See also Site Map
posted August 27, 2006
Now that the Composting toilet has gotten final approval from the city, Georgie Donais put out the word asking for thank you letters to Councillor Giambrone for his support.
posted on July 4, 2006
When the big cob-courtyard-building project was going on last summer, people kept asking: so where’s the toilet going to be? For parents and caregivers of young kids, the lack of a toilet near the playground has been a drawback for years. And Georgie Donais has been interested in the ecology of sewage forever – i.e. composting toilets.
The brother of a cob volunteer, living in the southern U.S., heard about the cob project and offered to donate an industrial-strength composting toilet (the kind used in campgrounds and highway rest stops). There was no place for it in the courtyard structure, but there’s a good spot nearby, just west of the playground. In the fall, Georgie started talking to the Parks manager about the idea. She proposed building another smaller cob structure to surround the composting toilet. The manager was interested, so last February Georgie designed a beautiful, sculptural little cob building and applied for two small grants to cover its cost. Both grants – $10,000 from the Toronto Arts Council, and $2000 from the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation – were approved.
The Parks manager has changed in the meantime, and on June 1 Georgie and several park staff met with Sandy Straw, the new Parks manager for Toronto and East York, and Peter Leiss, the new West Parks maintenance supervisor. Georgie showed them detailed drawings, specs, etc. (including the number of bums the toilet can accept before it needs a rest). But on June 7, the manager had to leave for a family emergency, and she didn’t get back until June 26. The supervisor was also busy or away for that whole time, and suddenly the whole project was in trouble because the permissions were not ready.
Georgie wrote: “I am getting more and more concerned that building season is passing us by; volunteers are now in the park, and we are missing the chance to make use of their skills.”
On June 29, we went into crisis mode and talked to everybody including City Councillor Adam Giambrone, about the possibility that Georgie might have to give back her funding if the project couldn’t get going. Lucky for us, we were able to get the attention of all those busy management people, and the project is going ahead after all. The foundation will hopefully be done by the middle of July, and then: let the cobbing begin! To find out more, go to Georgie’s web pages: dufferinpark.ca/cobcourtyard, or read the park bulletin boards. Georgie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks, Adam, for cutting the red tape for the progress of this important facility!! Whether park lovers have children or not, even older park lovers feel that a facility like this is not just a convenience, but an absolute necessity. Thanks for your ongoing and future support of our neighbourhood.
- Della Golland
posted August 27, 2006
Dear Councillor Giambrone,
I am a neighbour of Dufferin Grove Park, and a user of the 'outdoor community centre' there for over a decade (with my two children). I want to thank you (and I'm sure I speak for many, many neighbourhood friends and families of the park) for your support for the compost toilet being built near the playground.
Within a park already a model for communities and community-building around the city (and beyond), this project is yet another brilliant example of people coming together to meet local needs in ways that are creative, community-enhancing, and environmentally sound. Locating a toilet in the area of the park most frequented by parents and children has obvious benefits, and we hope you are proud of what this community has been able to do to meet the needs of its participants. Dufferin Grove and those who volunteer their time to make it what it is are an inspiration - and we appreciate the support you lend to it.
Nadya Burton PhD
Midwifery Education Program
posted August 27, 2006
Dufferin Grove Park is a miracle ...practically the best thing about Toronto. Maybe only a mother could fully appreciate what it means. I dreamed of that kind of community when my own children were small. Now, with my daughter (a single mother in your ward) and her two lovely little boys, I visit D.G. constantly through the summer. It's cool and fresh beneath the huge trees, children romp freely in the water and in the imagination-stirring creative sand pit. Every day they make new friends in the co-operative atmosphere of the park,. and mothers break out of their isolation and meet soul-mates in the great task of nurturing. It is truly "our village" that helps us raise the children.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the welcoming and open spirit of the park and its remarkable feeling of collectivity and sharing have made me feel more like a citizen and lover of this city than practically anything else in my nearly seven decades of living here.
There's organic food on sale, free books for children to read, community suppers, the glorious farmers' market, pizza-making for all...the glories are endless. The only thing lacking was a toilet near the playground and wading pool. It's an absolute essential for toddlers and even older children, who can't make it all the way across the park in an emergency. Imagine how a mother feels when she has to run with her toddler, toting a heavy baby, for such a long distance. The lack of a bathroom was the park's only flaw.
Thank you so much for facilitating this eco-friendly, people-centred addition to our park.
Full text of broadsheet distributed to all households on October 13 2006, signed Carol Seljak of the Bloor-Dufferin Residents’ Committee. Here also are responses from the composting toilet project leader Georgie Donais (as posted on the fence at the composting toilet project). Original text in black, responses in red.
