Why, In the Age of Ford, the City Turned Down a Free Playground
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Why, In the Age of Ford, the City Turned Down a Free Playground

Felstead Park’s current playground.

Felstead Park, located near Danforth and Greenwood Avenues, isn’t particularly distinguished, as parks go. When we visited Thursday evening, a girl named Ruby, who is two years old, attempted to make the best of the playground equipment available there by scrambling up the side of a metal jungle gym covered in layers of flaking paint. Ruby’s mother, Michelle Beaton, plucked Ruby off the rungs before she could reach the top.

“We just want something that doesn’t require our children to have a tetanus shot before playing on,” she told us. The park in its current state, she added, is a haven for drug dealers, rather than young families that are moving into the still-gritty neighbourhood. (And in fact there were plenty of discarded dimebags around to corroborate this.) Beaton, along with Friends of Felstead Park, a community group of which she is a member, have spent more than a year trying to get modern equipment installed.
She and the Friends came very close to attaining that this week, when they secured a donation from Foresters, an insurance company, through an American non-profit called Kaboom, which specializes in soliciting funding for play equipment from private companies. The new playground would have been installed on August 18. Would have, that is, had the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation division not turned down the money, citing timing issues—and, ironically, cost.
Now Beaton and other members of the Friends are decrying the City’s apparent hypocrisy in turning down private dollars even as politicians scramble to reckon with the Ford-era directive to outsource “everything that isn’t nailed down.”
Beaton—who by the way has two full sleeves of tattoos and a lip piercing, and just generally does not look like someone who takes defeat lying down—found out that the City had declined the new equipment on Wednesday, and soon afterward called Rob Ford’s office. “They were somewhat outraged,” she said, that the money had been turned down.

Felstead Park’s wading pool. Neighbours say it hasn’t been turned on in 15 years.

It’s a dilemma almost tailor-made for Ford’s style of hands-on constituent service, and Beaton, who didn’t vote for him, still welcomes his intervention. “I don’t care who wants to be the hero of this situation,” she said. The mayor’s staff have been pursuing the issue, but so far haven’t reversed the decision.
The City’s Office of Partnerships handles outside contributions to City services and facilities. Phyllis Berck, the office’s director, explained, Friday morning, that Kaboom’s offer to the Friends of Felstead Park was out of line. The City only learned of it a week ago. Kaboom had initially designed the playground for another site, not owned by the City, but the deal with the landowner fell through. The offer to the Friends of Felstead, who had previously filed an an application with Kaboom independently of the City, was a last-minute attempt to salvage the donation.
“We would like to do this, but the timing is less than ideal,” Berck said. “We rarely say no to someone.” Parks staff and capital dollars, she added, are fully committed to other projects. The division would be unable to spare the money and manpower needed in order to prepare the site by August—a deadline imposed not by Kaboom, but by Foresters, which will be holding an event in Toronto and wanted the playground’s construction to coincide with it, so their employees could participate.
Kaboom has coordinated eight other projects in Toronto in the past, two of which were on public land. They will now seek another site in Toronto for the playground.
Before any of this occurred, the City had already scheduled Felstead Park’s playground for renovation in 2013, using money from the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation budget. As things stand, that’s how long the Friends of Felstead will have to wait.
Beaton doesn’t accept that. “It’s chump change in the grand scheme of things,” she says of the money and staff time that would be required to rid the park of its old equipment, including the previously mentioned jungle gym, a swing set, and a slide. The Friends offered to try to raise the money, but Parks turned them down.
Meanwhile, Ruby, still perhaps making the best of things, sat in the park’s wooden sandbox, and set about burying herself.
Photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.