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Browsing Blog Henrik Bechmann's Blog (currently on 04-Aug-1212)
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Why a Ward 18 conservancy?

04-Aug-2012 [1837]

For about 19 years, residents near Dufferin Grove Park have been working at improving the park experience for users of the park. This progressed from a small group of volunteers to a network of park friends through the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park, and finally the network of Associates of CELOS.

During that time, the effort has had one main finding: running an inner city park as a lively "community centre without walls" - open to all for a variety of (mostly) social activities - can be done very efficiently and effectively with the support of a group of dedicated, skilled staff, that have the following ethos:

  • take care of the details
  • make do with what you have
  • work as a team
  • innovate with friends and neighbours of the park

A rich web of activities developed as the result. Most anytime one goes through the park, one sees many "happy people doing happy things". It wasn't always so, either, taking years to transform the park from a somewhat desolate inner city place to the safe and friendly place it is today.

In brief, the park relies mostly on its people (while of course respecting community values, and city policies). These lessons were also applied to other Ward 18 parks, such as Wallace Emerson (particularly the outdoor rink there), Campbell, and McCormick.

In the meantime, Parks, Forestry and Recreation was centralizing. After developing (and later quietly sidelining) its "Our Common Grounds" plan, PFR went through a period of re-organizing along functional lines, with management centralized, and functional reporting right down the line to front-line facilities. The re-organization is consistent with a classic centralized technocracy, a kind of "machine" whereby policies are translated to procedures, to be strictly followed ("obedience" "compliance" in PFR terms), on the front lines. This is a reliance on systems more than people, on process more than outcomes, and on centralization more than decentralization. Thus the locally-developed management approach and PFR's approach were diverging.

Like any technocratic organization, PFR naturally seeks consistency, and so after some stop-and-start measures, in 2012 it launched a program of "harmonization" in Ward 18, invoking certain "risks" (citing an internal audit), to impose its management methods on Dufferin and other parks in Ward 18.

But here's the problem: parks like Dufferin cannot be run only with reliance on policies and procedures. It's way too complicated for that. It must rely instead on the skills and experience of its staff (the human qualities). And imposition of PFR's much more mechanized approach actually degrades (and finally destroys) the experience that park users have become accustomed to.

Specifically, the staff who have developed such pride in their developed skill, experience, and teamwork -- and many of them are far more competent at running a park than their supervisors -- find such a change intolerable, as they cannot provide the service they are used to (and know they are capable of) under such a regime.

So the staff are drifting away, and 100 collective years of advanced staff experience (give or take) is under threat of being lost to the Ward and the City, including all the benefits of efficiency and effectiveness that have been learned. Unlike most other organizations which would have rewarded the kind of success the local park staff have had with promotions (which would also protect the knowledge at an institutional level), PFR has never promoted anyone from this group of people. I think that's a shame and a huge waste.

So, there's a problem. The solution CELOS is proposing: create a "conservancy" for Ward 18 that would benefit everyone:

  • preserve, protect, and develop the lessons learned over the past two decades
  • bring the lessons "in house" to PFR, so that a constructive dynamic can ensue, for the benefit of all, including the local community, the local staff, PFR management, and the City as a whole

There are other possible solutions, such as a management board model, but that would be giving up on PFR.

Attachments to blog post: Why a Ward 18 conservancy?