Who approved placing a composting toilet in Dufferin Grove Park?
It’s a secret!!
[Not a secret. The owner of the park, i.e., Parks, Forestry and Recreation approved the project, in collaboration with Buildings and Toronto Public Health. Parks staff have clearly told this to the complainants.]
Construction of a composting toilet building with a leaching bed has already begun on a site just west of the walkway near the children’s playground area. The fifteen foot high building [The building is 12 feet high at its highest point. Most of it is less than that, going down as low as 8 feet. The roof is a green roof, growing flowers and grasses, so it will blend in well] containing the toilet is proposed to be located at the west end of the site with several permanent cob structures [There will be only one building, plus two small cob benches nearby (already in place)] (similar to the structure abutting the wading pool) enclosing the perimeter [no perimeter wall, just the composting toilet surround] of the site. The foundation of the toilet building appears to have been completed by volunteers. The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park are promoting the project and have obtained funding for the compost toilet.
What is a composting toilet and what is a leaching bed?
A composting toilet is a sewage treatment system. Human waste is slowly decomposed primarily by aerobic bacteria and through the addition of a bulking agent (usually wood shavings) which breaks the waste down into liquid effluent (human waste). It passes through a filter layer and drains to a leaching bed. A leaching bed means a filter bed located wholly in the ground, or raised or partly raised above ground to which effluent from a treatment unit (the composting toilet) is applied for treatment and disposal. [This is not an accurate description. See the August 21 technical responses sent to the complainants.]
Such toilets can be found in remote areas where connection to a sewer system is not possible [Not only in remote areas. The same toilet is in downtown Vancouver. Edmonton is planning for them, and the Department of Highways has used them along main highways for some years] i.e. in national parks. It is our understanding that this is the first composting toilet being proposed for a heavily used City Park where sewer connections are readily available for regular toilet hookup.
What are our concerns?
At a meeting on July 26 with a City Parks supervisor we identified several issues:
- location, no hand-washing facilities, possible ground-water contamination
- complications of inserting materials other than human waste on the toilet function
- under whose jurisdiction and responsibility does this project fall?
- Who is responsible for providing and maintaining construction site safety, for the installation of the toilet, the monitoring of usage, maintenance and repair? [All these responsibilities ultimately belong to the property owner i.e. the Corporation of the City of Toronto through the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. Friends of the park will help out lots, as they have for years.]
We requested complete details of the proposal [All the requested details were sent to the complainants in August, and posted on the dufferinpark.ca website at the same time], an outline of the approvals process by City hall and a flyer outlining all of this information to be hand-delivered to area residents. We have since written to several City department heads and to Councillor Giambrone asking for confirmation of the following statements made to us by City staff in Buildings, parks and Public Health:
The composting toilet (with its leaching bed) is not a permitted use and contravenes the City of Toronto Municipal Act, the Ontario Building Code Act and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing policies and procedures re qualifications as well as registration and licensing procedures for on-site sewage system installers. [This complaint needs specific citations. The Building Code specifically allows composting toilets and the other references are too vague – numbers needed.]
We have received no responses from the bureaucrats. [The Parks manager asked to meet with the complainants and they refused. They also refused to meet with Georgie Donais, the neighbourhood coordinator of this project.] In order to encourage these top City bureaucrats to respond in a timely fashion we have now written to the mayor and all members of Council requesting their help.
How did this construction get to far without neighbouring residents being consulted?
The friends of Dufferin Grove Park have been touting the notion that two so-called "public meetings" were held June 25 and September 12 and that all residents attending were in favour of the proposal. Unfortunately, notices of both meetings had only been placed in the park itself near the wading pool and on the Friends’ web site and through their internal e-mail list. [Both meetings were advertised on posters all over the park. They were also featured in the monthly park newsletter and on the home page of the dufferinpark.ca web site.] No notices were delivered to the surrounding neighbourhood. [City Councillor Adam Giambrone had 350 notices dropped into neighbourhood mailboxes for the September 12 meeting.] When we heard via the friends’ web-site about a proposed September 12 meeting, Councillor Giambrone assured us that he would arrange for hand-delivered notices of the meeting to be distributed to all neighbourhood residents.
So much for Giambrone’s promises! The notices were not delivered! It wasn’t until the Star wrote an article on the toilet followed by a letter to the editor response by Carol Seljak that many neighbourhood residents first got a whiff of it. People came out of their houses and began to share their surprise and disbelief with their neighbours. One neighbour felt deceived by a volunteer worker who told him that the project was simply more art sculptures making no mention of the composting toilet. [The composting toilet information sheets were posted on the project fence from the beginning of the summer, for everyone to read. No one was being sneaky about the project.]
