A popular downtown Toronto park recently reopened after more than four years and nearly $5 million in construction – and with all new pathways, benches and lighting, David A. Balfour Park also boasts a new building of elegant toilet.
But it’s closed for the winter and there’s only a porta-potty to replace it – a situation all too familiar to anyone who’s ever decided to go for a walk in a Toronto park during the winter months. .
“When we’re designing new parks, aiming for parks that meet people’s basic needs is really just the baseline bar for entry,” Adri Stark, senior executive at the Park People charity, told CBC. Toronto in an interview.
“Not providing winterized washrooms is not at all unique to Toronto. But this contributes to accessibility barriers and limits the use of the park, especially for vulnerable communities like the elderly and people with reduced mobility.
Of Toronto’s 187 park washrooms, only 52 are winterized. 47 additional restrooms are available at the city’s seasonal outdoor rinks. Two more winterized park restrooms are currently under construction, according to the city. And staff note that busy parks have portable toilets.
But that’s not enough for some residents. During the COVID-19 closures, with more people outdoors, there have been calls from Torontonians and city councilors to increase the number of year-round restrooms and water fountains in city parks. .
The City of Toronto says there was never a plan to winterize the new washroom building in David A. Balfour Park, located near St. Clair Avenue East and Mount Pleasant Road.
According to a statement from city staff, planning for park improvements, which began in 2015, “preceded discussions about introducing more year-round washroom facilities.”
The bathroom of “not upset” residents is not winterized
Making it clear she speaks only for herself, Deborah Briggs, a downtown resident and president of the Summerhill Residents Association, says she’s surprised the new building isn’t winterized but “not upset” at this. topic.
“The park offers little to no winter activities. The children’s play area is probably not used much in the winter, if at all, and there is no outdoor skating rink,” Briggs wrote in an email.
She notes that the trails in the park are also not plowed during the winter.
“That being said, I can’t speak for all of the residents,” Briggs clarified.
But for Edith Wilson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Guelph, access to public restrooms is a human rights issue.
Wilson has studied the issue specifically in Toronto and says the lack of a place to go to the bathroom is a barrier to participation in society.
“When people feel like there’s not enough access to toilets, they tend to stay home and not really get involved in the community,” Wilson said in an interview. .
“Because again, nobody really wants to be put in that undignified position – like begging for access to a company bathroom or… going out in the street or getting dirty,” she added.
Improvements to David A. Balfour Park were part of the larger Rosehill Reservoir rehabilitation project. Most of the project involved structural improvements to the drinking water reservoir buried under the park.
Construction began in 2018. The City of Toronto developed a plan for park improvements through the Rosehill Vision Committee. The cost of revitalizing the park was $4.8 million.
City staff confirmed that a portable toilet will be available at the park during the winter months.
“Significant” cost to winterize park facilities
In June, city council ordered the Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department to modernize park operations and improve services, including winterizing restrooms, though it’s unclear how the city will pay for it.
Some of the improvements requested include more frequent and earlier mowing of grass on sports fields, increased waste collection, earlier activation of water fountains and winterization of public toilets.
Although no cost estimate was provided, a financial impact statement attached to the motion states that it is a “significant increase in the level of service which will incur additional costs which cannot be taken into existing Parks, Forests and Recreation budgets”.
Park People’s Stark admits that expanding restroom access in the winter will come at a price, and that the way the city funds the parks department will have to change.
“We need to ensure that parks budgets really keep pace with population growth in Toronto – as well as the high level of park use that we have seen since the start of the pandemic, which has remained stable until here.”