Thoughts of a Toronto-based PR consultant. A focus on the PR profession and the charitable sector, with forays into arts, society and politics.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Planned Deputation for Toronto Budget 2012 Public Hearings Dec. 7

To the Budget Committee:

Before you make any budget recommendations on this matter, I encourage—I beg—all the committee members to join our community this Saturday morning at Fairmount Park Community Centre and the surrounding park, which are always filled with children and families.

I want to stress that our community centre is not made of numbers, it’s made of people. And looking at charts of numbers enrolled in registered programs will not give you the full information you need to responsibly make this decision. Ask any parent in our community and they’ll tell you that we’re all hungry for more programs at Fairmount. Build us more programs, and we’ll come. So cutting programs is the exact wrong thing for our community.

But you couldn’t know that, looking only at registration numbers. Those numbers alone will not tell you what you need to know about the incalculable benefits of our community centre to the children and families in our neighbourhood, who treasure not only the community centre and pool as vital community assets, but also the dynamic Fairmount Park that surrounds it.

Visit us next Saturday morning, and you’ll see preschoolers in ballet costumes fluttering through the front door, and kids in their martial arts gear with their proudly coloured belts, and people of all ages with backpacks stuffed full of swim gear. All ages, all cultural backgrounds, all economic circumstances. Then come and sit in the pool gallery and watch eight swim classes happening—all at the same time—in our relatively modest-sized pool. It’s always crowded, always in demand. You’ll see fat little babies in the arms of their parents, you’ll see skinny awkward preteens developing the swim skills that may well someday save their lives and will go far in keeping them healthy, fighting obesity with a lifelong love of athletics. And here I’m talking about kids from all cultural and economic backgrounds, all in the same facility and sharing the benefit of our vital and much-loved community asset.

But then come outside. On any given day, year-round, you’ll see kids and families zipping between the park and the community centre, using the bathrooms, sitting at tables to work on homework, meeting up with family members and friends. None of this will be in your charts of registration numbers, but it’s all vital to the health of our community, and our city at large.

In the park surrounding Fairmount at any time, you’ll see families enjoying the park, you’ll see permitted baseball teams playing games, you’ll see the tennis courts hopping, and the wading pool filled to the brim with kids. In the winter a volunteer-run skating rink bustles with activity and the hillside is thick with tobogganers. But your data in front of you doesn’t capture that. Your data won’t tell you that this is an extremely heavily-used city park, and that all of our families rely on the community centre to make it work. Perhaps most importantly, our children know when they’re playing in the park that the community centre is a safe place to turn if they’re harassed, hurt, or threatened in some way. It provides safety, and refuge, and eyes on the park in a neighbourhood that has seen some troubles, as most neighbourhoods have, from time to time.

We all want our city to be fiscally careful. So even in the name of fiscal caution, please don’t close our community centre. We have an active community that is willing to roll up our sleeves and find efficiencies and ways to engage our community to limit waste. But you can’t responsibly make this decision without weighing the deep value of all that is not tracked by your registration numbers in front of you.

We love our park and the community hub that Fairmount provides. It’s working. It’s great. Don’t destroy this, because in the long run, it will cost all our citizens far more if we have to rebuild what has taken generations to create.