People of Parks: Anita Georgy of Richmond Food Security Society

In this special series, Park People explores the people who activate the power of parks across Canada. This issue features Anita Georgy, Executive Director of Richmond Food Security Society, an organization that uses education, advocacy, and community building initiatives to build a robust food system in B.C’s fourth largest city. The organization manages all of the City of Richmond’s community gardens, has a seed library, a community kitchen, fruit recovery program and youth leadership initiative.

 

How did your involvement with parks begin?

My very first job was in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. I was just out of university and led a youth camping trips with Stanley Park Ecology Society. In Richmond, the issue of food security is in the Parks Department. So, when I joined Richmond Food Security Society, our offices were in a park called Terra Nova Farm Park, and we run all of the City’s community gardens.

The relationship between food security and parks runs deep for me, and for the organization.

What makes parks better?

Food makes parks better. Outside cities, there’s a fine balance between people and the nature that must be kept to preserve wild places. But, urban parks are for people. Whether it’s a public BBQ, picnic benches or community gardens, food brings people into parks and brings them together. Cities need parks to be places of engagement, and food creates that.

Brian Grover

Photo credit: Brian Grover

What’s your dream for Richmond’s parks?

Our parks have to be places where all different kinds of people can come together and connect with the natural world and each other. If we lose that connection, it’ll be disastrous for us as a society.

My dream is for people to use parks to be connected to the planet-even if that means lying on the grass and looking up at the stars.

As we are increasingly urban, food is something that draws us closer to the natural world that we’re all a part of.

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What’s your biggest triumph?

My biggest triumph hasn’t happened yet, but it’s in the process of becoming reality. We’re working on becoming a partner in Garden City Lands, a 136-acre park in the middle of the city. Being connected to the community gardens and programming around food will help us serve our food security mission on a whole new scale.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened?

 It’s not that crazy, but what comes to mind was when I was leading a girls’ private school group through ponds, looking for aquatic invertebrates and one of the girls tumbled right into the pond. That was an up close encounter with the natural world.

What advice would you give?

Share your ideas. There will always be people interested in good ideas. There’s opportunity for anyone to do something that makes a difference. It takes people like you, with passion and enthusiasm to make things happen. Go for it!   Cover image credit: Don Enright  

People of Parks: Jode Roberts

In this special series, Park People explores the people who make up the Park Friends movement. Each month, we will ask one park volunteer to share with us what inspires them to give their time and energy to city parks. This month, we talk to Jode Roberts, Director of Fun with Friends of Christie Pits and Creative Lead with The David Suzuki Foundation. 

How Did your Involvement with Parks Begin?

I grew up in Midland, Ontario. The woodlots and wetlands were our playgrounds. When my son Jasper was a toddler,  I sought out unstructured play opportunities to keep him happily distracted. I live near Christie Pits so it became my go-to. When I went to my first pizza night at the parks’ Bake Oven, I realized there were one or two people who put so much effort into making things happen in the park. After a few years living in the neighbourhood I decided to step up and take on a bigger role.

What Makes Parks Better?

People and interesting activities. Great parks should be places filled with play.

When I went to Brooklyn (as a Vital People grant recipient) I was on the search for light, quick and cheap things that could be implemented at Christie Pits and other Toronto parks. In Bryant Park, I was these great board game lending carts. When I came back I connected with The Chess Institute of Toronto and now have giant chess boards at every event we do in the park.

Right now, the park is definitely play-filled, with swimming, frisbee, basketball, basketball, baseball, soccer, slack lining, fitness classes and countless other activities happening simultaneously on any summer day–not to mention the new, heavily used ping pong tables.

What’s Your Dream for this Park?

The big dream is to follow the City of Chicago’s lead and land a major interactive public art project, like the Crown Fountain and The Bean. A more practical dream would be to make more use of underused parts of the park like the pool in winter and the outdoor rink in summer.  Why can’t there be a skatepark and a farmers’ market there during the summer?

What’s Been Your Biggest Triumph?

It’s still to come. The life and vibrancy of the park has really improved over the past several years as a result of the work of keen residents like Monica Gupta, our Councillor and his staff. One day, I hope to be able to step away and know there’s a roster of keen people that will carry the torch and take the park in new, unexpected directions. (Want to step up? Contact Jode at joderoberts@gmail.com)

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What’s the Craziest Thing That’s Ever Happened?

During a Homegrown Park Crawl event, there was a musical parade from Trinity Bellwoods to Christie Pits led by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. On a small side-street the band noticed a children’s birthday party was happening on a porch. The 16-piece band and several hundred paraders stopped, sang happy birthday and carried on. It was a glorious, serendipitous moment that no one could’ve planned.

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What Advice Would You Give?

