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Excerpts and comments on "Our common grounds" report

18-May-2011 [161]

Our Common Grounds Parks and Rec strategic plan. Cover shows East Indians at picnic [1]

p. 7: Sets the tone, competition is what this is about: “London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Seoul….These cities are Toronto’s new competitors. They are leaving behind the heavy industry that brought them to world prominence, marketing instead their citizens’ skills and ideas, becoming what economist Richard Florida called Creative Cities.” p.9 Toronto is diverse: “As Council has recognized, that puts Toronto in a great competitive position: cultural diversity and quality of life are Toronto’s best features.”

p.14: “We teach leadership skills to youth and hire them too, giving about 4000 young Torontonians a job every year, often their first and best.” ??? p.52 “We are the biggest youth employer in the city, yet out of 5,000 part-time jobs we only employ a little over one per cent of the total city’s youth. Most of our part-time jobs pay $10 to $12 an hour. But many require our youth to have a certain level of certified skill: often they must spend more than they can afford on certification programs in order to be hired.”

p.15: In 1990 there was a “hard recession,” “forcing the City to let go thousands of talented people who made Toronto known as New York run by the Swiss, or, the City That Works. [No reference]….The homeless overflowed from the shelters to the streets. They took up their posts on our splendid boulevards and parks, built tent cities, camped under bridges and in the ravines…..”

Medical Officer of Health Sheila Basrur quoted in her “Call to Action.” Said people in Toronto are endangered by inactive lifestyles – two thirds of us don’t do enough to “stave off chronic illness.” Etc.

P.25: Commodifying the trees: “The trees set into Toronto’s streets are worth almost $2 billion.” P.26: Quotes the U.S. forest service: “Over a 50 year life span, the average tree makes: $31,250 worth of oxygen; $62,000 worth of air pollution control; recycles $37,500 worth of water; controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.” Then gives a lists of all the good things trees can do including: “More trees can help soothe a neighbourhood locked in strife.”

p.30: the plight of street trees: “Their roots have no room to spread; they are assaulted every winter by road salt; the soil around them is heavily compacted.”

p.37: “Many of our parks also contain community garden plots where apartment and condominium dwellers can get in touch with the soil and grow food for their families.”

p.40: proposals: cut the grass 8 more times a year [why?]. Fix benches, tables, pathways [when does that begin?] Replace more playgrounds – [the city already spent over $6 million replacing good playgrounds with plastic ones – suggesting even more?]

p.41 Park ranger program -- but not specific
“support for community gardens and related programming in our parks” – what kind of support? Fencing? Earth?

p.47 Unending centralized surveys and "mapping": “The industry norm for maintaining physical assets is an expenditure of about two per cent of insured value each year to keep a state of good repair. In 2003, Parks and Recreation’s state of good repair expenditures were $17 million, leaving a $103 million gap between our reality and the gold standard. We have completed our audit for state of good repair for the following: community centres, indoor and outdoor pools, arenas, field houses, washrooms, clubhouses, yard buildings, tennis courts and sports pads and parking lots. Our backlog to bring these facilities up to standard is $201,193,295. We need to spend $20 million a year for the next 10 years just to catch up.

“We still have to survey sea walls and ferry docks, water fountains and monuments in parks, underground services and utilities, irrigation systems and the horticulture and amenities in our parks.”

P.48: recommendations: "Implement the Facility Renewal Program (a component of the Facilities Master Plan and Pool Provision Strategy)….."

P.48 “More than 89 per cent of Toronto’s children say they prefer swimming to any other form of activity.” Where does this come from?

A whole section is along the lines of there’s nowhere to play sports.

p.52: idea that people not in programs are presumed to be "inactive" and we’ll have to pay “billions…. to take care of this inactive echo…. It’s not in the common interest to let the future take care of itself. We have to turn the river of the city’s youth in a new direction. But first we have to understand where it’s flowing…. We need to offer youth inclusion into something larger than themselves.”

Comment fits in with the militaristic history of youth recreation.

Youth section recommendations p.55 – lower hiring to 14; hire more youth, let them direct themselves. Establish youth councils for all rec centres so they can have their say.

“Ensure that each centre has at least one unstructured but supervised after-school drop-in program for youth.” Once every day? One hour a week? What?

Attachments (from the thick “staff report” July 5 EDP committee meeting) Attachment 4 seems to have the content of what’s next.

P.27: By the end of 2004, P&R will:
Have a “service priorities assessment” and “service plans with recommendations.” This is done by the service priorities team.
They’ll have a multi-year “business plan.”
They’ll have various options for “organizational design”
They’ll have plans for staff training and “development”
Make sure that everything is “aligned” with everything else “Set up a monitoring and measuring system to track implementation and evaluate progress”
put all the new objectives into future budgets

Then the attachment gets into the “environmental scan” which they say is an “evidence-based approach” to support the three foundations. That’s actually the huge list of problems that the citizenry and the land has, already listed in the first strategic plan draft. The references are often quite thin – large claims are made on the basis of a newspaper article or single studies.

Final section:
Recreation and Leisure Trends p.41
Ridicules old people Quoting a 2000 Toronto Life article by David Foot, saying that since there will be a million seniors in the GTA by 2021, gardening and bingo will be the big things. “Expect bingo operators to take their cue from the movie exhibitors and instal luxury seating, good food, and classy cocktail lounges where musicians will perform ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and other golden oldies.”

And from Brian Johnston of Professional Recreation Consultants Inc. (PERC) at a Parks and Recreation Ontario speech in 2001, outlining trends: “Declining trust in institutions. Includes both the public sector and private enterprise. With high levels of education and a lack of social consensus or shared values, the public is demanding a greater role in decision-making. Protesting change and being part of the ‘public process’ has become a new leisure activity.” [Sic.]

Then gives activity “trends” from the Canadian Fitness and Leisure Research Institute (CFLRI) and Stats Can. Statscan’s 1998-9 list of 19 favourite activities does not list soccer at all.

Note: the results of all the surveys they list are no more enlightening than what a parks and recreation supervisor who’s paying attention could tell you. The whole survey and ask-the-public thing is demeaning to workers, and also of course to neighbourhood people. I say to Don Boyle – this new centralized plan will have a bad effect on us since we won’t have our relationships anymore. Don says, we DO consult with people and we’ve hired Environics to call 545 people on two evenings in April, and none of them told us that. They told us other, much more important things, based on the much more important questions we hired Environics to ask people.

Canadian Parks and Recreation Association: “Trend Interpretation for Sport” 1998 Trends in parks and rec interests:
“need for sophisticated data collection systems”
“Need for more interactive processes with customers”
“simplify processes for accessing services”
“focus on measuring outcomes”
“Easy access to information will be a great ‘leveller’ with maximum equity of access to services”
“Expectation for immediate responses to communications”

“Exciting marketing opportunities”

“more small indulgences” [sic]
“serving the ‘customer of one’” [sic]

Attachments to document: Excerpts and comments on "Our common grounds" report