statistic collected by the park, there have been so few cases of injury. The sandpit is often crowded with kids, because it's so much fun to play there. But at the same time, there are as many parents as kids who are always watchful of what happens there.

I am concerned that the current policies of the Parks, Forestry & Recreation would lead to parks that are easy to manage and prone to fewer liabilities form the PFR point of view, but are not attractive or interesting for people to visit. From my point of view as a citizen, I would like PFR to facilitate and encourage community building through park use. As a simple example, having a clean washroom facility that is open most of the hours when people use the park is very important. This is in place at Dufferin Grove, but not in many other parks.

I invite the Recreation Director and Supervisor to spend time at the Dufferin Grove playground (including the wading pool) or at the Friday night supper and imagine being a child, or a parent of a young child, or simply an adult citizen. Do you think as a child you would want to play at Dufferin Grove? Would you would visit this park? If so, why? Please talk to park users and find out why they want to be at Dufferin Grove. Watch how children play. Please try to facilitate all the good things at Dufferin Grove Park that make us want to be there.

Sincerely, M. A.

July 28, 2011
To Ana Bailao

My husband and I have been avid fans of Dufferin Grove Park for the past 7 years and there hasn't been a week that has gone by in all those years that we haven't spent time in the park. There is nothing else like it in Toronto-- but there should be!

Much of the reason Dufferin Grove Park is so wonderful is because the staff are part of the community, not an outside force as they are in too many of Toronto's parks. In other parks the staff have an attitude of "us against them" ( "us being the P&R staff and "them" being the people who use the park). This attitude is fostered as a result of the organizational structure in place in P& R that doesn't encourage the staff to really get to know the community. Staff are silo-ed in their jobs, only allowed to do one function and not encouraged to get to know the community and become a part of it. Often they perform the same job in many parks within a district, never spending much time in any one park. On the other hand, the Dufferin Grove staff are able to respond to pretty much any need of the community or park itself--and as a result they care about the park and people.

We think this is a much more efficient way to run the park and makes for a much stronger and caring community--a winning recipe all the way around. The staff cares about the park and the people, and the people know and care about the staff and the park. Community members and staff alike are involved because the park is our home. There aren't many parks in this city that can say that. It is very fitting that Dufferin Grove was known as The Big Backyard for many years.

Dufferin Grove Park is praised and emulated as a "park that works" by urban planners, open space experts and ordinary people across Canada and North America. ( see a multitude of articles here:

To impose a narrow, silo-ed structure on P & R staff would be to make Dufferin Grove homogeneous with all other Toronto parks, when what we should be doing is helping other parks to become more responsive to their individual communities. Toronto has so many wonderful cultures and we are famous for celebrating them. Why then would we try to turn people's parks into bland replicas of each other without any individual personality? We firmly believe that the proposed reorganization of Dufferin Grove staff will do just that.

It isn't broken--it doesn't need "fixing"!

Very sincerely,

Laura Berman and Michael Bowser

August 3
J. D. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao

I'm an engineer and a parent whose family visits Dufferin Grove Park regularly. In engineering we have a saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It seems to me that the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation department should be guided by this principle as it considers how best to govern Dufferin Grove Park. Dufferin Grove is a gem. It is the park in Toronto that I show off to my visitors from the US and Europe. The Europeans recognize it, and the Americans envy it. This park works, and it works for families with small kids, families with older kids, and single people. There's nothing else like it in the city.

I would admit that the current management structure is a distinctly odd combination of city and community management. That makes it complex, but it does work. I can see that there is the potential for something to go wrong, but it would be awful to sacrifice the actual real good that we do have now just to eliminate that risk. Instead, we should be brave. Yes, things could go wrong, but if we try to regulate the park to ensure nothing unusual will happen, we'll just lose what we have now, because we could never afford it, even if we could find regular city employees with the same skill and motivation as the current staff.

I urge you to encourage the department to keep it's hands off Dufferin Grove. Don't try to "fix" it.

