Thursday, March 11, 2010

NEW DIRECTION FOR PARKS?


I went to an interesting Parks and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall on Wednesday hosted by Councillor Paula Fletcher, the Chair. They had invited experts from the arts, community and academic communities as well as the TRCA to discuss ideas and opportunities for a new park vision.  The City is initiating a citywide, multi-year Parks Plan to guide decision-making for our system of public parkland.
The discussion was all about neighbourhood empowerment and calls for local grassroots organizations to be embraced instead of merely tolerated or ignored.  It was suggested by many of the speakers that the City tends to regard parks as “private property” and that the management model currently employed is too rule-driven, permit dependent, too standardized and excessively governed by concerns over liability and CSA standards and renders these public spaces virtually inaccessible.  The committee was told that community groups should not be treated as supplicants but as partners and that the City needs to give up its “guardian mentality” so that citizen energy can be engaged.  One speaker went so far as to say, “Public energy in Toronto is sucked into a black hole of nothingness – it should be allowed to flower!” 
Adam Vaughn spoke to an idea that’s been kicking around the parks Committee for a while – the idea of each park having a PIA, a Parks Improvement Association, made up of local community groups, residents and stakeholders.  This sounds a lot like the Public Advisory Board recommended in the Sam Smith Master Plan from the nineties.  Calls from the community for this to be implemented have been ignored so far by the City’s political representative.   
Hopefully, the tide is turning.
Posted by Terry Smith

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