Toronto Star column – published June 28, 2014
There is a lot of passion under that hand-knit sweater. The first time I met Dave Harvey he was wearing it and every time I have seen him since, which is quite a few times, he is donning another one. This tells me that someone loves him and he enjoys his creature comforts.
How do I know this? I have been surrounded by a team of hand-knitters for some time. My wife lead the charge long before we were married and we had four babies who learned to knit before they could walk. Or so it seems.
All of this is to say that the newly minted volunteer organisation that is charged with stewarding our parks here in Toronto is in good hands. Park People, Toronto, is lead by Mr. Harvey and he lives, breaths and talks about our parks with the same passion that a knitting addict talks about their past-time.
Recently, Parks People partnered with LEAF, another volunteer-driven organisation that is dedicated to planting and nurturing trees in private spaces around the City, to create a new program called Adopt-a-Park-Tree. It is brilliant in its simplicity and no doubt will be successful as there are countless Torontonians who want to make a contribution to the quality of our air, streets and water but cannot [necessarily] plant a tree on their own real estate as they may not own any.
Some volunteers who support this program will own their own home. That is not the point. The point is that we have about 6 million trees growing on public land in the 416 area and each year there are over 150,000 new ones planted. Remember that a tree is a living thing [though our street planners/engineers often seem to forget this]. Like all living things they need to be nurtured especially in their early years.
When you adopt a tree [or two or three], you commit yourself to watering, mulching and watching your charge until it has put down roots and matured to the extent that it can make it on its own. I can hear Mary Tyler Moore’s theme song about now, “You’re going to make it after alllll!” but not until you grow up, Mary. In the meantime, like all youngsters, someone needs to be your guardian angel or, guess what? Chances are you are NOT going to make it in the long haul.
The manual that Parks People and LEAF provide is the perfect guide to bringing volunteers together. And it is free. It answers some very good questions: where do I begin? How do I identify a park and trees that would benefit from some stewardship? Is there funding to help support the purchase of a garden hose, access to water, pails/buckets, stakes and mulch? How can I connect with my local councillor and City staff to help make this happen? And most important, how can I connect with like-minded people in my community who will help to nurture and protect the trees in our public spaces?
Good questions. Straight answers are in the manual.
If you are interested in following up I suggest that you log on to the Park People website at www.parkpeople.ca
While you are there check out the other opportunities to get involved with in your local parks. TD Bank Group and Toronto Park People have developed a new initiative which encourages community engagement and “animation of vital community green space in Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and low-income communities.”
Grants between $500 and $5,000 are available to qualifying volunteer groups who work with existing community agencies. Establishing new ‘friends of parks’ groups, new immigrant groups and Neighbourhood Improvement Areas are favoured.
The idea is to turn public green spaces and parks into socially beneficial neighbourhood hubs.
The Dog in the Lobby
I was out of town recently and there in the lobby was a very calm and gorgeous golden retriever. It gave everyone who came into the lobby a forlorn look and a cold nose. No one could resist bending down to say hello and give him a pat on the head. When I enquired why there was a dog in the lobby I was told that he was the ice breaker who instigated conversation between guests. The dog made us feel like we were indeed in someone’s home.
The TD Park Builder Program is the dog in the lobby. Inviting people from every corner of the earth to come and live in our city is just not good enough, not if we want to live in a truly diverse city where we can learn and enjoy the benefits of more than 160 cultures. Bringing people together under the pretence of stewarding our parks is only the beginning. If we want to truly enjoy the best of what our public parks have to offer, we need to pick up where City staff leave off; when they have finished cutting the grass and emptying the trash, there is still a lot that needs to be done.
Park People nurture trees, organise social gatherings of various kinds in parks, they keep an eye on them 24/7 and they engage one another in a common interest. Who knows, maybe some of them fall in love, get married and have baby-park-people.
Park People’s work and the work of park friends groups is hardly limited to the above. Here are some exciting initiatives that park groups have initiated that have transformed their local parks:
A new Farmers Market at East Lynn Park
A Community Playground at Woodford Park
An Annual Community Arts event at Mabelle Park
Community Gardens at Malvern Park
Back to the Adopt-a-Park-Tree program. The new manual, which was partly funded by the new Trees For Life urban tree coalition [http://treesforlifecanada.org], was inspired in part by the active volunteers at Trinity Bellwoods Park. If you have ever walked through or even passed this fabulous park on a sunny warm day, you will know that it is a hive of activity.
Our parks enhance the value of life in this big city and they enhance the value of real estate too. Parks are one of the main reasons why visitors come to Toronto. Our parks are one of the greatest assets that we have and yet we seldom advertise them.
Next time you cut through your local park as a short cut to the coffee shop, let me suggest that you haul your coffee out to a park bench in that same park. Turn off your cell phone and leave the trashy novel at home. Just sit there and observe what is going on around and about you: the people, the trees, the squirrels mooching a piece of your muffin. And contemplate how you can help to make it a better place.
Dave Harvey and Park People are here to help.