August 5 2011
J.G. wrote:

I am writing to you to express my concern about Dufferin Grove park. I am afraid that the City is trying to change Dufferin Grove park for the worse. At present, it is the one public space in the City I would most like to be. I go there many times per week, on walks with my partner and our 3-month-old daughter, to the playground with my 3-year-old nephew, to the basketball courts and firepits with my friends. I shop at the farmers market, I eat lunch at the concession stand by the wading pool, and our family and many of our friends eat a delicious, affordable and nutritious dinner in the park almost every Friday night. Dufferin Grove is way more than just a park. When I used to live in Parkdale I still spent most of my outdoor time at Dufferin Grove even though there were tons of closer parks. The reason that it is such a success is because it is run as a community space. It's not just another park that can conform to strict rules about how every little thing should be done according to a City-wide plan. What works in other parks may not work in Dufferin Grove. What works in Dufferin Grove has been developed over years and years, with the input of thousands of neighbours and people who are part of the community (even when they don't live right in the neighbourhood). I know that you can appreciate Dufferin Grove--I've seen you there holding events and interacting with people. This is crucially important part of our neighbourhood. Please defend it! We mustn't let Wendy Jang or anyone else impose some arbitrary formula on us, especially after so many years of work developing a participatory, community framework that has been so successful! Thank you very much for your time, and for your commitment to our park! Respectfully yours,

August 6 2011
Stock response letter from Councillor Ana Bailao:

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office on the subject of Dufferin Grove Park.

As you indicate, Dufferin Grove is both a unique and immensely special area of Toronto. The level of community engagement, innovative programming, and park activity is the envy of many other areas of the City. I also have incredible esteem for the staff who work at this park, for the many extra hours they continually provide to keep the park operating, for the positive attitude and skills they bring to the park, and the dedication they invest in improving this local community hub.

It is true that Dufferin Grove is being examined by City staff to ensure that it meets Health and Safety, Union and City staffing policies as well as City accounting practices. This examination is in no way a negative reflection of the program delivery Dufferin Grove has been providing, but an effort to protect a prized community resource from liability and risks that could shut-down programming.

It is also true that I will fight to make sure that programs, staff, and the high-quality of service Dufferin Grove has become known for is not reduced.

In speaking with many local residents I have heard many concerns about changing Dufferin Grove Park. I will be working with community groups and City Staff to achieve a balance that both allows the rich and innovative community projects of the park as well as the necessary liability requirements the City requires of all of its operations.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact my office and please do not hesitate to do so in the future.

August 7 2011
J.G. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao,

I am disappointed at the middle-of-the-road tone of your email. Issues of "liability" are too vague for me to respond to, but you seem to be trying to leave the door open to supporting the City's reorganization of Dufferin Grove Park. The Park works right now, in fact it is internationally renowned. But instead of celebrating it, the City is reorganizing it and the effects will be reductions in Staff pay, and a likely reduction in the incredible programming that has made the park so unique. Instead of stifling Dufferin Grove's community-driven creativity and success, the City should be seeking to support neighbourhood and community involvement in other parks in the City where residents are already trying to replicate some of the successes of Dufferin Grove. As my councillor, in the neighbourhood that includes the Park, I expect you to take a strong lead in defending it. And I know that I am not alone. Right now the residents of this riding are asking you to be a true ally to the Park. I hope that you live up to that expectation, and do not bow to bureaucratic euphemisms for cuts to staff and programming.

Yours respectfully, J.G.

August 8 2011
Second stock response letter from Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao (for writers who responded back to her first letter)

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office and for your interest in preserving the wonderful programming at Dufferin Grove park.

I absolutely agree that a planned and considerate approach is necessary in order to maintain the community engagement at the park and avoid any loss of service.

Recently Parks Management staff have addressed a number of issues at Dufferin Grove. Among them were updates to outdated staffing policies that had existed since amalgamation and which exposed the City to a potentially expensive dispute process.

Before City staff implemented this update I was adamant that the services offered at Dufferin Grove be protected and preserved. I was assured both that there would be no loss of staffing at the park, and no loss to service. In a recent meeting with management, I have requested to have this information in writing to ensure that these changes will have no negative impact on park services.

In addition, staff has indicated that these policy updates will protect the park from union disputes that have cost considerable amounts in other areas of the City, money that can no longer be invested into Parks programming.

Thank you again for contacting me and I invite you to contact me again should you notice any loss of programming or service at the park.

August 9 2011
K.H. wrote:

Dear Councillor Mammoliti, In attempt to make budget cuts work, and find new creative ways to support public programming, look no further than Dufferin Grove Park. The parks community activities raise about $190,000 a year that is put towards the park budget. These activities all enhance the feeling of community and make the park a real hub. This, in turn, makes the park safer, and ensures the maximum number of users are taking advantage of the park activities. If you are interested in details, check out

Right now, Parks and Recreation management is reshuffling staffing and not allowing them to participate in these money-making services because they are abnormal park activities. I think you will agree that the opposite should be happening. Why fix something that not only isn’t broken, but is wildly successful? It should be the model for all GTA parks. The changes proposed by the new recreation supervisor, Wendy Jang. will cost more money, they will dumb down the jobs and have a negative impact on the services at the park. I find it so disturbing that unelected bureaucrats are able to undermine the community-supported activities of this park. It is also confusing, because these services raise so much money towards the park operations.

