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Letters to the Councillors

Jutta Mason wrote to the chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee:

Dear Councillor Davis,

A year ago (February 2009) I came to see you, about various concerns including the issue of all the recreation supervisors being moved. You may recall that I brought you a copy of a letter of appeal to Brenda Patterson, asking her not to go in this direction. Neither my visit to you, nor attempts to appeal to management, prevented the situation from getting steadily worse. For that reason I am now presenting my concerns publicly, including in the park newsletter, and have sent the letter below to the ombudsman.

By the way, the issue of the board of management rinks is closely related to our concerns.

D. R. wrote to Councillor Pantalone's assistant:

Thanks, M. I'm glad to hear of Joe's support... that's why we love him as our Councillor!

Hopefully we can keep Dufferin Grove at the wonderful level it has been for so many years. Of course, we love Trinity Bellwoods Park also, and I'm glad to hear that the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods might have some influence over that rink eventually too!

J. M. wrote:

p.s. I have cc'd Joe Mihevc, our own hard-working city councillor, in the hopes that he will get involved to whatever extent he can in helping keep this park - an amazing free resource quite essential to many of his constituents - as free and amazing as possible.

Dear Ms Crean:

It's come to my attention that one of our family's most beloved Toronto spaces, Dufferin Grove Park, is in danger of losing its autonomy, placing its lively and creative relationship with surrounding communities in jeopardy.

Dufferin Grove Park could perhaps be seen as almost a model of what an urban park ought to be: in an ideal central location serving many regions of the city, it seeks to involve a highly participatory community while fostering great working relationships with local artistic production companies, organic food vendors. This park pulls off so many diverse endeavours it sometimes boggles the mind. As anyone who's been there can attest, visiting Dufferin Grove Park is a totally different experience every single time.

Yet while this park could serve as a role model, it is a model which I also believe could never be successfully applied in many areas around the GTA: in a more suburban region, for example, or one with less desirable transit routes, an entirely different model should apply.

It is my fear that in standardizing parks within Toronto, the city will - let's face it; clumsily - remove key individuals who have helped to foster these essential community relationships and place leadership of the park in the hands of those who live elsewhere and do not understand fully its particular assets.

I truly believe we ought to strive to become the "City within a Park," as the Parks, Forestry and Recreation slogan claims. And if that is the case, I believe the parks' needs - each park's unique and special requirements - must always come first.

Thanks for listening,

D. R. wrote to the Mayor, Councillors and the ombudsperson, Feb 17:

Dear Mayor, Councillors and Ombudsperson

Please don't change the community-driven and community-building way in which the Dufferin Grove park and rink are currently organized. I don't know what happened in Leaside, but you would be throwing out one of the City's best examples of civic cooperation if you force Dufferin Grove and all other rinks into the same straitjacket.

I actually live closer to the Trinity Bellwoods rink -- it's a sad rink in comparison to Dufferin Grove -- and rarely go there. First of all, it's difficult to get accurate information on when "free" skating time is from the annoying, impersonal automatic telephone recording, and secondly, "free" skating is rare, making it a rink I don't use with my child. At Dufferin Grove, children of all ages come from across the city to skate anytime; and there is always a game of shinny going on the second pad. In addition, there is nothing to draw community members to the Trinity Bellwoods rink in the winter. It remains underused, except by hockey playing teens and young men, for the most part, which is good, but doesn't appeal to the whole community.

In other words, having more official city control doesn't always mean good things for the community.

As a member of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund Investment Committee, I know how important volunteer and citizen involvement is to the City. Rinks like Dufferin Grove thrive on that energy, making the city parks an inviting place for people of all sorts.

Please use Dufferin Grove as a model for how other rinks could evolve to attract more community members. Send staff to study it and replicate it elswhere, rather than closing down the elements that are so needed for people and families who are isolated enough in our busy, urban centres. (Also, please send us back our rink supervisor! Tony was great to work with, though we hope we can build a relationship with the new person too.)

DON"T mess with what works!!!!!! PLEASE resist centralization and bureaucratization -- let local, creative, innovative, community-based events blossom and flourish as they are and work to create more, not less of this in our city.

E. L. wrote:

Dear Fiona Crean, Ombudsman of Toronto, Councillor Davis, Brenda Patterson, and Sue Corke,

Why, and for what logical reason whatsoever, does the City of Toronto want to take away staff from a magical, inclusive, special place like Dufferin Grove Park, and stop them from supporting and engaging an officially 'at risk, priority and vulnerable community' in the Davenport Riding? Why, when a group of people, such as Jutta Mason, and Anna Galati, create such a creative, vibrant community hub, does the City of Toronto want to lessen community involvement in a park which is a bright light in the center of our city? This is one of the most active and beautiful inner city parks I have ever seen, and it is because of the work of its staff.

