Is Dieppe Park All It Ever Will Be?

Dieppe Park is, first and foremost a venue for organized sports.  Users from across the city descend on the soccer field and baseball diamond in the summer and the hockey and pleasure rinks in the winter.

The artificial ice pads operate from about the first of December to the end of February – weather permitting.  That’s three months out of twelve.  The rest of the time, they sit pretty much idle, with the occasional ball hockey game and maybe a dance festival put on by a cultural group.  But other than that, we’re left with 9 months of idle time for this facility. 

The sports fields are a little different in that they are used for a longer period of time during the year.  Teams start to show up near the end of May and seem to wrap up by the end of September.  That’s about 5 months, leaving the fields pretty much unused for seven months out of twelve.

While the park is “in demand” by organized teams and skaters, it’s usually only weekends and evening, leaving the park empty much of the remaining time, for these particular users are there for a particular activity for a specific time only.  Afterwards, there is little reason to stay.  Having played a bit of organized ball myself, many years ago, I imagine the teams still do what teams have done for decades and toddle off to a restaurant or pub to celebrate a victory or console a loss.

During the weekdays, the park is rarely inhabited by any but high school students skipping school, a few mothers with children enjoying the water pad during the summer or the rink during the three months it’s open in winter.  Dog walkers appear at any time of day, some with multiple leashes in hand walking dogs for absent owners and others out with their own pet for a bit of air and exercise.

This lack of activity during the week is not so much a specific lacking of anything in Dieppe Park itself, but more of a functional monotony of it’s surroundings.  While there are plenty of houses in the area – in fact there are 62 homes “ringing” the park, curiously only 12 of them actually face the park.  The remaining homes, inexplicably, turn their back on Dieppe.

Within a stone’s throw of the park there are a few businesses, including; conveniences stores, a few restaurants and pubs, an art gallery, childcare facility, Laundromat, a soccer club, a deli and a few other little business.  The small strip mall on the south side of Cosburn, just east of the park contains six storefronts, three of which were papered over during my last visit about a month ago.

There are no high rises, condos or high density housing of any type in the immediate neighbourhood.  There are no office towers.  The nearest civic office, employing hundreds of people, is half a kilometer away at Coxwell and Mortimer – too far for a walk at lunch.

During the day, from June to September, the mothers and nannies with children in tow are pretty much on a fixed schedule.  They arrive shortly after 9am; manage to stay for about an hour, maybe two, then return home for lunches.  Often they return after lunch and animate the park for a further two maybe three hours, before returning home to prepare the evening meal, welcome home older school children, etc.  By four o’clock the park is again inhabited by high school kids making their way home via a detour through the park.

During heat waves, things are a little different; the water pad may be more fully used and for longer a period of time – sometimes extending into early evening, before the staff turn off the water (or it’s shut off automatically).  The washrooms are locked 90% of the time and usually only available to the soccer or baseball teams while they play.  I’ve been told upkeep is too hard.

There is, of course, the “snack bar” with it’s offering of potato chips, hot dogs and soft drinks, but it’s open only during the times the teams populate the park.  It’s rarely – if ever – open during any other time.  I’m not even sure it’s staffed by anyone other than the spouses of the players using the baseball diamond.  Any money from this concession goes, as I understand, goes to the teams in the form of fund-raising.   In a posting to come a little later, I’ll discuss, in some detail, why and how the money raised through a park concession should largely be returned to the park from which it was earned. 

We see that Dieppe Park is hampered not by any specific “lack” in and of itself, but more a “lack” of a diverse neighbourhood that would otherwise be able to help populate the park at all times of the day.  Really, the neighbourhood, by its homogeneous nature hampers the park and inevitably creates a vacuum during much of the day or year.  In a city like Toronto, people attract people and energy and vitality attract more liveliness.  In Dieppe, we have a neighbourhood of a very specific nature that can, at best, only populate the park during certain times, leaving it moribund for the remainder of the day.