On a more personal note, my kids love the park, I love the park and the park is the envy of all other neighbourhoods. The staff are amazing, creative and energized – a model for park staff elsewhere in Toronto. It is one of the reasons why I am raising my family in Toronto. I hope you can step in and help Best regards, K.H.

S.C. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao,

Dufferin Grove park is a treasure for the city. It brings people from all income levels together, provides a safe and enriching environment for children, and builds community. I am sure that it could be argued successfully that it also reduces crime, by building community and providing much needed activities for youth. Thousands of Toronto taxpayers use this park - a recent census showed as many as 2000 users in a single day.

The amount of work and dedication that part-time staff and volunteers put into the running of this wonderful park is unique and valuable. The snack bar at the pool, the Friday night pizza nights, the many many community events, the fact that the wading pool is opened according to the needs of the community not arbitrary city schedules, the ice rink and the similar philosophy guiding its hours - it can not be denied that these are things that add so much to community life in your ward, and to the city as a whole.

The rationale for these changes is that it leaves the city “vulnerable and open to major risk factors”? Has the community been complaining? I see only a community that has been enriched and made healthier by the activities "Friends of Dufferin Grove" have made possible. Good government is not about avoidance of lawsuits for anything lawyers and bureaucrats can think of. The city's employees should be putting their minds to making the city better, not protecting itself from imaginary lawsuits. Good governance is about providing policies and programs that do the most for the health of the city population.

I have seen only a decline in the park since the city has started its new approach to the park - the closure of the snack bar at the pool which provided healthy, organic, low cost nutrition for children is one example. How can you allow a change in city policies which would cause this snack bar to close, when it provided such benefits at such a low cost to the city? Is it preferable to have vending machines with chocolate bars and chips as other conventionally city run community centres do? The Toronto Star and Now magazine have detailed many of the other losses which have happened at the park over the last year.

Are you supporting the work of the new supervisor who is meant to return the park to the core activities that the City has traditionally run, and therefore destroying much of what makes the park such an asset? Or are you supporting the community who has made the park such a wonderful place to be? Please let me know what steps you are taking to preserve this amazing park and the people who make it so (the in-park staff, the volunteers and the neighbours at the park) and what steps you are taking to stop the loss of the community programs and activities that are going on at the park.

If you are supporting the park and you have suggestions on how citizens of the city can help please let me know.

Thank you,

S.C., city resident, St. Clair and Bathurst

p.s. I hope that you are reading the list and history of "anomalies" that the recreation supervisor is trying to stop. They are detailed here:

August 9 2011
Jutta Mason wrote to Councillor Ana Bailao

I'm following up to your letter about costly union arbitration -- to repeat my question: we need to know the dates and issues and outcomes of the Dufferin-Grove-applicable "union disputes that have cost considerable amounts in other areas of the the City" that your letter refers to. Can you point me to your source? Are you referring to the PT rec collective agreement or the Full time agreement or the 416 collective agreement?

If you got the information from employee and labour relations, could you ask them if they divide their work by division and collective agreement to some degree? That would mean they should be able to "cost" that part of their expenditure re PT rec unionization -- if you have those numbers, can you send them to me? Or otherwise, could you ask for them?

In the information I've gathered so far there seem to be no costly or broad settlements related to PT rec employees. I have looked for arbitrated (judged) awards (these are public) relating to Local 79 and the City and the Part Time rec group. I see no expensive awards issued by arbitrators. So where is the "expensive dispute process"? Is the City voluntarily settling awards? Giving union members money through grievances without being forced to?

If the city feels that the rules or processes required by the collective agreement are too expensive, why did they negotiate them? why do they administer them? Why don't they push back?

I look forward to getting this information, so we can talk about actual details instead of just fears of what might happen.

August 9 2011
B.L. wrote:

It is unfortunate that Jutta ignored my advice to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding between the Friends/CELOS and the City. Operating a business, no matter how altruistic, on City property without one is really not acceptable. Given the amount of money involved, and the use of City staff to work in the operation, it was only a matter of time before the liability issues would force the City to act. Now, I fear, it is too late to come to an agreement and that is a great loss to the community.

August 9 2011
David Anderson wrote:

Hello Ana,

I am writing because I am very concerned about what is happening to Dufferin Grove Park and the nearly twenty year tradition of community participation in the direction and realization of the park's programming and development. This park has become a "community centre without walls" in some unique ways, as you are well aware.

