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posted March 15, 2004

Friends of Dufferin Grove Park
by Jutta Mason

There is a not-well-defined group called "Friends of Dufferin Grove Park" that's busy in and around the park. It started with four people in 1993, and over the years it's picked up between 80 and 100 people. There are no membership cards, nor a fee. We don't have a mission statement. We rarely have meetings (the nature of open space is that people are talking to each other enough that most of the issues are talked about as the occasion arises).

The goal is to establish public space as a place where people in a neighbourhood can come to know each other, as little or as much as they want. The programs are mainly ones that other people -- all sorts -- bring to the park (dance, theater, stories, sports, music, whatever). My objective, my full-time hobby, is to remove blocks to such gifts to the neighbourhood. Somebody asked us what our "target population" is (tsk tsk, such language, targets are what you hit with weapons!). It is, quite simply, everyone in the neighbourhood. That means that the bad guys don't get squeezed out when they're acting good, and the middle class don't get humoured when they're acting bad. But the order of the day is "everyone welcome."

Finances are somewhat precarious but not terrible, patched together between park budget allocation and food sales.

Governance is: whoever shows up and hangs around has influence. So there are very many degrees of influence, mine obviously the largest at the moment, but entirely informal.

And because we have influence on who gets hired by the parks department to work at our park, the many part-time staff we've had over the years have all been remarkable and unusual in their way. Lately they tend to be young people in their twenties (sometimes older, a few younger) who are interested in the nature of public space. Some are school dropouts and some have more than an undergraduate degree. Many of them consider the park as part of their life education and they're therefore willing to work, often quite hard, at very low wages. They always move on eventually (a study of park alumni would be pretty interesting) and then new folks come along. They have lots of stories to tell.

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