A popular park in Midtown Toronto recently reopened after nearly four years and nearly $5 million in construction. David A. Balfour Park also has a sleek new washroom building, along with all new paths, benches and lighting.
However, it is closed during the winter and the only alternative is the Porta Toilet. This is a situation familiar to anyone who has ever decided to take a walk in a Toronto park in the winter.
“When we design new parks, aiming for parks that meet people’s basic needs is really just a criterion for entry,” says Adri Stark, senior manager at the charity Park People. He told CBC Toronto in an interview.
“The inability to provide winter washrooms is not unique to Toronto. However, it contributes to accessibility barriers and discourages park use, especially for vulnerable communities such as the elderly and those with limited mobility. limit.”
Of the 187 washroom facilities in Toronto’s parks, only 52 have winter facilities. An additional 47 washrooms are available at the city’s seasonal outdoor ice rink. Two more cold-weather toilets are currently under construction, according to the city. Staff points out that high-use parks are equipped with portable toilets.
But not enough for some residents. With more people spending time outdoors during the COVID-19 lockdown, Toronto citizens and city council members have called for more year-round restrooms and fountains in city parks.
According to the city of Toronto, there were no plans to winterize the new washroom building at David A. Balfour Park, near St. Clair Avenue East and Mount Pleasant Road.
Plans for the park’s upgrade, which began in 2015, “prior to discussions about introducing more year-round restroom facilities,” according to a statement by city officials.
Resident ‘unshaken’ bathroom not insulated
Deborah Briggs, a Midtown resident and president of the Summerhill Residents’ Association, revealed she was only speaking for herself and was surprised the new building wasn’t insulated, but “I’m not upset” about it.
“There are little to no winter activities at this park. Children’s playgrounds are probably not used much during winter and there are no outdoor rinks,” Briggs wrote in an email.
She said the park’s trails weren’t cleared of snow during the winter.
“That said, I cannot speak for all residents,” Briggs explained.
But for Edith Wilson, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph, access to public restrooms is a human rights issue.
Wilson has researched this issue specifically in Toronto, and says that lack of access to the bathroom is a barrier to social participation.
“When people feel that access to washrooms is inadequate, they tend to stay home and be less involved in the community,” Wilson said in an interview.
“Again, no one really wants to be put in such a disrespectful position, like begging for access to a business’s washroom, going to the street, and getting themselves dirty. Because no,” she added.
The David A. Balfour Park improvements were part of a larger Rosehill Reservoir restoration project. A large part of the project involved structural upgrades of drinking water reservoirs buried beneath the park.
Construction started in 2018. The City of Toronto has developed an upgrade plan for the park through the Rosehill Vision Committee. The cost of restoring the park was $4.8 million.
City officials have confirmed that portable toilets are available in parks during the winter months.
It takes a “significant” cost to protect the park facilities from the cold.
In June, the city council directed Toronto’s Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation to modernize park operations and improve services such as insulated washrooms, but how the city will pay for it is unclear. It’s not clear.
Among the improvements requested include more frequent and earlier mowing on playgrounds, increased litter collection, earlier activation of water fountains, and winterization of public restrooms.
Cost estimates were not provided, but the financial impact statement accompanying the motion stated, “The significant increase in service levels will result in additional costs that parks, forestry and recreation cannot afford within their existing budgets. I will.”
Park People’s Stark acknowledges that expanding access to winter restrooms is costly and will require changes in how the city funds the parks department.
“We need to work to ensure that our park budgets are able to keep up with Toronto’s growing population, as well as rising levels of park utilization that have remained stable since the start of the pandemic to date. I have.”