Clay and Paper Theatre's first play about the park was called "The Resurrection of Fornax". Fornax is the ancient Roman goddess of bake ovens, and it seemed to us (Larry Lewis, the writer, and me, his collaborator, and artistic director) that it was quite a coupe to wake up and find out that DGP had the honour of having Toronto's first outdoor community bake oven built at its centre. The person behind this gift to the park was Jutta Mason, so it was fitting that we could have fun by celebrating her as the resurrected goddess of bake ovens. Many other bake ovens now exist in other Toronto parks, inspired by that first successful community intervention.

But the changes that are presently being visited on the park in the name of "it will be non-compliant on many approved policies, procedures, and legislative requirement...vulnerable and open to major risk factors." is Kafka-esque at best and, in my view, driven by a mean-spiritedness that ignores the spectacular community involvement that has characterized this community for so long now. The changes that have been wrought in this park have inspired others locally and the park is recognized as a beacon of community participation internationally. I am not interested in the motivations for this new destructive thrust from the Parks bureaucracy. I only want to know how to stop this craziness, and I want your help in mobilizing the community to protect its well run alternatives.

I would like to know how you can help us maintain this historical achievement. What steps can we take to counter this extremely SILLY idea of "non-compliance"? It's an attempt to limit action by fear, and, in this case, unfounded fear: crazy paranoia. Consequently, it seems that an accounting of value vs. expense is not even considered here. Why? The VALUE accruing from the organic organization that has developed is clear (and documentable). The EXPENSES that these programs cost are an absolute BARGAIN for the city. It does not make sense. So, how can we reverse the steps that have already recently been taken? Are you prepared to lead us in a sit-in, or a community Choral Cry against Stupidity, or a Dufferin Grove Dance to a Different Drummer? I certainly hope so. We need your help.

Its pretty disheartening to see this piece-by-piece destruction of a vibrant community practice going on unchallenged. The sense of Noblesse Oblige, the sense of condescending social responsibility, that is being shown by the actions of the department are quite intolerable! I await your response.

David Anderson

Artistic Director

Clay & Paper Theatre

August 9 2011
G.T. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao and Mayor Ford,

Making Dufferin Grove Park conform to the rigid procedures and protocol of other city parks is very wrong headed thinking. DGP has been innovative and experimental and has lead by example for other neighbourhood parks in the west end and across the city in regards to community involvement and enlivening our commonly held green spaces. When the friends of DGP raise money in the park with food sales and other community building projects it is only right and natural that these small funds go to other projects that further develop community activities in the park.

If anything other parks should be make to conform to the DGP model. If the friends of DGP were a corporation, this would be called a public private partnership. Instead this is a public community partnership and these initiatives should not be squashed but nurtured. Anyone who thinks wastes should be cut and frugality rewarded should agree that communities that raise money without charging fees should be rewarded not punished. That is capitalism in a nutshell.

In the same light, the community markets that add so much to neighbourhoods should not be charged extra fees. They are not costing the city anything by setting up on our publicly owned and commonly shared green space. Raising the fees to the point that they fail will not increase revenues for the city but will only impoverish our quality of life by reducing our access to farm fresh food. You cannot buy the farm fresh quality fruits and vegetables available there in any grocery stores. If this policy is pursued then the city must make it easier for us to grow our own fruit and vegetables in areas close to our homes. This would be much more expensive. Please be guided by reason with these policies.

J.D. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailao, I am sure you are aware of the story of Dufferin Grove Park, and the current approach of the city bureaucracy that threatens the many wonderful activities that have flourished there over the past years, through the involvement of community members such as Jutta Mason. I highly recommend the summary available at

I beg of you to do everything in your power to ensure that city bureaucracy does not undermine the vast improvements (aka 'anomalies') at the park. It is a treasure for the community, and a shining (award winning) example of the positive results that can come from a flexible approach and community engagement. In particular, and not limited to Dufferin Grove, usage fees imposed on users of public and community space have the effect of dampening activity and usage of that space. In other words, they are entirely self-defeating.

August 11 2011
J.B. wrote:

Dear Councillor Bailão

Toronto Parks staff seem determined to strengthen a failed policy of centralization that will further restrict the ability of local supervisors and park friends to create unique and innovative programs like the ones that exist at Dufferin Grove. I would describe it as a “fast food franchise” model of parks management. Under such a model, if a program does not satisfy the "consistent processes and methodologies" of the franchise model, that program will likely be bogged down under mountains of red tape, as has repeatedly happened in the past (Icycle, pizza oven, skate rentals, Zamboni cafe, etc.). I urge you to please ensure that the administrative needs of the Parks department do not destroy what is special about Dufferin Grove.

