Protecting Where Kids Play: Our Neighbourhood Playing Fields

As Mayor, Karen will with work with Toronto’s school boards and the Province to halt the sale of playing fields in the communities that can’t afford to lose them. Karen will also work to improve all fields available in neighbourhoods across the City. Fresh thinking and a new partnership is needed between the City and Toronto school boards to keep these important neighbourhood assets available and offering better value for the community.

“Across Toronto right now, cash-strapped school boards are in the process of selling off property, which includes open green space and playing fields. While this decision belongs to the school board, the loss of that green space will dramatically and negatively change the shape of neighbourhoods in every corner of our city. All this is happening when sports clubs and community groups struggle to find the resources and facilities they need to deliver their programs…. There is no reason why our City cannot unlock the full value of these outdoor recreational fields and give our communities greater access to this space, a better deal for their money while still addressing the financial needs of our school boards….” – Karen Stintz, February 26, 2014

Karen will also make it easier for community groups and sports teams to access fields, whether those fields are owned by the City or the school board. And, to access private investment, Karen has played a leading role in introducing changes at Council to facilitate public-private partnerships.

A true place of community is a green playing field. These fields are the home of organized soccer matches and impromptu football games. They are the grounds for ice rinks; the stage for fireworks; the venue of choice for fun fairs and barbecues. They are places where the community meets and time is well spent. hey are the places where kids play.

Playing fields are valued spaces. But in our City, we don’t have enough of them. In fact, some are being sold in the very places we need them most. Many fields are in a poor state of repair. All of them are difficult to rent, costing users more and offering less value in return.

A Closer Look at the Problem

The City of Toronto includes more than 650 sports fields among its assets. However, a 2004 City report stated that Toronto was short more than 150 playing fields; this deficit has only grown as the City’s population has grown over the last decade.

School properties also offer neighbourhoods playing fields. Unfortunately, the availability of these playing fields is diminishing as school boards sell surplus lands. Since 2008, the TDSB alone declared 67 sites surplus and sold 57 of them. These ongoing property sales contribute to a significant reduction in the number of playing fields in our neighbourhoods and place added pressure on the limited number of City-owned fields available to community organizations.

Adding to the community’s frustrations, the state of all playing fields – whether city owned or board-owned – are barely satisfactory. In fact, City staff acknowledge that many groups rent the fields for extra hours just so they can take care of them. To top it off, all permit fees are rising dramatically.

Karen’s Plan: The Wheels are in Motion

Karen understands that a sustainable funding solution must be created to preserve and improve the playing fields in our city. Unlike the other Candidates, Karen was at City Hall, working on very similar issues when the province wanted to close school pools.

As Mayor of this City, Karen will work with the provincial government to find better ways for the school boards to raise capital than by selling assets that Torontonians value. As these efforts are underway, Karen will initiate process to consolidate the operations of all playing fields, regardless of who owns them. Under Karen’s leadership, the City will enter into long-term leases with the school boards for their playing fields. Leasing these properties will provide the school boards with a needed revenue stream and provide the City with the access and control it needs to make more fields available to the community, at fair and consistent costs.

Then, to make it easier for community groups and sports teams to book fields, Karen will establish an online operating entity called, “Fields Toronto”. These green spaces should be treated as community assets and governments should be making it easier for communities to use them.

That’s just the first step of the plan. Karen knows that those fields that she will make available must be fields worth renting; that our residents want and deserve a quality product.

Karen is already in action on this piece of the plan.

Right now, Karen is building partnerships with businesses and local foundations to improve the quality of our playing fields. Karen has identified organizations that want to contribute financially and Karen has put the wheels in motion to allow those funds to flow. Karen is also working to enable expert community organizations to help the City make smart, data-driven decisions about how investments in our playing fields are made. Finally, Karen is bringing new partners to the table, recognizing that a playing field is a critical place in the hours from 3 pm to 6 pm – a place where kids can develop and flourish.

Karen and playing fields. Protecting where kids play and smart enough to know how to do it.