Find the people in your neighbourhood, and especially within the bureaucracy, that will help you. be sure to be friendly and ask lots of  questions. Just be open to finding the way to work with people to make great things happen. As a side note, a huge shout out to our Park Supervisor Brian Green and groundskeeper Heather Lee who are  awesome!

 

 

 
On Sunday, hang out with Friends of Christie Pits at CHRISTIE CRAWLFEST which will bring thousands of residents into Christie Pits Park and the surrounding laneways and bike lanes. It will include musical acts — such as a parade led by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra — food, drink, art, community groups and kids’ activities.

 

People of Parks: Angie Buado

In this special series, Park People explores the people who make up the Park Friends movement. Each month, we ask one person dedicated to city parks to share what makes them tick. This month, we talk to Angie Buado, a founding member and current coordinator of Friends of Earl Bales Park.

How Did your Involvement with Parks Begin?

Earl Bales Park was like a second home when I moved to Toronto.  I would ride my bike here and I rest, read a book or join a barbeque. It was free and close to home. It’s where I spent my downtime.  

My church community at Filipino Seventh-day Adventist, takes on community service projects. In 2012, together with 2 other Filipino groups, our church group joined Clean Toronto Together to pick up litter in the neighbourhood. Over 100 people, from kids to seniors, came to that first cleanup.

We wanted to find out how to get more involved in the park, so we contacted Mandana Attarzadeh, Community Worker at Action for Neighbourhood Change at Unison Health and Community Services. She connected us with Park People who actively works to create Friends of Park groups in underserved neighbourhoods (as part of their Sparking Change initiative). We’ve been working in Earl Bales ever since.

What Makes Parks Better?

People make parks better. Earl Bales Park has great amenities like an amphitheatre, bike trails and a ski hill. But there are people living in apartment buildings, community housing, seniors and so many different cultural groups who could be coming here. We want them all to enjoy the park.

What’s Your Dream for this Park?

I love sports: volleyball, tennis, basketball. My dream is for this park to have more sports facilities–courts and fields. There’s so much space we could use for sports! It would draw more people into the park and build more connections in the community.

Also, I want the amphitheatre to host events every day of the week. On July 31, we have a free Multicultural Celebration with music, dance and art. This summer there’s music and theatre.But, I want this to be like Mel Lastman square: a hot spot for concerts, movies, music and theatre.

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What’s Been Your Biggest Triumph?

I’m proud that Earl Bales Park is a flagship site for Clean Toronto Together. Every year, more people help clean the park.

To me, that says they see Earl Bales as a place that’s important enough to care for. I’m most moved when I see kids cleaning the park and taking responsibility for and ownership of their park.

It’s grown so much since that first clean up 5 years ago.

What’s the Craziest Thing That’s Ever Happened?

Volunteering with Friends of Earl Bales Park has led to so many surprising opportunities. When the City recognised Friends of Earl Bales at a City Council meeting, I was invited to speak in front of City Council. That was a big deal.

Then, I was chosen to be a panelist at Civic Action’s Better City Bootcamp and I presented to politicians, business leaders, community leaders–even Olympians.

I didn’t imagine this volunteer position would lead to so many amazing (and scary) experiences. You just never know.

What Advice Would You Give?

We’ve always had the philosophy: Anyone who wants to join Friends of Earl Bales Park can join. We’ve partnered with Park People, the Earl Bales community centre, Unison, The City Councillor James Pasternak, religious groups, cultural groups. These partnerships have helped bring new ideas, funding and promotion to the park, which in the end, brings more people.

Below: Watch Angie talk about Earl Bales’ approach to partnerships in this video, made as part of our 2014 Parks Summit.

 

People of Parks: Eleanor Jimenez

In this special series, Park People explores the people who make up the Park Friends movement. Each month, we will ask one park volunteer to share with us what inspires them to give their time and energy to city parks.

This month, we talk to Eleanor Jimenez, who helped found Rexdale’s Panorama Community Garden. Eleanor admits, she’s not giving up her volunteer post until she can find someone who can dedicate themselves to keeping it going. She runs a garden that first and foremost, cultivates a sense of belonging in Rexdale’s high rise Panorama community.

How Did your Involvement with Parks Begin?

This started out as a paid job. I was working at ANC (Action for Neighbourhood Change, United Way) and a Rexdale garden group needed help getting a community garden off the ground. After the ANC job ended, I kept working as a volunteer.

I’d already invested time and I didn’t want the garden to fail. It’s been 5 years and I’m staying here until the right person comes along.

When I started, it was a job. But, I got to know the people in the area. I’ve seen how the garden touches people’s lives.

I go to bed knowing they’ve fed their family using the food they’ve grown in their own garden. I don’t need payment for that.

What Makes Parks Better?

Parks need small ways to get people out of their apartments and the stresses of their daily lives: a playground for kids, a movie night for families, board games for seniors, a community garden to grow fresh food.