It was only last year when the Friends of Dufferin Grove learned that supervisor Tino DiCastro was to be transferred. This was alarming, because Tino had developed an excellent working relationship with the local community, and there was no apparent reason for the transfer. The Parks department apparently believed that park supervisors should be easily interchangeable, just like light bulbs. Long-term relationships, such as the one that had developed between Tino and the community, were somehow a barrier to administrative efficiency (even though there were many instances where this centrally-managed “efficiency” wound up needlessly costing quite a lot of money).

The director of recreation's quoted remarks suggested a lack of awareness of the uniqueness of Dufferin Grove's success. "Tino has done a great job there," he said. "But that's the case in every part of the city." I'm sorry to say that is not the case in every part of the city. Not every park can boast such a successful partnership between City staff and the community. In fact, the evidence is that such relationships are quite rare.

Moreover, the senior supervisor was quoted as saying, "The community doesn't make staffing decisions. That's my decision. We don't staff by consultation." This may be careless wording, but these remarks seemed to reveal a dismissive attitude towards the principle of community engagement that has been mandated by City Council. The community never requested a veto over staff decisions. But it believed, and still believes, that the local park supervisor should be able to form a good partnership with the community he or she serves. I think it is overly optimistic of anyone to suggest that this can be achieved "irrespective of staff moves."

I really don’t know why the Dufferin Grove community is still fighting this battle. After the uproar over Tino’s transfer, there were community meetings where senior parks staff insisted that no one was trying to destroy the uniqueness of Dufferin Grove. In September, there was an excellent report by the Metcalf Foundation that seemed to confirm everything the Friends of Dufferin Grove had been saying about the problems of centralization. This report was a founding document for Park People, the parks advocacy group. And then Rob Ford was elected, with his promise to cut away red tape and authoritarian, top-down policies. There was good reason to think that the Parks department, at long last, finally got it.

But now I hear that Parks staff are once again targeting Dufferin Grove’s locally-driven uniqueness simply because it is “anomalous” and “non-compliant” with some policy. Here we go again!

Councillor Bailão: surely the first rule here has to be protect what is working, especially when the Parks department seems unable to easily replicate such success elsewhere. For whatever reason, there persists a top-down culture at the senior levels of the Parks department that is unable or unwilling to treat parks as a local resource, responsible to local needs and priorities. The one-size-fits-all approach must stop.

L. C.wrote:

Ana Bailao's response to the changes at Dufferin Grove Park is typical of her reputation as a centrist. She's obviously playing both sides against the middle. Her explanation about how the changes are being driven by the union just doesn't ring true. Neither does her implication that she is powerless to intervene.

I asked a friend's brother who works for Parks and Recreation about what's going on. He didn't know the specifics of Dufferin Grove Park, other than to say that the City has always had it out for the way the park is run, but he did say that if the local Councillor wanted to intervene, she could easily stop most of the changes and negotiate a compromise. He said Councillors have "extraordinary powers" over things like the parks and roads in their wards. I'm sure that the union occasionally grumbles about the role of CELOS, as various Parks officials have for years. But Adam Giambrone always acted as a buffer against those naysayers, allowing the park to become the incredibly rich community resource that we all value. Moreover, CELOS operates with complete financial transparency and has always worked very well with the unionized staff, notwithstanding its occasional critique of the senseless rules governing the zambonis and other nominal union-related issues. Their strong support for part-time unionized staff during the last strike demonstrates that they are anything but union bashers.

Many of us supported Ana because she seemed very personable, she worked very hard to get elected, and Kevin Beaulieu seemed a little blah. And we heard that she had been very helpful towards Dufferin Grove park when she was Mario Silva's assistant. In retrospect, that may have been a terrible mistake. In less than two months, Davenport will have both a progressive MP (Andrew Cash) and a progressive MPP (Jonah Schein). There will be a powerful machine in place that can elect a Councillor with similar values, NDP or otherwise. If Ana Bailao doesn't stop waffling and refuses to put a halt to these awful changes, it will soon be time to start looking for a progressive candidate who will stand up for the park without making specious excuses. Of course, she's still relatively inexperienced so it's possible she hasn't learned how to navigate the system as skillfully as her predecessor. Perhaps she actually believes the claptrap they're throwing at her.

Will Ana Bailao be a one-term councillor whose legacy will be presiding over the destruction of one of the city's greatest treasures? Or a genuine leader who stands up to the technocrats and shows that she values community?

August 12 2011
A.M. wrote:

Thanks to Jutta for the relatively positive news about the park meeting between management, herself and the councillor who is clearly responding to the letters that have been written in support of maintaining the park programming as is. And thanks to Jutta for all she's done in developing this programming and fighting to maintain it.

