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Recreation service plan: 4 - fourth session

22-Aug-2011 [545]

Recreation Service Plan consultation #4, Wellesley Community Recreation Centre, June 9 2011

By Belinda Cole

The meeting was in a spacious, bright gym with windows looking out onto Sherbourne Street and others above onto the work-out gym and other places in the centre. The gym had lots of tables set up - nine with people sitting at them, about 6-8 staff at or near the front registration tables and 10 more staff doing the “themes” collection and still more staff people walking around to the different tables. There were about 70-75 non-staff people at the meeting.

A number of city councillors were there: Mary Margaret McMahon, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, and Paula Fletcher. The moderator was Chris Brillinger.

General manager Brenda Patterson reviewed the power point presentation based on hand-outs given to all of the attendees. She raised many of the same questions/issues in earlier meetings: Who actually provides recreation and leisure services? Why are there not more people who use the programs? Are people concerned about certification of program instructors/leaders? If there was more certification, would more people register? She wants Parks to get better information about the permits, especially to find out who rents out space in the “general rentals” permits category.

There were 6 non-staff participants at my table and 3 staff people. The non-staff people were: three seniors – who, as it turned out were also “raging Grannies” who sang for us at the end, one woman from a school, and one agency representative from Ward 10 who represented both the agency and herself, and me from CELOS. One staff person at our table moderated the discussion, another person took notes, and a third staff person who works as one of three people focused solely on the Pan-Am games.

The discussion at our table was lively and animated. One woman talked about her wish to put in community gardens in her near-by park. She said that she is really worried about trying to do this, as she knows of so many obstacles that are put up when people want to do things in their neighbourhood parks. She said that she doesn't have the energy both to try to start the gardens and to deal with city-imposed obstacles. She felt that “capacity building” should mean that the city staff support what people want to do in their parks.

Another woman talked about the lack of free swim time at her near-by pool. Most of the open pool time is taken up by kids' swim lessons, and most of the remaining the time the pool is closed. Another senior talked about how important it is for seniors to be able to swim without having to dodge energetic kids. All of the seniors talked about the benefits of swimming and how keeping fit and active can save lots of tax dollars in health care. We wondered why the pools are closed for open, non-programmed swim so much of the time since we've already paid to have them built, the demand is there, and we are paying on-going operational costs anyway.

Four of the participants talked a lot about how condo developments could be used to provide more recreational facilities to the community. One woman said that she would willingly pay more taxes to make sure that everyone had access to recreation facilities. She also said that the property assessments favour the rich. A number of people said they are worried about the increasing divide between the rich and the poor. People said that needs based assessments such as the “welcome policy” are demeaning and discourage people from using city facilities. People commented on how the poor are punished in the current allocation of facilities.

One woman commented that she doesn't like it when she uses her pool or community centre and the city staff “act like they own the place”. We talked about how a welcoming, helpful staff attitude attracts youth and others much more when city staff are most concerned with enforcing rules. One of the people commented that if city staff make decisions about how pools or other facilities are to be used - for example, a decision to close some pools during an open swim, a lack of public hours, etc. - that city staff have an obligation to explain the rationale behind this decision.

One woman said that she wanted more programs for teens. Many people at the table agreed, but said that the current quality of registered programs is so low. People agreed that the answer is not certification, but rather, paying for good quality interested instructors. People agreed that training should focus more on apprenticeship with city staff at popular parks and programs rather than formal training programs put on by people who have not done the jobs of the people they are training.

One woman said that a group of teens she talks to told her that the teens really want to learn different things that interest them – for instance, dance. But, that they want really good instructors who know (and like) what they're doing. One woman told the story of an artist in her neighbourhood who opens up her studio -free of charge -to youth every Saturday from 9 – 9. This is the kind of activity these youth want, she said. We discussed the obstacles of permits and insurance costs for pick-up sports in parks, and how this gets in the way of making parks accessible and welcoming to youth and others. One woman said that her father, an insurance agent, commented that Canadians are vastly over-insured. People talked about partnerships with the city. One woman questioned why there wasn't more use of existing school facilities like gyms and pools. Another person talked about the city partenering with hospitals, and the staff people talked about the existing “Time” program between Mary McMormick and the Toronto Rehabilitation Centre and also, at the Yonge & Eglinton Community Centre.

One person at our table suggested that one way to “get the message out” about what is going on at parks, let people know about programs, public swim and skate times, etc. was to make use of the councillors' email lists.

The “themes” summary at the end mentioned a number of issues. They recorded the comment about: a willingness to pay more taxes for services, the need for more programs for youth, how fees and equipment costs can be barriers to people's ability to use city programs and facilities, how hours for city facilities don't match local needs, insufficient local programming – e.g. unused baseball diamonds but not enough cricket pitches, barriers to registration - especially for non-English speaking people, the fact that some facilities serve only certain people or groups in the community, facilities too far away from some neighbourhoods, or dangerous to walk to, the importance of building on “what works”, there should be more surveys and research about what people want, program quality should be improved, better collaboration between different levels of staff, programs should fit the community in question rather than a “one size fits all” approach by parks, extend pool hours, ask community about the range of pool programs it wants.

None of the themes captured our comments about certification, or about people's concerns about the obstacles parks bureaucracy causes when people want to do things like gardening in their park.

After I left the meeting, I thought that one way to make sure that all of people's comments are captured would be to invite people to write their own comments, and post them on the walls all around the gym, and then invite people to read the comments for themselves.