How can you find out more about this project?
We area residents and park users need to have a real public meeting not a farcical, stacked meeting. [The September 12 meeting had almost 100 neighbours discussing all aspect of the project. But the complainants did not appear. How then did they know the meeting was “farcical” and “stacked”? If only Carol Seljak had consented to talk directly to Georgie Donais, or to the Parks manager, or to the friendly neighbours at the meeting, Carol and her friends would not have to worry so much now!] so that we can hear detailed information about the proposal, have our questions answered, and our concerns addressed. We need a fair meeting where speakers identify themselves and where they live. We need to have an impartial chair who allows various opinions to come forward.
We want an approvals process that gives area residents a say in what happens in our park!
posted October 18, 2006
[[ |composting toilet
Here are some important corrections to Carol Seljak’s flyer about the compost toilet being built beside the playground. For a copy of the original flyer and also for more detailed compost toilet information, see www.dufferinpark.ca, click on “cob courtyard.”
Excerpts from project lead Georgie Donais’ letter to all the councillors whom Ms.Seljak e-mailed with her assertions:
“this flyer creates the impression that there is some kind of conspiracy by some people in the neighourhood to maintain secrecy about local community projects. Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe this community has one of the most, if not *the* most active communications efforts anywhere in the city:
- There is a monthly newsletter which is printed and distributed to 300-600 people per month
- The park website (www.dufferinpark.ca) has recently been getting about 35,000 page requests per month, and contains roughly 2000 pages of information collected over the years about park activity.
- There is a weekly email distribution of Farmers' market news to over 400 people
- There is an independent community mailing list that has over 300 members
- There is a weekly farmers' market, a weekly Friday night supper, converging around the playground during the summer, and around the rink during the winter, which actively promote community discussions
- The staff of the park are fully informed about all activities, and spend much of their time answering questions to anyone who asks
- There are always posters and flyers posted around the park regarding any significant activity.
- Individuals working on projects often have extensive email lists
- ALL project activities are convivial events at the park, and people are always encouraged to engage in discussions and ask questions on site
All of these mechanisms were brought into play in keeping the neighbourhood informed about the ongoing composting toilet project. In addition we prepared extensive information material which is posted at the physical project site in the park, and also in the rinkhouse.
We would add that Ms. Seljak's claim that Councillor Giambrone did not circulate flyers in the neighbourhood to announce a September meeting about the Composting Toilet Project is simply false. He did.”
posted October 28, 2006
Park friend and shinny hockey player Veronica Pochmursky, who works at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, sent in an article about “bio-toilets” by Elizabeth Rand-Watkinson, October 27 in the Globe and Mail. This writer describes a Japanese “bio-toilet” soon to be manufactured in Canada. It’s used in very cold climates in Japan and Russia, and in very busy places, e.g. Japan’s biggest zoo, where there are over 2 million visitors a year. The waterless, odourless toilet, with its little rotating augur and fan, sounds very similar to the one being installed at Dufferin Grove Park. But the manufacturer is careful not to call it a composter. He calls it a biodegrader.
The bio-toilet described in the Globe article, like the one that Georgie Donais got donated for the park, has very low maintenance requirements and some remarkable advantages. From the Globe: “Annual maintenance involves the removal and replacement of a third of the supply of sawdust in the unit three times a year. As an added green bonus, the spent sawdust has been effectively pasteurized and contains enough nutrients that it can be safely spread over your lawn as a natural fertilizer. So, you could say your waste produces literally no waste, because everything that comes out of the biotoilet can be put to good use.”
The Globe writer anticipates a time when these toilets will gain broad acceptance, because – she says – they are so much better for the environment. As became evident this summer, though, acceptance is not quite here yet. Several close park neighbours have tried hard to stop the installation of the toilet in the park. For some time now, they have been calling for more formal community input on all decisions made about the park. Last November, the City called a public meeting at St.Mary's High School to find out whether other voices were calling for a more formal community advisory structure too. Every household in the area got an invitation, and the cafeteria was almost full. But at the end of the meeting it was clear that there was minimal enthusiasm for a formal community council, and no further steps were taken.
That was before the bio-toilet and then the arrival of Foodshare and their youth teaching garden in the park. To stop these initiatives, the question of "community control" was back on the table. It has even become an election issue: Ward 18 candidate Simon Wookey says he will work to create "Park Trusts" to "take the authority from the politicians and put it into the hands of the community." Would that mean -- perhaps -- that the community would have the authority not only to vote on a new kind of toilet, but also on replacing grass with a new garden bed, paving of the central path to make the park wheelchair-accessible, permission to hold a cultural event -- every detail?
