Taking back city parks, from dawn to dusk

two of the  7 a.m. regulars who bring their owners for a walk along the grounds of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant enjoy the morning sun on July 3.
Anne-Marie Kaskens joins another two of the 7 a.m. regulars who walk their dogs every morning on the grounds of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant  on July 3. 

Most of the Beach is still waking up when Anne-Marie Kaskens meets the morning crew by the R.C. Harris waterworks.

Although she moved to the Beach 20 years ago, Kaskens says it wasn’t until she got her dog Jessie that she started going down to the water every day.

“It’s a real stress-buster,” she said, smiling with a morning coffee in hand and a half-dozen friends standing around chatting.

“Having a dog has helped me really use the space, and just meet people.”

From dawn to dusk, parks across the Beach and east Danforth can be full of people.

Dog walkers are often the first ones out, and the last to go inside.

But they are also joined by everyone from sunrise swimmers to nighttime cricket players.

And whether people think about it or not, that kind of activity can go a long way to making a neighbourhood safer.

“The best way to make a public space safe is by using it,” says Jon Morrice, crime prevention officer at 55 Division.

Over the last couple weeks, Morrice showed Beach Metro News just what he means by walking through several local parks at all hours of the day.

One of the stand-outs is Stephenson Park, near Main Street and Danforth Avenue, where a year-old Friends Of Stephenson Park group has played a big role in turning the place around.

“Your hair would curl if I told you what I saw, all hours of the day, every day,” said the group’s founder, Peter Woodcock, talking about the drug use and prostitution that was common there not too long ago.

“It had a bad reputation, and people didn’t feel safe.”

At the same time that the city’s parks department upgraded its playground, lighting, and other features, Woodcock and other local residents began encouraging regular events in the park, from clean-ups to yoga and Ultimate Frisbee games.

“That’s a perfect example of what we want done with our parks,” said Morrice, who saw Stephenson’s volunteer ice-making crew draw more than 100 people out for a fireside skate on Family Day this February – never mind the -39°C temperature.

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It’s a similar story over at Moncur Park, just off Coxwell Avenue.

Located in a small valley where Small’s Pond used to be, Moncur gets dark quickly if the lighting is poor. It used to be a much less friendly place, with a tired-out playground full of cigarette butts.

But then Louise Linton, who lives nearby, started a “Friends Of” group with friends Dawn Chapman and Susan Molinolo. They planted flowers and repainted a shed, asking different local families to write their names on its bricks.

“Once we started to care about the park, the city got on board,” Linton said, noting how parks staff would stop and ask for suggestions on how the park could be fixed up.

“The difference, I mean, it’s night and day,” she added.

“At night, there are still kids playing. It’s been such a positive experience for everyone.”

Sometimes preventing crime means just showing up, said Morrice. Few people want to do a lot of drinking or drugs by an Ultimate Frisbee game.

When that doesn’t work, Morrice said residents should phone 416-808-2222 to report non-emergency crimes such as vandalism, theft, or drinking in a park.

While social media can be a great policing tool, he added, tagging an officer in a Facebook post about such problems is not the best way to make a report.

Chatting with Cindy Law, who had just walked her dog Espresso through what used to be a poorly-lit tunnel south of Monarch Park before parks staff and a community garden group fixed up the area last spring, Morrice heard about one more brightening spot in the neighbourhood.

“I don’t really feel frightened around here,” she said.

“Everything’s wonderful – better than it used to be.”


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8 comments

This is an inspiring story. These people really have it right! Never abandon these public spaces. Use them. The presence of people doing positive things, at all hours, combined with better lighting, sight lines, refreshed park furniture and equipment, and a high degree of cleanliness, drives the noxious behavior from the park and its neighborhood. If you don’t use the space the opposite happens. Well done!!!!!!!

Gotta love the OFFLEASH dogs at the ON-LEASH park. Is there nowhere left to go for people who don’t want dogs running up to them? Or don’t want to step in s–t while they’re out for a walk?

Sadly, this IS a ON LEASH park. It has however become a de facto OFF LEASH area. There is NO enforcement anywhere on the R.C. Harris ground: the beach in the summer, and the upper lawn and the lower lawn where dog owners take their dogs for off leash exercise EVERY day year round. I can only conclude that the staff at the plant turn a blind eye because it is too much trouble to insist on enforcement in this grey area, not a public park and not private property either, or that they love dogs and are happy to see the owners turn the whole property into an unofficial off leash zone. This is the reality of the situation, sadly. The dog owners now regard free use of the whole grounds by their dogs as their RIGHT and are aggressive to anyone who questions them on this.

The staff at the plant can not enforce city by-laws only City of Toronto By-Law officers can issue fines. Plant staff aren’t going to get involved in a no-win situation with the public using the grounds and I’m sure that they do love dogs.

Agreed, Tom and Liz. And when someone from the silent majority dares speak up, they are quick enough to beat you back into submission, they don’t want you to start a trend of speaking out against them and holding them to account!

Has a single bylaw ticket for littering been issued in the last 5 years at our beaches? It seems that the powers that be appreciate the work in cleaning up for the garbage who leave their garbage in our neighbourhood. Too bad for us who live near the beach, pay all the taxes, and volunteer to pickup the mess.

Having accessible parks is very important for human health, strong communities, etc., however, the importance of using the parks responsibility should always be stressed with this message. In a large urban centre, like Toronto, it’s important that we use the “Leave No Trace” policy when using these areas so that they do not become degraded by off-leash dogs, foot traffic on unofficial trails, foraging, planting inappropriate species, yard wast dumping, etc.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep these areas healthy and sustainable.

Inspiring story, but seeing all the dogs off-leash at the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant these days, driving taxpayers away, I’d say the story needs to now be about taking back parks from dogs and giving the parks back to people. I love dogs, but I don’t love arrogant, aggressive entitled white dog owners who feel laws are for the little people to obey, not them. There’s 8 acres of legal dog park already here in the Beach. Use ’em, or what’s the point? Our community works best when we all care about each other.

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