Dufferin Grove Park is home to a bonfire pit, wood-burning ovens where residents can bake pizza and bread, an adobe courtyard, a weekly farmers’ market, dozens of year-round art festivals, two skating rinks, a cheap and healthy cafe, and regular pay-what-you-can community meals.
It’s a chaotic, eclectic, and fairly idyllic public space, but what makes Dufferin Grove Park truly unique is not what they do but how they do it. Members of the community are more-than-usually involved in working to maintain the park, while city staff are more-than-usually integrated into the community. According to community leader Jutta Mason, this simpatico relationship is about to change, and with it all of the features of the park that neighbourhood residents have come to cherish.
The park’s many programs are staffed by part-time workers for the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. Earlier this year, the Parks and Rec supervisor for Dufferin Grove’s Ward 18, Tino DeCastro, was moved to a position at Metro Hall that Jutta Mason describes as “a non-job supervising cleaners.” Mason, who has been a leading figure in community involvement in Dufferin Grove Park since 1993, believes that DeCastro’s move is intended as a punishment for fraternizing with Friends of Dufferin Grove Park—an informal community group whose ad hoc, non-hierarchical structure clashes with the top-down workings of the City. “I think from the perspective of downtown we’re like a weed,” she says. “We’re like a noxious weed growing way out of control, and somebody’s got to cut us back. But I don’t agree.”
Mason claims that lower-level employees, too, are regularly accused of having conflicts of interest based on their community involvement.
“The people who work here actually want to be here, and when they have ideas they actually carry them out. They’re not always waiting for someone to order them to do this or that, and that’s pretty unusual,” Mason says. “That’s the work culture that’s grown up around here. It’s been very, very much backed by the community and very, very much ignored by the powers that be.”
Brenda Patterson, the general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, describes the relationship between the Dufferin Grove Park community and the City as “an incredible and unique long-standing partnership”—one that she says will in no way be affected by Tino DeCastro’s move. “People are concerned that programming at Dufferin Grove Park is going to change, and I’m not sure why. The change in supervisors is in no way intended to change those programs.” Patterson maintains that the moving of supervisors from one portfolio to another is commonplace. Re-assignments are intended to help employees acquire a variety of skills. “When you work for the City of Toronto, you should expect to work anywhere in the City of Toronto,” she says.
Evidently, the Dufferin Grove Community doesn’t agree. The Facebook group created in response to DeCastro’s move is 1,500 members strong, and hundreds of citizens have sent emails to both the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division and to City of Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean. Patterson says that every email has been given a response: nothing is changing at Dufferin Grove Park. From the City’s perspective, community members have misunderstood a simple job re-assignment to mean the death knell to their vibrant community programming. According to Jutta Mason, “This is not about us. This is about what seems to me to be a completely unworkable idea of moving everybody to somewhere else. What does building relationships mean if not that you can rely on it?”
Photos from 2009’s Night of Dread by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.