It’s your park too; get involved!

The Toronto Parks System is huge, occupying 12% of the city and consisting of hundreds of parks of varying size. Some are tiny little parkettes measured in square metres while others are measured in hectares. While it would be wonderful to have park staff available on site to solve problems at each location, sadly, this is not possible.  At one time, contacting a park supervisor was a laborious process. Now thanks to 311, it’s a lot easier.

So what can an ordinary resident do if they see a problem in their local park?

In my experience, Toronto’s  311 system, has made contact with park supervisors a lot easier. Operators will either forward your call to the voice mailbox of a supervisor or they will write up a work order themselves.

Here is an example of a situation I recently tackled in Lions Park, which is the one next to Raymore.

The problem:

Litter is the enemy of parks. It’s a hazard to wildlife and it puts off visitors. When litter levels reach a certain point, ordinary visitors and sightseers begin to drop away. Litter that stays on the ground actually attracts more, as people are less inhibited when the place is already a mess. It’s tough to fight human nature.

Lions Park contains a sports complex which includes a FIFA standard soccer field. Quite often, secondary soccer games spring up and for goalposts, garbage and recycling bins were easily commandeered from various positions around the park. After the game, the bins either stayed or ended up around the main field leaving vast areas without bins. Garbage became even more of a problem. In addition, the location of the bins was problematic as the photos will illustrate.

These stairs generate a large amount of garbage.

These stairs generate a large amount of garbage – no bins in sight.

Bins are located far from the stairs.

Bins (on right of picture) are located far from the stairs.

The stairs are often used as bleachers as they are above the soccer field. They also act as a hang-out spot. While it’s impractical to place bins on the stairs, no bins were visible making disposal inconvenient.

Bleachers - another big source of litter.

Bleachers – another big source of litter and bins too far away.

Bleachers generate large amounts of garbage. These back onto the delicate ecosystem of the Humber while the nearest bins were too far away.

With a problem outlined and a strategy for improvement in my head, I phoned 311. Unfortunately it was not possible to leave a message for the Park Supervisor as her phone mailbox was constantly full.

With the supervisor unavailable, I again called 311 and action was promised. Sure enough, stakes were hammered into the ground and as is standard practice, bins wired to them. Unfortunately, there was nothing to stop anyone disconnecting the wires and removing the bins. Within a couple of days, the bins had returned to being goalposts. To make matters worse, bins had been located poorly.

Eventually, the park supervisor got back to me after I placed a call to 311 and her boss. She explained that bin placement was not decided by Toronto Parks. The people who remove the waste now decide locations. A call made to Solid Waste Management soon got me in touch with Carson Freeman who agreed to come out and meet me on site. We discussed the issues and decided on a course of action which was carried out.

To cut a long story short, within a relatively short period of time, action was taken. Bins were placed in better locations and padlocked into place. The Parks supervisor sent a crew to clean up the garbage by the stairs and a new start was made.

People can now see a bin when descending the stairs.

People can now see a bin when descending the newly cleaned stairs.

Bleachers have a bin that's closer.

These bins are harder to ignore.

Bins at the foot of the stairs (as well as at the top).

Bins at the foot of the stairs (as well as at the top).

The clincher - padlocks to stop bins from wandering.

The clincher – padlocks to stop bins from wandering.

I’m guessing that such intervention by an ordinary citizen is rare. The level of cooperation was outstanding – after all, park staff want clean parks too. They can’t be in every park every day but rely on knowledgeable citizen responses much of the time to point out problems and suggest solutions. By politely pointing out a concern and offering a workable solution, private citizens and parks management can work together to solve park problems.

Incidentally, the people who drop much of the litter are probably still doing so. Despite that, the new bin placement acts as a visible nag to do the right thing, makes things easier for responsible citizenry as well as for ‘park angels’ who actively pick up litter when they see it.

Want to get involved? – It’s a great thing to do. Just remember the three ‘P’s, Politeness, Persistence, and a well thought out Plan.

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