Will Toronto make changes to city-run golf courses amid demands for green space?

How best to use Toronto’s precious green space – to build a golf course or grow affordable food that urban communities badly need – will be up to city council once it receives recommendations from staff.

Some food security advocates, such as farm manager Cheyenne Sundance, say living spaces like Dentonia Park in East York are best used for urban agriculture, where people can grow their own food and even earn an income. by selling it.

“Their quality of life and their physical quality of life will increase,” she said.

Then there are avid golfers, like Lucy Falco, who say it’s essential to maintain the courses as accessible spaces for low-income residents, newcomers, youth and others who want to enjoy themselves. initiate to sport.

“This is equal access to a recreational activity that so many of us love,” she said.

In a report presented to the infrastructure and environment committee on Tuesday, city staff said they were recommending an “improved status quo model” for the city’s five golf courses, despite calls to expand use. wider public.

But the report does not contain any clear direction on plans to improve environmental sustainability and what other recreational uses might be.

A request for proposal process on future operations would be launched if the board endorses the plan, with the goal of implementing these yet to be defined models for the 2024 season.

This means that the spaces will remain largely occupied by golf courses if the recommendations are supported by a majority of council members.

“Maintaining golf on golf courses promotes affordable access to the game for Torontonians, while public access to these parks, facilitated primarily, but not exclusively, during the off-season creates opportunities for both passive and active recreation,” like hiking, running or rallying, ”the report says.

He goes on to say that the city should also consider expanding other recreational opportunities on the courses, recognizing that they would take place mostly out of season.

That plan, the staff said, should include looking for opportunities for growing food. Local residents of low-income neighborhoods shared “feelings of frustration over their inability to access the largest green space in their community” during the consultations – as well as a petition signed by 86 local residents advocating for farming opportunities.

In response to questions sent by email, parks, forestry and recreation staff said many of the city’s golf courses are located in floodplains and are not suitable for gardening. The response indicated that they were working to identify other opportunities for growing food.

The Sundance farm manager told The Star that the city’s current golf course plan is a missed opportunity and out of step with what local residents want.

Sundance, herself, learned what it takes to grow an urban farm from seed and is now the farm manager of her own space, Sundance Harvest, a 1.5 acre farm in Downsview Park, which has two heated greenhouses that can feed up to 150 people. throughout the growing season.

Toronto has seven golf courses on city land and conservation authorities, two fully leased and five managed by the city through paid contractors.

The five courses organized by the city have struggled to reach the breakeven point.

“The majority of years since 2013 have not been able to fully recover operating costs,” the staff report said.

“The biggest difference was in 2017, when there was a shortfall of $ 481,136.”

But during the pandemic, that changed.

In 2020, the city recorded a positive net income of $ 874,679 “despite a season shortened due to COVID-19”.

This upward trajectory continued in 2021, according to the report, without offering overall figures. He warned that it is not clear whether this “new normal” will continue.

The yards will need major repairs in the future to keep running. The cost of these is estimated at $ 8.9 million over the next 10 years, according to the report.

The courses are: Humber Valley (Etobicoke), Scarlett Woods (York — South Weston), Don Valley (North York), Dentonia Park (East York) and Tam O’Shanter (Scarborough).

The report says the city should take a ‘hybrid’ approach to courses, including redesigning the smallest and least used course, Dentonia, reducing it from 18 to nine and expanding access to parks for the local community. . If this directive is approved, staff will begin a master plan for this space.

But Sundance said the city should consider devoting Dentonia to more accessible community use, getting rid of the golf course altogether, and building large allotment gardens, with plots larger than the more common community garden, where local residents could grow and possibly sell their own food.

“I think he has to prioritize real local residents,” she said.

As food prices and the uncertainty of the food supply continue to rise, allotment gardens could provide residents with a source of fresh food, income, educational opportunities for their children and a sense of pride. and ownership of a project in their community, Sundance mentioned.

Falco, senior golf defender for citizen group Save Toronto Golf Courses, said reducing Dentonia to nine holes or encroaching on play on one of the other courses would be a mistake.

Falco said that as a single woman on a fixed income, she mainly plays on courses in town. She learned to play Dentonia which is unique in that it is a shorter, par 3 course that allows players without strong driving skills to jump in and enjoy the game.

She said many of those who use the course are older women. She saw a participant from a women’s league come on the bus every week with her clubs in a shopping bag.

“These places are not a country club,” said Falco, who hopes his group’s advocacy can help fight the stigma of golf as a rich white man’s game.

The price, a huge obstacle to the game, is significantly lower on the courses organized in town than on other courses in the region. For example, the adult fee was $ 29.43 for 18 rounds at Dentonia Park during the week and $ 31.79 on weekends and holidays, while nearby Flemingdon Park charges $ 50 for nine. rounds and that private clubs typically charge tens of thousands of initiation fees in addition to substantial fees. annual membership fees.

Falco said his group believes the city review does not go far enough and that he would like to see the courses used as incubation spaces for local artists and businesses as well as educational opportunities for environmental sustainability, while maintaining golf.

The city should undertake a comprehensive master plan of all courses, she said.

This, however, leaves no room for urban agriculture, and Falco said his group was “alarmed” about the desire to turn spaces into farms.

“I felt it was a call to arms.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter who covers city hall and city politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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