Dufferin Grove, and all its events, makes the City of Toronto great, and builds community in the most positive ways- through art, healthy food, and sport. Those who work at Dufferin Grove Park have done much to create outreach for the farmer's community, to encourage healthy and sustainable lifestyles, and to engage all kinds of children in Ward 18, for those who live Toronto to enjoy our city a little more each day.

Please allow Dufferin Grove to continue to thrive, grow, and support community members in the Davenport Riding and beyond. In the Davenport Riding, asthma and morbidity rates are among the highest in Canada due to air quality and poverty, and each day, when I see children skating on the rink, playing in the sandpit, or families attending farmer's markets, is a day that those statistics lessen because of Dufferin Grove providing an example of alternate, healthy lifestyles to affect change in our community.

Please don't break what is not broken, and what does many constituents a world of good to level the playing field for children and adults of all socioeconomic status to teach them how to build a sustainable, constructive community. Dufferin Grove has gone from a very dangerous place to become a beloved, overflowing, active park because of their hard work, and a place for many different cultures to meet and congregrate.

J. B. wrote, Feb 19:

To Councillor Janet Davis, Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee

I am alarmed at reports that senior PFR staff are seeking to implement what appears to be a fast food franchise model of parks management ( Under such a model, it would become more difficult for the community to work directly with local park supervisors to create innovative programs without first going through a mountain of red tape. This policy is being undertaken despite the concerns of the local councillor, Adam Giambrone, as well as the opposition of the Dufferin Grove community. What mandate or authority is there for a policy that could threaten the vitality of this very special park?

On May 15, 2009, City Council received a PFR report that sought "approval for the principles of equitable access, quality, inclusion and capacity building as a foundation for the development of a City-wide, multi-year Recreation Service Plan." The report defines "capacity building" as the creation of programs that "create a sense of community, belonging, and vitality." The report's proposed work plan promised that "a strategy to engage staff, key stakeholders, and the broader community in the development of the Service Plan will take place over the next several months."

Nine months later, no such community engagement has taken place at Dufferin Grove. Instead, there seems to be a strategy of community disengagement. The sudden reassignment of the park supervisor who worked most closely with the neighbourhood appears to contradict the principle of community engagement that was mandated by City Council. I understand that other local park supervisors have been inexplicably reassigned as well.

City Council is debating the rink time allocation issue at its meeting on Monday. This is an opportunity for City Council to clarify the mandate of PFR, preserving local control of the city's parks and rinks. Council should direct PFR to seek strong, direct relationships with the local community, and to welcome local experimentation in the pursuit of program excellence. PFR should interpret the goal of "consistent processes and methodologies" (under the proposed Recreation Service Plan principles) in a way that encourages the spread of successful experiments, and not in a way that discourages such experimentation.

The worthy pursuit of gender equality and access must not be allowed to become a Trojan Horse for needless centralization and bureaucracy.

A. B. wrote to Mayor of the City of Toronto, Feb 23, 2010

Your Worship, Mayor Miller,

I am writing to you as a resident and a concerned citizen of Ward 18. You are undoubtedly aware of the current controversy regarding the recreation supervisor for Dufferin Grove Park, Tino DeCastro, who has been a valuable member of the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Department for decades, working hard on behalf of the residents of Davenport. You are most likely also aware that despite the public outcry, the department of Parks, Forestry, and Recreation has indicated that they will not reconsider their decision to move Tino to another position , and bring a new recreation supervisor for our area, and the city ombudsman has refused to get involved, citing a lack of mandate. I am writing to you today in the hope that you will choose to get involved in this issue, and help ensure that Tino can continue to work with area residents to make Dufferin Grove Park the vibrant community hub that it has become.

For over two decades, Tino has worked closely with the community to build a unique community gathering place – the kind of place you see less and less in this city. As the Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter put it this weekend, “Dufferin Park is exceptional. It should be the model for the rest of the city. There's a formula here – the happy combination of an involved community and a welcoming staff willing to form relationships and work together. Those things take time. They aren't measured on an accountant's spreadsheet.”

I understand that it would be exceptional for the Mayor of Toronto to get involved in staffing decisions at a local park, but I believe that this situation is exceptional, and I believe your involvement would be a signal about the kind of city you built and hope to leave behind.

In your inaugural speech in 2003, you said, “The great urban thinker Jane Jacobs has always understood this -- that it is not roads, monuments, or office towers that are the central building blocks of cities -- it is our neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods are what make this city great. We must value what is distinct about our neighbourhoods, recognize that which has value beyond its cost.”

The situation at Dufferin Grove Park is an opportunity for you to live up to your own words. I encourage you to take it.

I would be delighted to discuss this important issue further with you, or more appropriately, to have you visit Dufferin Grove Park and see for yourself what the impact of this decision will be.

