Park Talk in East Lynn Park – A Local Park’s Success Story on the Danforth

 On September 29, Park People gathered on the hill of East Lynn Park to hear the inspiring story of how this park has revitalized to become the hub of a safe, engaged community. Only a few years ago, East Lynn Park (on the south side of Danforth Avenue between Coxwell and Woodbine) was a haven for drugs and crime. The drug dealers barely went to the effort of hiding their enterprise, and needles were regularly found in the sandboxes.
A neighbourhood group called DECA formed, and aimed to revitalize their public space. After the neighbours began vocalizing their concerns and making inroads with Parks & Rec and City Hall, the park turned itself around in two or three years, and when the drug dealers saw the strollers, they left.

There were a number of key factors contributing to this success story, including a weekly farmers’ market. Simple things made a big difference, like moving the sandbox to a shaded area, improving the swings and wrapping haystacks around a pole to protect the toboganners. There is an ice rink which the neighbours flood and often its a nearby home from which the water is generously sourced. There’s popcorn and movie nights with the spectators perched along the hill, and an arts & crafts festival in the fall. All of these enhancements keep the park thriving through all four seasons.

To what do the volunteers attribute their succcess? The ‘squeaky wheel’. They persisted with city councillors and Parks & Rec, until they were heard. East Lynn was fortunate to have a very receptive and enthusiastic Parks & Rec contact, who ‘made it happen’, and city councillors who backed their cause. City bylaws stipulate that when developers come into a neighbourhood, they are obliged to give money to the community, so East Lynn discovered that the money is there, it’s just a question of unleashing the funds. Not always easy, but doable.

 

PIZZA MAKING AND COMMUNITY BUILDING IN CHRISTIE PITS A GREAT START TO PARK TALKS

Park People’s first Park Talk was held on June 17 at Christie Pits. There was a great crowd that came out learn about making pizza in the park’s brick oven and to share ideas for linking park groups and community and building better parks. We’ll be sending out details for more Park Talks coming this fall.

Toronto Park People’s first Park Talk was held on a beautiful Friday night in June at Christie Pits. It was a perfect setting – the park was packed with people enjoying a great public space. People from across the city came and learned how to make their own pizza in the park’s brick oven. After dinner, Friends of Christie Pits Chair Monica Gupta talked about the park and some of the challenges and successes they’ve had over the years. They also talked about building good relations with city staff and their “wish list” for improving the park in the longer term. Doug Bennet, Chair of the Friends of Sorauren Park then spoke about the lessons he’s learned on reaching out to community around his park and making good things happen in his community. There was a discussion afterwords chaired by Toronto Park People Executive Director Dave Harvey and there were great ideas shared and debated on specific park issues but also on how to raise the profile and importance of parks across the city.

There was a really nice mix of people – kids, dogs, city park staff, local MPP Rosario Marchese, Liberal provincial candidate Sarah Thompson and many others.

A huge thanks to Monica Gupta and the Friends of Christie Pits for hosting the event and providing all the pizza fixings. And also to Doug Bennet for sharing his thoughts and for Eric “the pizza guy” from Parks, Forestry and Recreation for baking the pizzas.

First Citywide Park Summit an Overwhelming Standing Room Only Success

On April 16, 125 people from across Toronto gathered at the Evergreen Brick Works to build a network of park advocates and begin a dialogue on what is needed to strengthen our parks. The standing room only crowd included local park advocates, city councillors, city park staff, park professionals and union leadership.

During the day significant challenges were raised, great ideas put forward and important priorities laid out. But the most important element of the day was the connections people were making and the enthusiasm and energy that was built in the room. As the Torontoist reported:

“At one point during the inaugural Toronto Park Summit, a woman stood up and explained that she had a problem. There was a small park in her neighbourhood with a poorly designed drinking fountain that needed to be replaced because it was always filled with sand. “Does anyone know a good drinking fountain?” she asked. A woman two seats away nodded that she could help, leaning over to exchange information. Standing by the podium at the front, Dave Harvey smiled. “This is why we’re here,” he said.”

Keynote speaker Tupper Thomas was the perfect speaker for the event. Thomas is the founder of the Prospect Park Alliance, a non-profit conservancy that helped turn Brooklyn’s 585-acre Prospect Park from a scary, neglected space into a “treasure of wilderness and recreation”. Tupper told the story of how simultaneously holding the position of both city park administrator and the head of the Alliance allowed her to build a government-community partnership that was able to bring volunteers, private investment and government funding all together to rejuvenate the park into the gem it is today.

Keynote speaker Tupper Thomas (photo by John Beebe)

Tupper was followed by four community park organizers from various parts of Toronto telling stories from their work in their local parks. As the Torontoist reported:

“What was shown over and over in their stories was that when you improve a neighbourhood park, you also improve the neighbourhood’s sense of community. It’s more about meeting your neighbours than it is about the park, one speaker said.

There was the story of the man from Scarborough who organized the building of an ice rink in his park because there weren’t any community rinks around, and then there was the teacher who set up fire pits outside her park’s ice rink so children would have a place to drink hot chocolate, roast marshmallows, and warm up. Another woman spoke of how she was at a park in Thorncliffe Park after recently immigrating to Canada and was sad to see it in such poor condition, with patchy grass and hardly anywhere to sit. She decided to do something about it, and worked to add benches, garbage cans, and even a successful community bazaar on Fridays.”

The Summit was a beginning and not an end. The focus of the Summit was about starting a Toronto parks movement and beginning a dialogue on improving our parks – not on arriving at a detailed action plan.

It was a great start. Park People will be holding future Summits in coming years that will build on this momentum.

Many thanks to the sponsors of the event – Evergreen, Molson-Coors, Monforte Dairy, Dufferin Grove Bakers – and to the volunteers that helped make it all happen.

– Article courtesy of Park People

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