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Blog Post

Contextual history of what happened to wading pools

24-Oct-2012 [7353]

Operation of wading pools in Ward 18 during the summer of 2012 shows clearly the direction that has been chosen by Parks Forestry and Recreation (PFR) in allocating resources on behalf of the people of Toronto.

Several years ago, after amalgamation, Parks Forestry and Recreation made a decision to centralize along functional lines. We think the rationale was to increase "specialization", and therefore "standards" in order to achieve "efficiencies" and "compliance" with procedures, derived from policies, in turn derived from Council decisions. A perfect (dis-integrated) machine.

Ward 18 parks, supported by local initiatives (including CELOS, the operator of this website), managed to resist this trend for a while, operating instead in what is virtually the opposite model. Staff around Dufferin Park, MacGregor Park, Campbell Park, and Wallace Emerson Park worked as a virtual collective, operating as much as possible within materials and budgets provided, always with an eye to outcomes for the users of the parks. A perfect (integrated) collective. The result of course was park operations (particularly Dufferin) that became iconic, not just in Toronto, but internationally (getting more than 180,000 results on a google search). Very popular and well used.

New hazmat suits for chlorinating wading pools
New hazmat suits for chlorinating wading pools...
The new normal, summer 2012

Then PFR lowered the boom. The results for the wading pools?

  • strict social isolation of wading pool staff (no meaningful interaction with recreation staff allowed)
  • strict adherence to Aquatics procedures, including orders to watch the pool even when no kids were in the water, on pain of sanction
  • strictly limited specialization on wading pool procedures, nothing else. This puts a chill on socialization with park users, or playful interaction with the kids
  • strict adherence to new severe protocols, including full body suits when chlorinating, roughly tripling the amount of chlorine in the pools, routine draining of the pools during the day, etc.

In this Topic we document some background material to these changes.

We think the effects of these changes are:

  • alienation of the staff
  • fragmentation of work at the parks
  • activities organized without reference to the context of the parks (but rather to central planning)

This is in contrast to the approach that had been used so successfully over recent times:

  • connections among staff
  • integration and sharing of work at the parks (collaboration)
  • activities organized in reference to the (dynamic) context of the parks.

The first of these approaches we think drains meaning from the work; the latter infuses meaning in the work, with obvious consequences for staff performance.

The net result, we think, is reduction in efficiencies and effectiveness. And the pools are less connected with the community. Not nearly as much fun. Not welcoming. Available for fewer hours. But... you can see that there's some disembodied, self-referential logic at work here.

The extent of new "safety procedures" is also interesting. We're checking into this more, but it certainly appears that there is some over-zealousness at work here, and we're a bit worried about the amount of chlorine being dumped into the pools. What's interesting though is that the over-zealousness seems to be another manifestation of rationality over reason, that is logic being taken to it's inherent conclusion, without much reference to common sense.

But you decide. Go through the materials, and see what you think. By all means communicate your findings to this website.

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