We cannot lie to Dieppe, nor reason with it.  It is, exactly what it is, not-with-standing the artists renditions of people populating the park, hand in hand, strolling and pushing strollers along paved paths.  The photographs of crowds of children skating in the winter is a brief snap shot out of time.  An illusion really, for I know the rinks sit idle or unused 90% of the time.  The neighbourhood of users is too similar in nature to bring variety to Dieppe; they have too similar schedules, interests and purposes.  There isn’t a large user base with a variety of needs that, even if identified, the park could adapt to.

To be sure any given individual user comes to a park for varying reasons at different times.  One might (as I have often done) simply walked over to watch a baseball game or enjoyed an impromptu display of fireworks put on by neighburs after dark on Victoria Day.  Other times, one might go to play a game or sit tiredly on a hot August afternoon.  One might simply go for a walk, have a smoke, walk the dog, fall in love, meet someone, or a dozen other possibilities.  A park needs to be adaptable to these uses.  Are there benches where one can simply sit and watch others pass by?  In Dieppe, we have a curious lack of park benches.  Four of the six benches available, face the kids play area and if a lone male were to sit there, they’d be taken for a pervert!  There is seating for at least a couple of hundred in the uncomfortable bleachers around the baseball diamond and soccer pitch, but curiously no benches anywhere else.  There are a few concrete tables near the snack bar, but who wants to sit there when the snack bar is never open?

Even the dog walkers don’t have a place to let their dogs run free.  There is no fenced off dog-run area.  People still take their dogs off their leashes and let them run free, not because they are bad owners who enjoy flaunting the posted laws of keeping the dogs on a leash, but because the dogs deserve to be off-leash.

There’s no place for the idle user to walk and enjoy the flowers. The flowerbed, planted only a few years ago north of the rink, have been abandoned and plowed under in a cost saving measure.

We may consider ourselves fortunate, to date, that the one group of varied users that can occupy and animate a park at any time of day hasn’t yet discovered Dieppe Park – those who have no responsibilities beyond themselves (and often no responsibilities at all, not even to themselves) and who have unlimited idle time available.  Those people who no longer have the luxury of choice.  Call them what you will; homeless, transient, unemployed, criminal, hippie, drug user.

Perhaps only by dint of location – away from the core of the city or any high density, low-income area – has Dieppe not yet attracted this element of our population.  Yet, one might argue that Dieppe Park is almost ideal in all respects, except location.  Few eyes are upon the park during daylight hours, and even fewer after dark.  The vast majority of houses face away from the park.  No full time staff available to call the authorities should things ever get out of hand.  There are lots of schools and students around upon whom the unscrupulous might prey.  The surrounding streets are relatively unpopulated and free of responsible citizens taking their leisure upon the sidewalks.  With land use pressures forcing this element of our population from more expensive locations it may only be a matter of time before we have to deal with the park problems that have so far been absent from our neighbourhood.

The largest single feature of the park is the parking lot, fully 15% of the roughly 3ha park area.  Unfortunately the parking lot is the single largest feature one sees while walking or driving along Cosburn Avenue the areas main thoroughfare.  The next single largest feature you see is the chain link fence of the baseball diamond and ice rinks.  The park itself is obscured by the dressing rooms and all that chain link fence, making for a rather poor first impression.  Given all that parking lot real estate, it’s a bit of a wonder pay parking hasn’t yet been implemented.

The City hasn’t abandoned the park, of course.  I’m sure it’s a steady stream of income to City coffers through permit programs.  There is no full time staff working in the park – not even part time staff from what I’ve seen.  The lawn is mown, the fields are maintained and the water pad seems to work.  The team and rink dressing rooms get painted and swept by “fly through” crews.  In season, the ice gets a once daily resurfacing by the fly-through Zamboni which makes it’s way from rink to rink on a trailer towed around by a City truck.

Maybe Dieppe Park is all it will ever be.  Perhaps it’s nature is to simply and humbly act as host to transient teams of soccer and baseball players, receiving little in return other than a weekly “fly through” maintenance crew.  The neighbourhood while “good” in so many respects may not be diverse enough to animate the park during most daylight hours.  Maybe, like the 1997 film starring Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson, this is, “As Good As It Gets.”

– Article courtesy of Ed Horner

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