[This article collects information about city playground issues, and access to information]
MEDIA WATCH - hurray for freedom of the press, June 2005
Trying to make the park work better can be discouraging at times. We’ve been trying for a long time now to find out why our playground equipment is endangered (see City Playgrounds). We’ve also been wondering why, with a yearly Parks and Recreation budget of over $200 million, there is never money to fix the rutted thoroughfare that is the main promenade through our very well-used park. And why, when it takes $600,000 a year to run a rec centre with walls, the City can find only $80,000 a year to run our equally popular "community centre without walls" (an impossible task again this year - and this year we will not be going hat in hand to park users to make up the balance). And how come recreation staff in Toronto make less than half the hourly wage of the litter-picking staff? But trying to find out where the money goes is a long mostly-boring-sometimes-astonishing game of snakes and ladders. [ed: see these Research pages for details of trying to get information from the city]
Near the end of May, all the media carried news of a study that apparently vindicated the widespread dumbing-down of school playgrounds (which also went on in City parks) [ed: see the original study paper, the Canadian Medical Association Journal report, and articles in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and National Post.]. We were familiar with the study, which we think is so deeply flawed in its design that a first-year statistics student would have received a failing grade if s/he had presented it as an assignment. But the uncritical play it got in the media made us wonder if publicists are everywhere now, and "resistance is futile."
We got a happy surprise when the Globe published a scathing editorial about the playground study on May 25, entitled "Smoke and Mirrors on Playground Safety." They pointed out the huge flaws in the data, and concluded "this damaging overprotectiveness in child-rearing turns out to be more finger-wagging and hot air." The editorial is posted on our new wall-newspaper at the playground. [ed: for an instance of trying to get information from the city about refitting playgrounds, click here]
Access To Information
And then Robert Cribb of the Star called to do an interview on our access-to-information troubles with the City. Our example became one of countless other problem-stories in a cross-country, multi-newspaper feature on the reluctance of governments to comply with the freedom of information law. [ed: see Toronto Star Articles by Robert Cribb: Access denied and Excuses, denials, hostility (free registration required)]
So maybe resistance is not futile. To find out more, or to get involved, you can go to the park web site www.dufferinpark.ca, and click on "research."