This week, Toronto City Council approved a new 20-year Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan. The plan is a massive document that will guide how the City spends hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two decades on new community centres, pools, skating rinks, cricket fields, basketball courts, and more. If you want to read the whole thing you can do so here, but the City has also packaged it up in a nicer (and shorter) document.
There’s obviously a lot in the plan, but I want to focus in on one thing: the capital spending rate.
Wait, don’t leave. I know it sounds boring, but it’s actually incredibly important because it determines how fast the city can build what it says it’s going to build. Ever wonder why that park revitalization is taking so long or why that community centre promised years go is still just lines on some architect’s paper?
Toronto’s track record of spending its parks budget on actually building things each year isn’t great. In fact, the City regularly only spends about half of what it budgets each year. As city staff write: “[Parks, Forestry & Recreation’s] spending rates have been declining and are currently around 50% of annual allocations.” It’s projected to be 60% this year.
Why is this happening? Again, in the words of city staff: “To improve the efficiency and speed of delivery and capital spending, it is essential that capital investment be supported by an increase in staff and resources in capital planning and construction management.” Put simply: the City needs more staff, like project managers and purchasers, to deliver projects each year.
Budgets are interdependent. If you reduce staffing levels because you want to decrease your operating budget (as City divisions are often tasked with doing), then you affect your capital budget by limiting what you can realistically build that year. Conversely, if you build new parks and facilities, you are going to increase the pressure on your operating budget – every new park or facility needs money for maintenance, staff and programming. You can’t pull one end without affecting the other.
Why does all of this matter in the context of this new Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan? Because if City Council underinvests in park operations (aka staff) and maintenance, then this 20-year facilities master plan starts to look more like a 40- or 45-year master plan.
City budget time is coming up—the time of year when our politicians have the opportunity to invest in our city’s growth. Watch carefully. A key way City Councillors can support the Parks and Recreation Master Plan this year is to fund the necessary staff required to build and maintain parks and recreation facilities across the city for generations to come.
Image of the forthcoming community centre in CityPlace from ZAS Architects