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News 2013


From the November 2013 Newsletter:

Playgrounds – the pendulum starts swinging back

On November 5, there was a free one-day symposium in at the Montreal Hilton Bonaventure Hotel, on the subject of “Risky Play.” Professors and recreation managers and landscape designers and epidemiologists were assembled to speak to the subject.

Their general theme was that play needs to be risky if it is to hold the interest of children and help them learn competencies they will need to live well. During the presentations, the audience – many of them from agencies which promote compliance with current playground safety rules – sometimes seemed to be in state of disbelieving shock. Small children should be allowed to climb on the playhouse roof in their daycare centre? Trees should be planted in the play yard so the kids can climb higher? 8-year-olds should be provided with carving tools and balsa wood? What?

A Norwegian child-development researcher reported on Norway’s “Nature daycares,” located literally in the forests, at the edges of cities and towns. She said that the waiting lists to get into such daycares is huge. She showed video clips of young children climbing real cliffs, balancing on tree limbs, playing games of combat with long sticks. The children’s play injury rate in Norway, she said, is one of the lowest in the world. In contrast to the Norway examples, a landscape architect who teaches at UBC reported on research she and her students had done. They timed the use of new CSA-compliant play equipment by daycare children in Vancouver. They found that the equipment was not used by the children 87% of the time. The children found it boring.

CSA stands for “Canadian Standards Association,” which has a large membership of manufacturers. Beginning in 1999, Toronto’s parks managers arranged for the removal and replacement of play structures citywide, to comply with the CSA’s new playground standards. Although these manufacturers’ standards are not in any law, Toronto spent over $6 million on their “CSA compliance program,” and since then the installation of new CSA-approved structures continues all over the city. Some of the new structures are manufactured in Ontario (in or near Paris, Ontario), giving employment to workers in an otherwise economically depressed area. But much of the equipment is bought from large international companies which in turn are bought and sold by global financial giants, with profits as their focus. Not a pretty picture, but interesting.

As many parents know, most of the shiny new park playground structures don’t hold the attention of kids beyond the toddler stage for very long. Disconcertingly, injury reports on these structures actually seem to be on the rise. The message at the Risky Play symposium was – it’s time to take another look. Maybe a few broken arms or legs on monkey bars is better than preventing a whole generation of children from the enjoyment of testing their arm strength. Maybe replacing horizontal wooden railings with pointy pickets, to prevent kids from climbing and balancing, actually leads to more injuries, as children will climb no matter what – and pickets are much more difficult and more likely to make children fall. Maybe encouraging children to gain competence early and gradually leads to safer behaviour, and the pleasure involved in risky play leads to happy confidence in place of an anxious stance toward the world. For more on this story:

From the August 2013 Newsletter:

The leaning trees in the adventure playground: finally removed before they fell over

For much of July, kids and parents using the sandpit at the playground wondered, a bit anxiously, whether the two big trees that were leaning into the playground would fall over like two others did earlier this summer. Parents kept asking the playground program staff about the trees. The program staff sent requests and photos to their supervisor: “can City Foresters cut those trees down before somebody gets hurt?” City Forestry staff came by and marked the two trees with orange dots to show they were on the list for removal, but that was in mid-July. Some playground users said that by the end of July the trees were leaning more than before – and still there was no action. Two requests from CELOS went unanswered. A neighbour posted a sign on the worst tree: BEWARE: THIS TREE IS LIKELY THE NEXT TO FALL DOWN.

Since there was still no response from City Forestry by the Civic Holiday weekend, the question was: what to do?

In conversations at the sandpit, some of the kids remembered the sound when the first tree came down in late June: “it sounded like balloons bursting, three bangs, pop, pop, pop, and then a big crash, but we ran away before it hit us.” So the question arose from some parents– should there be some kind of practice drill for the kids in the playground, a bit like the air raid drills in wartime Europe? – just to make sure they run in the right direction?

