It's encouraging that Mr.Smitherman is interested in parks and public spaces. On Monday September 27, CELOS administrator Jutta Mason went to the campaign office and talked with John Willis, who works on policy for the campaign. She told him that while we think that there are some interesting ideas in his "Recreation Renaissance Plan," on the whole it's too high-level, too flashy, not neighbourhood-oriented enough. But then a week later the news came that if elected, George Smitherman will appoint a panel of seven people including Paul Bedford and John Sewell, to crack the nut that will help parks too:
City services are not just about the basics; they are also about creating a city that people want to live in. It is time to remember that we are a lakefront city. It is time to celebrate our parks. And with the Pan Am Games coming in 2015, it is time for Toronto to enjoy a Recreation Renaissance.
A Beachfront City
As Toronto Mayor, George Smitherman will bring a new sense of pride and excitement to Toronto as a great city on a Great Lake. He will turn the city toward the lake again.
Highlights of George Smitherman’s plan:
- George will personally champion Toronto’s participation in the international Blue Flag swimmable beaches program. Torontonians sometimes wonder whether our beaches are clean or swimmable—George will make sure everyone knows whenever they are. This year we have seven beaches flagged—we need a Mayor who celebrates our clean beaches. See http://blueflag.ca/drupal/?q=mediacentre/readnews/808).
- Install showers at Toronto's swimming beaches – 20 simple cold water showers between seven beaches by 2014.
- Children under 12 should be able to board Toronto’s ferries for free, so families can afford to go to the Toronto Island beaches.
- The TTC should operate seasonal express buses to Lake Ontario beaches, so residents can get to the beach quickly and easily.
- George supports constructing the Waterfront LRT by 2015 which will enable Torontonians to get to Cherry/Clark beaches and enjoy themselves.
- Let’s make sure our beaches stay clean. Toronto has spent a generation separating its storm water from residential runoff; now it is time to review that technology. Ontario seeks to be a world leader in water technology so let’s have a system in place to make sure we use the best technologies, designed right here. Lake Ontario is an international waterway, so let’s make sure the federal and provincial governments contribute their fair share.
As part of a recreation renaissance for Toronto, George Smitherman will kick start a revitalization in Toronto’s parks. Our parks should be showcase public spaces that bring communities together to celebrate and enjoy. To often, we take our parks for granted and City Hall has turned its back on the communities that use these parks.
George Smitherman will turn this around.
George will unleash the creativity of our city and create signature public parks. We should have key parks that are major tourist attractions like those in other cities such as New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and London. These signature parks can be the catalysts to renew neighbourhoods and attract new local businesses.
A great example is Allan Gardens; the provincial government is renovating an office building nearby to the highest environmental standard. With a renaissance signature park version of Allan Gardens nearby, the building would be nestled in an attractive, revitalized neighbourhood. We could renew Allan Gardens and spruce up its beautiful but faded greenhouses. Let’s bring in an outdoor café where residents and tourists could have coffee or lunch in the park. Other popular parks such as Earl Bales Park in North York and James Gardens in Etobicoke could also use renovations and improvements to their aging facilities.
George will use a number of tools to get this done.
He will reinvigorate the City’s Office of Partnerships and will set financial targets for new business partnerships and investments to be achieved by this office. He will encourage the establishment of Park Improvement Areas where local businesses can organize to assist in funding local park improvements.
We should also explore establishing independent park conservancies like those that successfully run Central Park in New York.
It is also time Torontonians get a national park within the city’s borders: Rouge Park in Scarborough. George will also get fully behind the effort to make Rouge Park a national park. This is the best solution to fulfill the park’s potential. It would be Canada’s first near-urban national park – a national showpiece for linking our urban centres with natural spaces and farmlands.
Recreation Renaissance and Healthy Living
As Toronto Mayor, George Smitherman will use the preparation for the Pan Am Games in 2015 as a galvanizing force to get Torontonians to live healthier, more active lives.
New Facilities: Learning from cities such as Barcelona, which took advantage of major sporting events to modernize their own recreational facilities, George will lever the resources of the private sector to build and finance new facilities and harness the non-profit sector to help manage community facilities.
One Stop e-booking: George Smitherman will insist that the City have a strategic plan for sports and recreation, ensuring better access to rinks and other district sports facilities. The strategy will be planned by the City, leveraged using City and school board assets (mainly land) and delivered by private sector/non-profits. In some cases it’s a matter of expanding efforts that are already underway; for example, the championship field program developed by the Toronto District School Board to renovate and upgrade selected fields/ facilities to national standards.
George Smitherman will propose a one-stop-window (an electronic portal) to book playing fields, community centres, arenas, schools and non-profit facilities and remit the proceeds to the host with a small handling fee. This online database will make it easier for community groups to book space and would reduce overlap and overhead costs.
Community programming: As part of his recreational renaissance, George will allocate $15-million a year directly to community organizations serving children and youth so that they can run programs in city or school board or non-profit facilities. This would include all types of sports and recreation organizations.
SwimPass - Teaching every Toronto child to swim: With George as Mayor, every child in the city will learn to swim by the end of Grade 5.
The City will create a swimming passport (SwimPass) so that every child in the city would be able to get basic level of swimming by Grade 5 regardless of whether they get this instruction from the city, school boards, non-profits or private pools in condos or apartment buildings. He will build on the work that has been done by non-profits like the YMCA and Canadian Tire Jump Start. We need to stop fighting over pools and work together on swimming programs.
George will ensure that trained life guards and swim instructors are available to provide swim instruction in public and private facilities to make sure our new swimmers—and all our swimmers—are safe. He will make the City a full participant with the Toronto Aquatic Working Group headed by former mayor David Crombie to integrate aquatic programs and pools and expand access to swimming for all ages.
Indoor Playgrounds: Let’s face it, Toronto doesn’t always have great weather. The City should have more indoor playgrounds – using rec centres, school gyms and non-profit facilities – so younger families can enjoy healthy active play during winter months and on days when the weather is cold and nasty.
Public Health in the Community: George is determined to lead a healthier community. Building on the recreational renaissance, George Smitherman will consider the integration of public health services with other City departments, such as recreation, social development, social services and children’s services. This could help bring more action to address many of the underlying causes for illness and poor health.
As part of this integration of recreation and health, George Smitherman will draw on some of the lessons he learned as Ontario Minister of Health and reducing wait times. He will place greater emphasis on getting public health staff out of the office and into the community, including reintroducing school nurses, integrating public health nurses with Community Health Centres and operating more storefront public health facilities.