And frankly, thank you to Councillor Bailao for responding to the community's concerns through the letter writing and taking a strong stand in support of the current park structure. Regarding Lisa's comments, I think she makes some good points about maintaining pressure on our elected officials to represent the wishes of the community. I think this will become increasingly important across the city as the current mayor continues his crusade to essentially destroy virtually everthing that is good about the city.

I do think there's a difference between community pressure and threats of a political machine unseating an elected official. If anyone has followed Councillor Bailao's voting record at city hall, she has voted with the progressive side of council on a majority of issues. I don't think Ana Bailao is the problem, and frankly, our little park is small potatos in the grand scheme of the current mayor and his cronies to unmake Toronto as we know it.

While I treasure Dufferin Grove, bike lanes and farmers markets, I'm frankly more concerned about the social, economic and political cost of the Ford revolution to our most vulnerable neighbours.

When Ford was elected I told anyone who would listen that despite Ford, the downtown would do just fine. Oh, we won't get as many bike lanes, and our farmers markets are threatened. But downtown Toronto is rich, mostly white and affluent and can ride out this storm. The real pain will be felt in the inner suburbs (Downsview, Rexdale, Malvern, Galloway, Weston) where there is real suffering and deprivation, and it's only going to get worse.

Full disclosure - I strongly supported Kevin Beaulieu in the last civic election because I thought he was an excellent candidate. Not blah at all, quite charming. However I am pleased with most of the positions our new councillor has taken and am willing to give her an opportunity to show what she can do for our community.

M.J. and L.M. wrote:

Dear Councillor, We have been patrons of Dufferin Grove Park since we moved to Dufferin and Davenport in 2003. WeLOVE the Friday Night Dinners, so tasty, so many new and old friends, tons of happy kids... we've brought countless numbers of friends and family to the dinners to enjoy as well.

In the winter we skate and enjoy the dinners. We've never found a place in Toronto that has such a feeling of community and family. Why would the city want to punish us? Shouldn't we strive to have more parks like Dufferin Grove? Don't we want to keep teenagers busy w/ activities, promote volunteering, feed people w/ lower incomes such as seniors, artists, the underemployed and single mothers etc?

There must be some lawyer concerned about "risks" and wants to cover the city's ass but the city is ours too and we love this little corner of happiness and civility. We need places like this in north Toronto, east Toronto and beyond. No one would dislike this park. It's not costing or hurting any 'taxpayer", which we are as well, by the way.

Please help fight for our park. We won't forget it.

From Recreation Supervisor Wendy Jang to K.H.'s August 9 letter

I have been asked to respond to your letter to Councillor Giorgio Mammolitti regarding Dufferin Grove Park.

The City values the involvement and contributions of the local community in making Dufferin Grove a vibrant and busy park. To date, the City has made a unique investment in Dufferin Grove Park by providing significant recreation staff resources all year round. This supports a very high level of community engagement that contributes to making Dufferin Grove such a special place.

I would like to clarify the point that you made about $190,000 a year that is raised through programming and "is put towards the parks budget"; and your statement that "these services raise so much money towards the park operations." The monies collected at Dufferin Grove for snack bar and food cart products, Friday Night Suppers, pizza days and campfire rentals are collected by CELOS, a local community organization, and deposited into the CELOS private banking accounts. Starting in May 2011, some of the campfire rental donations have been deposited with the City, but otherwise, the Parks budget has not been a beneficiary of any funds raised at this site. We are working with CELOS to transition the food activities to a Parks, Forestry and Recreation operated program.

The City has not changed any of the programs at the Dufferin Grove site, nor are there any plans to reduce the programming: the wading pool, playground and sand pit, pizza oven, campfires, Farmer's Market and Friday Night Suppers will continue for the normal seasonal operation. City staff will continue to support the programs at the same levels experienced in the past.

Some changes to staff schedules and assignments were made prior to the summer to ensure that the City was in compliance with the Collective Agreement that the City has with CUPE Local 79. Staffing changes were made without any change to the programming as scheduled.

As with all City services and partnership agreements, we continuously review and improve our operations to ensure they are well-managed and well-run. Because the relationship with the community has grown organically over the years, we are working to ensure we deliver on the activities in the park with clear expectations, roles and responsibilities for staff and partners.

We are pleased to know that you and your family love the park and the park programming. We hope to continue to engage you in a conversation about the park and parks services, and I invite you to contact me directly if you wish further information about the programs.

Thank you for your interest in Parks, Forestry and Recreation services.

From K.H. to Wendy Jang,

Regardless of how the money is tracked, the work done by CELOS and money raised is returned into the park and has made it an exceptional place.