The question was only half facetious.

Somebody else said they had a friend with a chain saw, accustomed to taking down trees. “Should we ask him to just come and cut the trees down before they fall?” But the city would probably have sent a bylaw officer to fine him – citizens are not supposed to cut down trees in public space, under any circumstances.

Finally on August 7, city foresters came to cut down the trees. A relief.

The waiting period did raise some interesting questions. Who looks after the commons, only city staff or also the people who use the park? How much responsibility should park users take on themselves if there is no action when a danger arises? When does obedience to city rules and policies defeat common sense?

The questions are not easy to answer, but they need asking.

From the August 2013 Newsletter:

City Councillor Norm Kelly visits Dufferin Grove Park

On August 1, Toronto’s new deputy mayor and his wife were sighted near the adventure playground. The councillor told a park user who recognized him that he loved to see the playground with the kids building dams and bridges, playing with shovels and water. That’s a hopeful sign that the Scarborough councillor may be opening his mind a little: a welcome change. Back in November 2011, Councillor Kelly was the head of the Parks Committee. The committee was considering the new Bake Oven Policy that Parks management had devised. Dufferin Grove’s most knowledgeable baker staff, Anna Bekerman, tried to explain how bake ovens work, and why the policy would be bad for park ovens. Councillor Kelly harshly told her to be silent: front-line staff are not allowed to speak at committee meetings. The new policy was passed, and since then most park ovens get very little use. (This is not true for the Dufferin Grove ovens, “grandfathered” under the old rules.) Councillor Kelly also holds the view that citizens must pay extra fees for all “active” use of the parks (e.g. playing soccer or baseball, using bake ovens, having social gatherings, making music). Hopefully the kids digging in the playground won’t become part of the “active” category.

From the August 2013 Newsletter:

Park equipment maintenance gets help from CELOS

1. The special accessible swing at the playground: over the last four year, accessible swings have been installed all over the city. They get very little use from special-needs children, and we recently found out why. The staff at Safehaven (a respite centre for disabled children, on Bloor and Brock) bring the children to the park every week. They told us that the accessible swing is missing a harness to keep kids from falling out. The City has now been made aware of the absence of harnesses on their swings. There’s a plan to replace all the accessible swings citywide with a different model that includes a harness. But that may take a long time, and throwing away all the existing swings seems like a waste. In the meantime, park friend and skilled seamstress Gretel Meyer-Odell is working on a harness that can be adapted to the existing swing. An anonymous park friend donated the funds for the materials.

2. the basketball meshes: it used to be that the cookie money paid for basketball meshes when they needed replacement. Now there’s a system of central ordering instead, but the new meshes are very cheap and they start to fray after only a week. So CELOS has replaced them with the better kind of mesh (from Wal-mart!), and those meshes have been holding well.

From the Summer 2013 Newsletter:

Wading pools in Dufferin Grove Park and MacGregor Park

The wading pools at Dufferin Grove Park and MacGregor Park, like all the city’s other wading pools, will be run centrally by young staff without any links to other programs going on in the park. These staff seldom come from the neighbourhood but are sent all over, without enough stability to connect personally with park users (including the kids). This is a radical change from summer programs in Toronto parks for the last fifty years. It’s not based on any accidents or liability issues, but only on a new system with lots of new procedures. As happened last summer, centrally devised wading pool “safety rules” will mean that there are higher levels of chlorine and many periods of the day when kids are not allowed in the pool. Very sad.

posted June 25, 2013

For the first time in many years, the wading pool has not opened early to match the high temperatures we've had this last week of June. That's no thanks to the siloing of aquatics, that pulled away pool management from long time park staff at Dufferin Grove. The pool is scheduled to open on June 28th, along with all other pools in the city. The spray feature at the pool can still be turned on by staff when its really hot - and most splash pads have been running in city for the last month - to find locations, click on: map of Toronto Splash pads

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