Literature - Public Administration
( display item 3)
Setup: 03-Apr-2012 
When people hit a solid bureaucratic wall at City Hall, they often abandon their projects. Understandably, many park supporters say “life’s too short” to continue a game that’s this frustrating. “You can’t fight City Hall” goes the saying, and the series I’ve been writing is (somewhat) the proof of it. But maybe it’s time to try something completely different, instead of giving up.
How much can a neighbourhood learn about building up small-scale local democracy? Not all of it will be pretty. People will get mad at each other, and when people are strangers to each other – as most big-city residents are – their anger may lack the restraints that loyalty brings. And yet – this project may bring some pleasant surprises, maybe even some new friendships. Everyone’s help is welcome, to any extent that they want – ranging from reading a bulletin occasionally, all the way to helping out with the deep numbers of the city budget and the Ward 18 Parks Conservancy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spring is a time of renewed possibilities, including the chance that the long-running project of enlivening local parks in Ward 18 can be put on a solid footing. To get from the de facto conservancy to the de jure kind, Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao will need to make a proposal to her colleagues.
One of the many people who agreed to come and talk to us in the last three weeks, about how a “Toronto model” parks conservancy might look, was David Crombie. Mr. Crombie, as most people know, was three times elected Mayor of Toronto, then a Conservative cabinet minister, and more recently a champion of water rights for Torontonians – lake access and then school swimming pool access. He told us that when he began going to the swimming pool meetings, people asked him what his overall plan was for access to swimming pools. He said he had no overall plan. He just didn’t like to see those good, already-existing swimming pools wasted by being shut down when kids could be swimming in them.
Monitoring an existing wading pool – MacGregor – is the same thing. The point of the monitoring is to protect an existing resource that is cheap and easy to run, in this neighbourhood. Monitoring is not watching the pool be shut down, but filling in the information on how to keep it.
Proposal #5 for the Ward 18 Parks Conservancy: put existing park resources like MacGregor Wading Pool under community protection.
At a citywide meeting on March 22, Parks management was challenged to explain why they had put in the extra fees without ever consulting the leagues. “We’re the experts, but you ignored us!” Meeting participants asked for operating budget details. When Parks staff said they were sorry but they didn’t have the numbers with them, the volunteer coaches and parents began to sound like angry bees. “My dog gets better city notice for the renewal of his dog licence than the kids’ sports’ leagues got for this fee increase.”
“How can the City say they’re charging us for services when we do most of the service ourselves?”
Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao says she’s interested in the conservancy idea, but in order to talk it up to her council colleagues, she needs more specifics. This chapter is about what specifically needs to be done now, to begin bridging Ward 18 parks toward a conservancy. Two months of conversations – over cups of coffee, story-swapping with sports activists and with park friends citywide, with park maintenance staff and recreation program staff and union stewards, with small business people in the this and other neighbourhoods – yielded the first outline of the principles on which a parks conservancy could be based.
Wading pool working group: what members can do.
1. get on the wading pool e-list or read the playground bulletin boards. This allows members to keep abreast of the updates on the wading pool situation, so that they can tell other users and – if needed – contact Ward 18 City Councillor Ana Bailao for help -- and/or
2. monitor conditions at Ward 18 wading pools and report problems to onsite program liaison staff (for Dufferin, MacGregor, and Campbell wading pools). There will also be a Facebook group for such posts -- and/or
3. work alongside park program staff to enrich poolside programming, for instance by getting water toys at garage sales, or offering (or supporting) poolside activities like storytelling, clay sculpture, games, etc. -- and/or
4. Work together with program staff to give direct, steadying feedback to centrally-deployed wading pool attendants, introducing them to local users and encouraging them to get more involved.
Why the Conservancy is needed for good staffing of Ward 18 parks: The conservancy can restore the part-time hiring process to include some local, mature, and staff with special talents who can only work flexible hours. Part-time staff hours can be increased or decreased depending on the level of activity and donations – easier to do when the scale is small enough, i.e. looking at one ward at a time. Part-time wages can once again be tied to actual job responsibilities and to the best use of the actual Ward 18 budget, instead of being reduced across the board by central policy as at present. But time is running out. If you want to build on what we have at our neighbourhood parks, this is the summer to get into the discussion.
“Since last year, city management has allowed no new part-time recreation staff to be hired for the Dufferin Grove Park programs, nor for the related programs at other Ward 18 parks (e.g. Campbell and Wallace Rinks in winter, MacGregor Park in summer). That means that when staff leave to go on to other occupations, there are no replacements, so that the pool of talented staff is steadily shrinking. This summer there are not enough staff to run the ovens and work with families for bake-oven pizza days, so most have had to be cancelled. It now looks like there will have to be some days when the wading pool cafe is closed and Friday Night Supper is cancelled.”