I would like to clarify your point that the city not changed the programs of the park. They have indeed changed the programming at the park. There has been no Cob Cafe since Aug. 1. Changing the location of the cafe has dramatically changed the feeling and ease of the wading pool and playground area. Families must now pack up and trek over to the fieldhouse to get their healthy snacks. This has also removed a social hub from the playground/wading pool area. From what I understand, this has also led to a drop in revenues for the cafe.

I really do appreciate you responding to the letter. If there are no plans to change the park programming, I suggest you host some public meetings to explain the changes that are being made. There is a sense of panic among users that your intention is to dismantle the lovely parts of the park. This was reinforced by the closing of the cob cafe. I would love to see more transparency on behalf of city management.

Best regards,

August 13 2011
From Jutta Mason to Wendy Jang:

Hello Wendy,

Your e-mail response to Kendra Hawke was forwarded to me from several sources. It contains some misleading information that is important to clear up. CELOS (The Centre for Local Research into Public Space) is a registered charity and therefore subject to quite a bit of oversight. The idea that the funds raised through food, skate lending and other programs are "deposited into the CELOS private banking accounts" makes us sound a little sticky, don't you think? You might want to have a look at our public web posts about where the funds go:

There is a little more detail in this table:, although sadly we've been so busy we haven't had a chance to update it since 2008. However, you could find out quite a bit more if you feel like reading through the Dufferin Grove newsletters archives:, and also the most recent one: I think you'll see that at Dufferin Grove Park, funds that are raised are used as a medium of exchange to support the wonderful diversity of community gifts that make the park so lively.

As for the Parks budget not being "a beneficiary of any funds raised at this site" -- it's good to clarify that you're referring to the PFR $360 million operating budget that comes mainly from our taxes, citywide. If you look from a more local point of view of what funds were made directly available for Dufferin Grove, then the funds that CELOS has helped to raise (through our long-term cooperative relations with city staff) are indeed part of the budget. This particular way of increasing the funds available for an economically mixed neighbourhood like ours, without using up more taxes, is kind of interesting in the present context, don't you think?

Since you are now the supervisor responsible for recreation activities at Dufferin Grove, I think it would be helpful if you did a little more background reading on what goes on there, starting with the links above. I also highly recommend the community letters, which you may find helpful for your understanding:

August 15 2011
S.W. wrote:

I have been a resident of little Portugal/little Italy for the past six years.

I am concerned about potential changes to the programming activities at Dufferin Grove park due to so called park 'anomalies'.

I have been going to Dufferin Grove park for several years - this past May I celebrated my 31st birthday with a campfire at Dufferin Grove park. The staff were so amazingly helpful in training me on how to handle the fire and put it out at the end of the evening as well as on the day of the campfire - two or three staff (or volunteers, not sure which) came by throughout the evening and made sure everything was going well and that we had everything we needed. My friends and I had a great time eating sausages, corn and smores under the beautiful trees in the park. Many of my friends said that the campfire was such a great idea and it was great that the park allowed people to enjoy campfires in the city! For people that don't have cottages or the ability to leave the city, this campfire was a real treat. A few of us said that the campfire was the highlight of their summer and I hope to host another one in the fall. If no decisions are made regarding the programs at Dufferin Grove by then, I invite you to come join us and see how fun and what a unique experience it is for people living in the city.

Long story short, is that me and my friends do not want to see Dufferin Grove lose the campfires! The park is such a gem in the city, it would be a real shame that it would have to lose its unique character.

S.C. wrote:

I owe lots to Dufferin Grove. It's helped make me into the person I am today. The activities going on there also account for a large portion of what I love about Toronto. The current news about what the city is doing to the park breaks my heart. I really don't know what I'd do if the amazing community joy that has been created over the years was destroyed by bureaucracy. Please give the city back to its citizens!

August 19, 2011 copied from Facebook:
R.R. wrote [about the "Sleep-in"]:

A good idea might be not only to invite the local councillor(s), but ANY others (left, mushy middle, or even pro-Forders having second thoughts) to join in the fun and to network with the community that actually uses this terrific park.