K. S. wrote, Feb 25, 2010

Dear Councillor Davis,

I copied you last week on a letter I sent regarding Parks strategy as it relates to Dufferin Grove. Having read Catherine Porter's article on what has been happening in other parks, I am getting REALLY concerned. I'm guessing (hoping) that the folks who fight of each of these individual battles may win them, but what about future programming and the chill it will place on anyone who wants to start something new? What are the benefits of homogenization of service relative to those of place- and community-based organizing that seeks ways to maximize the value of local parks in ways that make sense to that particular community? Surely any costs to the city are more than balanced by the volunteer resources leveraged and the benefit to the department in reaching what I hope is its big-picture goal of creating vibrant and well-used parks.

I refer you to the recently-released Toronto Food Strategy to consider the recommendations that have been made about parks' potential for positive impact on food security in Toronto-- be it as sites for community gardens, bake ovens or markets. I hope that this strategy will eventually help to guide policies in a number of departments, including Parks and Rec. In the meantime, I suggest that this standardization strategy be halted before it kills the fragile community initiatives that are contributing so much to our communities.

A. M. wrote, Feb 25, 2010

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I am writing to express my concern of recent changes in policy, processes direction and management relations in the relationship between the Parks and Recreation Department and the community volunteers and Friends of Dufferin Grove Park and Friends of Christie Pitts Park.

A park can be an unwatched, quiet, dark, place to sell and use drugs and a hide-out for criminals and vandals, as Dufferin Grove Park was 15 years ago. Or it can be a well-maintained haven for children, a focus of community, a centre of sports, art, learning, environmental stewardship and commerce and general fun as it is now. It is community groups and volunteers, through co-operation with the Parks and Recreation Department that have transformed this Park. Similar transformations have been occuring at Christie Pitts.

Beyond the clear social value of creating a communal public space and safe area to be and play, there is great economic value to the city from the way this park has been run. When there are community dinners, arts events and sports events in the park most nights, there is no place for criminals and drug dealers. This means less cost for policing and park clean up, higher property values in the area (more tax base). It has also led to more people spending time in the area, increasing the customers at local stores and malls. There is also the untold benifit of providing recreation to children and teens who might not otherwise get it. It may save the city much if they have alternatives to dangerous or risky behaviour.

The kind of neighbourhood cooperation and community created, where Park Staff bake pizzas for volunteer-organized community dinners or clean ice for community led hockey tournamants is an example the kind of modern city Toronto sees itself as and markets itself to the world as.

Please ensure that this city stays forward-thinking and protect these important programs from turf wars, short-term politics or petty fights.

Response from Councillor Janet Davis, chair, Community Development and Recreation Committee, March 1, 2010

Thank you for your e-mail with respect to staffing changes in Dufferin Grove Park. I appreciate the important role that our City staff members play in delivering services to the community.

As Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, I understand the important role that front-line recreation staff play in "making it work" at recreation centres and parks across this City. I also know that these staff members become part of the community and will be dearly missed when they move on. However, from time to time it is necessary to make changes as staff get promoted or are moved around in order to provide excellent service to residents throughout the City.

I understand that this recent move may cause some concern, but I believe that the dynamic life of Dufferin Grove, along with the many parks and recreation facilities across the City, will be sustained regardless of the individual in the position. The strength of the community contributions and engagement at Dufferin Grove will ensure that the new recreation staff values the contributions of the community just as highly, and continues to make things work for this amazing park.

I understand that the new staff will be meeting with the various community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. These new staff members will continue to foster the many connections and relationships that are integral to ensuring our services continue to be meaningful, responsive and reflective of community needs.

Response from Councillor Adam Giambrone, March 1, 2010

Dear Concerned Resident,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the staffing changes at Dufferin Grove.

I believe strongly in nurturing community engagement in our parks and I was concerned to find out about Parks and Recreation's decision to reassign many Recreation staff around the city to new locations. Over the years, our local Recreation Supervisor has done a great job of fostering a spirit of community partnership and facilitating the development of exciting and creative community programs at Dufferin Grove and other parks in Ward 18.

I have spoken to the City Manager and the General Manager of Parks & Recreation directly about this issue. From an organizational perspective, I have been informed that a regular movement of staff is necessary to address a number of issues, and that often, such changes are mutually beneficial to the community, employees and the organization. However, I continue to believe that in this case the community would be better served by having the staff member under discussion stay in place. That said, the new staff for the area should be in contact with local community groups and organizations soon, in order to ensure the connections and relationships formed by the previous staff member stay strong.

Our parks and community centers should be places where our communities are invited into their public spaces and encouraged to develop community partnerships to create new, creative and exciting community programs and initiatives. The City would do well to take a close look at parks and community centers where these kinds of initiatives and partnerships are already happening and look at how these sorts of models can be encouraged and nurtured all over Toronto. I have already begun conversations with my Council colleagues and the Mayor's office about the impacts these proposed changes at the Recreation Department will have on our communities and neighbourhoods and I will continue to do so.

I can assure you that I will continue to do everything possible to ensure that all of the wonderful community activities, programming and engagements at the park are protected, irregardless of this change in staff.

Yours truly,

Adam Giambrone Toronto City Councillor Ward 18 Davenport Chair, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)

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