It’s important to think about the people who use the park. The seniors group I work with, they want shade and board games. These are small things, but you need to ask people how their park can serve them.

What’s Your Dream for this Park?

The people in these buildings all need to have a plot in this community garden. Everyone needs to get outside, grow food and learn a little.

Right now there’s a waiting list. That shouldn’t be the case.

The garden should be three times its size and everyone should get out of their apartments to grow and connect with each other.

What’s Been Your Biggest Triumph?

The fence (laughs). That’s an 8-foot fence. No other park has that. It’s not supposed to go over 6 feet. But, with a shorter foot fence, the deer were eating everything. We pitched the City’s Community Gardens program, showing them pictures of the damage the deer were causing. It took a year of hard work with the City to get that tall fence in, but we did it!

What’s the Craziest Thing That’s Ever Happened?

Early on, there was no water for the gardens. Every day, 8 volunteers filled barrels with water from people’s apartments and drove the barrels to the garden. We did that every day for a full season.

What Advice Would You Give?

Learn how to talk to the people who you want to use your community garden. Listen to them, invite them and always include them in your plans.

If they ask you to do something, try it no matter what.

Stay close and on good terms with everyone connected to your park: the Park Supervisor, Councillor, non-profits and residents. Go out to community events and meet new people, and bring them back to your park.

People of Parks: Jutta Mason

In this special series, Park People explores the people who make up the Park Friends movement. Each month, we will ask one park volunteer to share with us what inspires them to give their time and energy to city parks. This month, we talk to Jutta Mason, a community activist and what many have referred to as the “soul of Dufferin Grove park.” 

How Did your Involvement with Parks Begin?

I was born in Germany and came to Toronto at 9 years old. Germans of my generation were profoundly molded by the Second World War. I was born when memories of the Holocaust were fresh. Because of that, it was a personal project for me to help more neighbours get to know each other.  Any public place that doesn’t have walls is a place where a diverse range of people can make friends or at least become familiar with each other, to have a chance to build longer-lasting loyalties. To me, and to many people of my generation, this was seen as a way to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust.

The second answer is that Nils Christie wrote an influential article called Conflicts as Property that was published in the British Journal of Criminology. Christie says that says it’s much better for community members to work out their conflicts locally than to move the conflicts away into the courts.Working together on differences is key to forming stronger bonds.

Around Dufferin Grove in the 1980’s, people wanted to bring the police into the community to stop things like littering and prostitution. I liked the idea that conflict could bring people together. What Christie says is that a community is not a perfect fairy tale. But, if neighbours can work to solve problems among ourselves, we emerge as a stronger community. I believe in that approach.

When we started the bake oven at Dufferin Grove, we intentionally put it beside the basketball court. We brought different kinds of people into close proximity.It created a kind of familiarity, sometimes also conflict, that helped people understand each other more.

What Makes Parks Better?

The biggest things you need are:

  1. Places to sit
  2. Places to go to the bathroom and
  3. Places to throw trash.

Beyond that, you have to have a diversity of features. At Dufferin Grove, you’ve got an unofficial skate park, a basketball court, an inground checkerboard, a bake oven, a theatre company. To get these things in a park, you need to remove bureaucratic blocks and silos.

What’s Your Dream for this Park?

My dream would be for a Dufferin Grove conservancy to be tried out. It would be a partnership between the park users and city staff, not unlike some aspects of the Central Park Conservancy –but built on what was started at Dufferin Grove– aToronto-style conservancy.

What’s Been Your Biggest Triumph?

The sandpit! It’s so simple really. Kids dig and get totally muddy.The sand pit is not run by adults, but it has to be monitored by adults. I used to say to parents: “Bring a book, your kids won’t want to leave.”

It’s an amazing social hub. It’s where people get to know each other. A lot of people have told me that’s where they first made friends at Dufferin Grove.

Now they have their phones, which kinda shrinks the whole dynamic.

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What’s the Craziest Thing That’s Ever Happened?

One time someone persuaded us that they should hold a wrestling event in the rink. Things got bloody. At first, we were excited about holding a different kind of event. It was allowed to run its course, but afterwards, I think everyone agreed that didn’t need to do that again.

There are a fair number of people who believe that the craziest thing is what goes on all the time at Dufferin Grove: we have campfires and kids using real metal shovels in the sandpit.

What Advice Would You Give?

“Don’t tell fairy tales.” People want to tell fairy tales about other places.

Jane Jacobs said “be in a place. Spend some time there, and then spend some more time there, before you come up with a theory about it.”

If you spend time in a place, the place will tell you its story about what it needs to be more of what it could be. If you have down time, go be in a place. That can be an amazing gift.

P.S. To be in a place, you need to get off your phone.

 

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