D.A. responded:

I find the "mushy middle" and "left-right" labels a big part of this whole problem, and I believe thinking in these terms is a barrier to resolving it. As a one-time bureaucrat (6 years with the province under Rae and Harris), I completely... understand how a Ford or a Harris come to power: many people are frustrated with needlessly expensive, centralized, top-heavy, self-serving bureaucracies, bloated with the likes of Wendy Jiang. There are many Wendy Jiangs up there, and while Harris was able to increase the dire circumstances of poor kids and brutalize Indians, he never did touch the Wendy Jiangs. Why? because the left tied the fight to a dogmatic focus on resisting Harris rather than asking why he got elected. The right dug in its heels, and the middle was admittedly mushy. The answer is a very firm middle that answers to the inherent truths hidden in the rigid left (social justice, etc.) and the rigid right (slash the bloated bureaucracies at the higher levels who exist to make their own lives easier and the lives of communities more difficult and complicated). If this gets framed this as an anti-Ford, anti-cuts agenda (remember the guy got a lot of support, and there must be a reason), the fight will be a relatively isolated one. If it can be played in the media as exactly the issue that got Ford elected - expensive self-serving bureaucracy) - then there could be some significant pressure brought to bear from all along the political spectrum. I for one, being firmly in the middle, have no interest in standing with an "anti-Ford" "anti-cuts" agenda or crowd. But if you want to talk about using this issue to highlight how we get rid of the Jiangs by at least half and insisting the ones left over work for the communities (not to mention their 100k salaries) rather than oppressing them, I'll be there.

Belinda Cole wrote, August 25, 2011


I count myself very lucky to have raised my kids so close to the Dufferin-hub parks for the past 7 years.

Aside from enjoying the park, I have also worked for a long time as a part-time contract researcher for CELOS, looking at the laws and policies that get in the way of the parks running so well. From this position, I'd like to throw out a few brainstorming suggestions to add to the discussion about where to go from here.

I’m responding to the situation that Kelvin has detailed in his very helpful letter above – the fact that local city staff cannot continue to do what they do so well to run our four parks - in the face of specific policies passed by City Councils since amalgamation.

For some time now, CELOS has been urging Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division to take over the food and skate lending programs at Dufferin, Wallace, Campbell and MacGregor parks. However, it is becoming clear that under the existing city policies the parks department cannot run the parks in the flexible, innovative ways that local parks staff have continually adapted over the last 20 years. The policies are “one size fits all” and designed for large institutional contexts. They simply don't fit in our neighbourhood-based, small-scale context.

So, I think what we need now is to ask our city councillors and Mayor to enter into an agreement to launch a 2 - 3 year local governance pilot project.

The aim of the agreement would be to suspend the city policies Kelvin describes, as they are applied to these four parks, during the period of the pilot project. Many of these policies have been added fairly recently; they are themselves an experiment. Suspending them for the project area would allow CELOS and local city staff at the four parks to demonstrate how to meet the aims of these city policies in an alternative, small-scale, inexpensive, constantly innovative ways.

Perhaps CUPE Union locals 79 and 416 would have an interest in the pilot - to look at win-win situations of keeping competent, resourceful employees – while bringing the missing third party – the public for whom the city provides services – into the discussions.

University of Indiana political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for her work on “Governing the Commons,” has lots to say about the factors that make groups like the park work. This pilot in local governance would draw on her knowledge and experience.

Some initial thoughts about some of the key elements we might like to see in the agreement:


  • build on the long-time track record of how the four parks work so well for the people who use them - the welcoming, neighbourly focus, broad competence, resourcefulness and versatility of local city staff, and Elinor Ostrom's list of criteria about what makes these kinds of arrangements work
  • leave space to continue to adapt the practical arrangements that make the parks work while addressing the requirements set out in applicable laws and honouring the spirit of city policies (park safety for park users and city staff, respecting employment standards, proven small-scale, flexible, transparent, accountable cash handling arrangements, minimizing city liability, etc)
  • document the experience of the pilot as a model for:
    • 1) running other city parks and public amenities,
    • 2) accessible, publicly transparent and accountable local governance and city budgeting on a small-scale

Goals: To reach an agreement to launch a local governance pilot that:

- reflects and makes space for local staff to continue the actual arrangements and local budgeting decisions (within the existing city allocated budget) that have worked so well in the four parks

- showcases CELOS' “third way” of fundraising to fund enhanced park programming, far beyond what is offered in most city parks

- provides the city with the real costs of running each of the four parks as a model for accessible, publicly transparent and accountable local government and city budgeting

- opts out of the city policies that make it impossible to do what works at the four Ward 18 parks – instead, we go with our proven local accountability measures that meet the purposes and objects of the City of Toronto Act

- provides direct City oversight from subset of city councillors and supervisory staff chosen on their track record of flexibility, innovation and working with local neighbourhoods

- continues to respond in practical ways to address actual and reasonably foreseeable harms and liability based on documented hard evidence available for public evaluation and discussion

- is written in clear, everyday language

Hopefully, we'll have a chance to talk to one another about some of these ideas and all of the others that neighbours and parks friends have written about - maybe at Friday's sleep-in and other Friday night suppers in Dufferin Park. I look forward to seeing you there.

Belinda Cole
The Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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