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posted December 10, 2006

Editorial: This Park Now Involves 12 Supervisors

Exactly three years ago, at the time of the 2003 election, Parks and Recreation announced a complete restructuring. The new system would be “structure by function” rather than by location, and it involved an alarming number of separate lines of responsibility, all running to centralized managers downtown. At that time, I prepared an analysis of the new structure and sent it to many councillors. I also gave it to Jane Jacobs, whom newly-elected Mayor David Miller had appointed to a committee of transition advisors. Jane read the analysis and then put the document into Mayor Miller hands personally, telling him that the new system was bad for neighbourhoods, and to please read the analysis. He didn’t have time, but other councillors were concerned about the plans too, and persuaded the mayor to delay the change. So the restructuring was delayed for two years while Parks and Recreation did more consultation.

But in the end, the system was installed in almost the identical form. So now we have to live with it. What it means is that, depending on the issue, Dufferin Grove Park has to deal with the following twelve management staff:

1. Active living supervisor – certification-type sports in the park, e.g. skating classes;

2. Customer Service supervisor – e.g. permits for the rink, soccer, etc., events;

3. Aquatics supervisor – who staffs the wading pool and what goes on there;

4. Youth supervisor - e.g. all matters relating to youth workers, policies affecting youth, the Youth garden;

5. Forestry supervisor – e.g. tree-planting and maintenance;

6. Recreation supervisor – supervisor for existing staff and supposed to be the “quarterback” for issues that need to go elsewhere;

7. Parks supervisor – maintenance of the outdoor parts of the park, responsibility (in part) for the Foodshare gardens and the bio-toilet project;

8. By-law enforcement supervisor – farmers’ market, dogs;

9. Community development manager – interface between the community and “neighbourhood teams”;

10. Facilities supervisor – rink house and field house repairs and maintenance including the Trades;

11. Technical services supervisor – rink compressor plant maintenance, painters and electricians (outdoor park repairs).

12. Rink supervisor – rink ice maintenance.

Back in 2003, Jane Jacobs asked the mayor to let me talk to him about why this complex and centralized kind of structure makes it harder for neighbourhoods to care for their parks. But he never did, and last year when I asked him again, to let me talk to him for only half an hour about parks, he turned me down. You can’t blame him, really – he has a huge city to run and why should he listen to just one person?

But in fact, many more than one person cares about what happens in parks. And Dufferin Grove is a kind of ‘mine canary’ for other parks. Trouble for us often signals trouble for other parks too. An example: recently the park staff here were told that all campfire permits have to be booked centrally and will cost $53.30 each. Then we heard that campfire permits can’t happen at all anymore, in any parks.

Campfires are a wonderful way for people to get to know each other, for neighbours and friends to come together, and – big side-effect – for parks to be safer at night. People at other parks want them too – this is not the moment to cut them. So the new ruling got alarm bells ringing. With the help of Tino Decastro (Recreation Supervisor), his Recreation Manager Kelvin Seow, and Councillor Giambrone’s office, the campfires were saved. They are now slotted as a community-building program instead of another way to charge people fees: $53.50 for adding something good to their parks. A helpful clarification, for other parks as well!

1. that our neighbourhood parks are a treasure that’s meant to be more like a community commons than a golden goose for permit fees.

2. that the new centralized structure needs to be adapted to local circumstances.

3. that this is not the opinion of only one person.

Canadians famously don’t like to complain, and that’s wonderful, but this next term of City Council is the time to let the councillors know when the Parks structure is causing a problem. (That’s not complaining, that’s feedback.) Councillor Paula Fletcher is the new chair of the Parks and Environment Committee, and she seems to understand the particular role of urban parks in strengthening neighbourhoods. We’ll invite her and the other councillors on that committee to the Outdoor Ice Rink Handbook launch at the December 15 Friday Night Supper, and maybe hear a bit more about their priorities for parks. Beyond that, I’ll be looking around for people who are willing to contact their local Councillor on behalf of parks. We might as well try. (Send your ideas to:

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