If such a system is installed, here's a puzzle: who will be eligible to be a part of any community parks authority? If membership is by election, will everyone in the ward get to vote, or only the people who live within a block of the park? Will frequent park users be allowed to vote, although they live six blocks away, or even in an adjacent ward? (Dufferin Grove Park is only two blocks from a ward boundary.) If not, will that mean that parks are possessions of their immediate neighbourhood, not an amenity belonging to all Toronto residents? If yes, how frequently will a person have to use the park to be allowed to vote on the park authority? How will they prove frequent use?
This candidate’s idea may need a little more thought.
[[ | [[ |
Last September, the City Parks management hired architect Martin Liefhebber to evaluate the plans for the community-built bio-toilet shelter. Because the shelter is less than 100 square feet, park friends believed that it would be exempt from needing a building permit. That’s what the building code says for small structures. But it turned out that the code gets more complicated when a toilet is involved. In this case the structure houses a National Parks-style bio-toilet model, composting waste instead of being hooked up to the sewer grid. The shelter is built of cob (clay, sand, straw and water, mixed with bare feet) by ordinary people including kids. That’s right outside the standard rule book, so it produces a regulatory headache.
The City asked the architect to help get building code approval for this structure, which is based on elements built and approved elsewhere in Canada, but not common in Toronto. They made good progress, working with the building inspectors, but there was one big problem from the point of view of the park cob builders – the conversations, planning, and drawing up of blueprints was done without any involvement of Georgie Donais after the initial consult. The City Parks management didn’t invite her into the discussions nor was she even told when there were meetings. When she was shown the finished plans in April, she saw that some small but important building issues had not been addressed.
Georgie has now been brought into the conversation. The working parts of the composting toilet have been accepted by Toronto Buildings, and the City has hired engineer Kharyn Chau to go over the plans for the cob housing from an engineering standpoint. Buildings like this, some of them many hundreds of years old, exist all over Britain, Europe and the Middle East. If they can be made to fit the code in Ontario, Toronto will be one of the first cities in North America to have stamped, approved plans for such an environmentally-friendly amenity – in the forefront again!
posted July 14, 2007
The playground’s cob courtyard (its thick walls made with “cob” – i.e. clay, sand, straw, and water mixed together – a bit like adobe) was originally built to frame the required public-health sinks for the wading pool snack bar. During the summer of 2005, about five hundred people participated with park user and builder Georgie Donais to shape that little courtyard, with more than just sinks -- a fireplace and a green roof and even a baby changing station. But one element was still missing: a toilet handy to the playground. Playground users have been asking for such a facility for many years, but there was never enough money – building a new park washroom costs between $150,000 and $350,000. What to do?
Georgie began to research the newer kind of industrial-strength composting toilets that are increasingly used in public spaces where location and circumstances prohibit standard plumbing hook-up. She visited such installations, made phone calls all over the country, consulted with the park managers, and applied for a grant to help build a simple cob shelter around a “Phoenix” brand composting bio-toilet. She found a donor for the $9000 toilet. She designed a cob shelter with bas-relief sculptures in the walls, and the Toronto Arts Council approved a $10,000 “Community Arts” grant. The park’s Recreation staff helped Georgie to set up a playground meeting to discuss the project. Work (with volunteer help) began in July 2006.
But then concern among some park neighbours that the toilet would be more like a smelly chemical toilet than an ecological break-through, put the project on pause. A large community meeting reaffirmed broad support for the project, but continuing opposition even made the bio-toilet a local issue in the November municipal elections. The Parks department, interested in the possibilities of park toilets which don’t require costly plumbing infrastructure, hired Martin Liefhebber, an architect well-known for his green credentials. The City followed up by hiring engineer Kharyn Chau to help the small cob toilet housing meet the building code. (The building code does not specifically address earthen building processes, so the engineer has had to work hard.) Now the engineer and the architect, consulting with Georgie, have almost finished adapting the toilet and its building to the regulations.
So on Friday July 13 City Councillor Adam Giambrone held another information meeting. This was the fourth public discussion meeting about the subject, and the crowd had distinctly dwindled from the last time, but there were still about 25 people pro and 8 against (plus several people there to protest the Lansdowne road narrowing). The convictions of the people on either side of the toilet did not seem to alter in any way, and at times the meeting became so noisy that the Councillor said he would have to leave if people did not allow him to chair.
