Archives from our Working with the City page:
On this page:
Parks and Recreation "Stakeholder Reference Group"
At the end of April, Parks and Recreation summoned a group of park advisory council people, as well as some staff of Toronto social service institutions, and some media or cultural representatives, to put their heads together about where Parks and Rec should go from here. Although Dufferin Grove Park is probably one of the longer-running experiments of how parks can work better for neighbourhoods, no one from here was invited. We were curious, though, and we asked whether someone from here could at least sit and listen to what was said at the "reference group's" next meeting. Permission was granted. But now that we've learned a bit more about what city staff are proposing, we're beginning to understand that their not inviting us made sense. We're not on the same page as their staff planners' approach, not even close. Maybe we're not even in the same city!
Parks and Rec has a "business plan"
Lea Ambros (who went to the meeting on behalf of our follow-up research group), brought back the report that describes their thinking, and we've gone through it pretty carefully. It's a draft report, meant to lead to a 3-year "business plan" by the end of this year. But there the problem begins. For the planners at Parks and Rec, the whole department is a business, and park users are always called "customers." (For some years now the different sections of the department have bought and sold services to each other. For instance, when our park water fountain is broken, and the park staff call in a work order for the city's own plumbers, they are put on hold to wait for "the next available customer representative," i.e. the repair dispatcher.)
As near as we can tell, the product of this business is a mixture of saving the environment and saving the people; in other words, they'll be in business for a long time. Their concerns run from teenage sexual troubles, to the condition of 3 million city trees, to fat citizens of all ages, to shifts in the city's ethnicity, to the TV habits of poor kids, to the U.S. Surgeon General's thoughts on how to "maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints." And because the work plan of this business is so ambitious, the ongoing project of keeping track of how it's going seems to be enormous as well. The planners feel that Parks and Rec has to "develop community profiles and undertake community needs assessments on a regular basis." In fact, they have to monitor, analyze, measure, design, have meetings with their corporate or social service partners, and do ad campaigns pretty well continuously.
As if that didn't keep them busy enough, they also have to engage the citizens in "infrastructure and service planning and service delivery" all along the way.
As we thought about this "draft strategic plan" we got pretty alarmed. It's already obvious in our park and many others that the staff are scarce, and so the parks often show signs of being orphaned. With everyone so busy planning and meeting in this new scheme, how will the everyday work get done?
Our follow-up research group is not the only voice asking whether the six-year planning process at Parks and Rec has lost its way pretty thoroughly. For those readers of this newsletter who are concerned, the planners are asking for citizen input: in fact, there is a very cheery "participants' guide" posted on the city's web site. You can find the link, and also more details about the plan from our research group, by going to our Research pages.
A letter from a neighbour about "ReactivateTO"
I want to encourage this.
In the past we only find out about changes to our parks, AFTER they have happened and there is nothing that can be done.
How do you feel about the playground equipment that is being removed and replaced with inferior gear?
We live in a winter climate. In 2003 most of the skating rinks were closed during march break. The skating season is being shortened all the time. What do you think about this.
Community centres were forced to close between Christmas and new years this year. Who does this hurt, the kids that go to Costa Rica, or the kids that might otherwise be climbing on cars instead? How do you think this affects the general crime rates?
Have you tried to walk the paths inside the parks? Weren't they supposed to be repaved in the 1960's? Can you imagine how painful it might be to navigating this in a wheelchair or with a baby carriage? Why is this not a priority?
How about waste? Do you think there are enough garbage cans in the parks for those of us that want to use them? Are they always over full? Are they being cleared regularly enough? Are the yahoos that emptying them careening recklessly in speeding trucks?
How do you feel about police cars driving on the grass for no apparent reason? ("apparent" is the key word there.)
What do you think about dogs and kids? Off leash areas?
How do you feel about being asked to pay for permits to use your own park? What user fees (if any) are acceptable?
I want to encourage the discussion between the park users and the park planners so I am sending this out to lots of people I know.
Why don't you do the same?