Where that leaves the bio-toilet: Parks supervisor Peter Leiss confirmed that the City is committed to trying the Phoenix toilet as a pilot project. He said there’s no City money for any new plumbed toilets, and although a company might be found to fund them, that would come along with the right to have advertising inside a city park – not yet permitted by the City. (Italics are Peter’s). The modifications to the toilet and its little cob enclosure will increase the cost of the project to about $15,000 more than the money raised for it. There is good hope that the City will be able to cover that cost, especially since bio-toilets seem to be the coming thing: the City of Edmonton has commissioned a bank of Phoenix bio-toilets near its downtown, a similar model is reportedly servicing the busiest zoo in Japan, and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority has installed some ‘eco-toilets’ in their office building in Vaughan. Hopefully the toilet will win over its opponents when it’s actually built – a real, existing bio-toilet may be worth a thousand words.
The playground’s cob courtyard (its thick walls made with “cob” – i.e. clay, sand, straw, and water mixed together – a bit like adobe) was originally built to frame the public-health sinks for the wading pool snack bar. During the summer of 2005, about five hundred people participated with park user and builder Georgie Donais to shape that little courtyard, and it ended up having more than sinks -- a fireplace and a green roof and even a baby changing station. But one element was still missing: a toilet handy to the playground. Playground users have been asking for such a facility for many years, but there was never enough money – building a new park washroom costs around $100,000. What to do?
When a park visitor told of his good experiences with the new industrial-strength composting toilets in the U.S., and then even offered to donate one (value: $8000), it seemed like the problem of the missing toilet could be solved.
Georgie researched the kind of toilets that are commonly used where location and circumstances prohibit standard plumbing hook-up, and found a brand of composting toilet that held promise. She visited such installations, made phone calls all over the country, consulted with the park managers, and applied for a grant to help build a simple cob shelter around a “Phoenix” brand composting bio-toilet. The plans called for bas-relief sculptures all around the shelter’s walls, and the Toronto Arts Council approved a $10,000 “Community Arts” grant.
Work began in the summer of 2005. But then concern among some park neighbours that the toilet would be more like a smelly chemical toilet than an ecological break-through, put the project on pause. The Parks Department, interested in the possibilities of such toilets for parks which haven’t got the plumbing infrastructure, hired Martin Liefhebber, an architect well-known for his green credentials. The City followed up by hiring an engineer too, who could help the small cob toilet housing meet the building code. The building code does not specifically address earthen building processes, so the engineer has had to work hard. Now the engineer and the architect, consulting with Georgie, have almost finished adapting the building to the regulations. City Councillor Adam Giambrone says it’s time to hold an information meeting to show how the playground toilet can be constructed, in all its details. But the steel supports they recommend for the cob housing will increase the cost of the toilet by an yet-unknown amount, perhaps many thousands of dollars.
All the building details – architectural drawings, CSA-approved bio-toilet standards, sketches of the sculptural elements of the building walls – will be posted at the wading pool shed in the week of the meeting. For those people who live near the park but don’t come there to look at the bulletin boards, notices and this newsletter will be delivered to their houses well in advance of the meeting. The meeting should be a fascinating encounter between different views of how parks can serve their neighbourhoods, even at a time when there’s little available public funding for improvements. Meantime, the City of Edmonton has commissioned a bank of Phoenix bio-toilets for its downtown, and a similar model is reportedly servicing the busiest zoo in Japan. Is it Toronto’s time to try this solution, or not yet? Do park friends have the resolve to raise all the extra money the building code adaptations require? Can Parks management find the time to give the institutional support needed? Will the final plans win over the park neighbours worried about malfunction? Come to the information session after Friday Night Supper and share your thoughts.
[[ |Artist's conception of the Dufferin Park Bio-toilet
Bio-toilets (modern composting toilets), of the sort that Georgie Donais got donated for Dufferin Grove Park, have passionate friends – and passionate enemies too, such as the park neighbour who wrote in her blog recently that she had worked hard to bring in “enough building inspectors to delay the shithole for 2 years.”
Despite that kind of opposition, new bio-toilet projects seem get written up in the papers every few weeks now. Since Georgie Donais began the project at Dufferin Grove, a bio-toilet was put in at the Markham Fairgrounds, where there can be 100,000 people visiting a weekend event. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has put in a bio-toilet staff washroom for 45 people at their offices in Vaughn. Their resource project manager Dave Rogalsky said "Using technology such as the compost toilet is a matter of changing people's perceptions. The idea of it can give people the creeps. But we’re committed to sustainability and our site was 400 metres from city services, so compost toilets were an easy sell.” They figured out that the bio-toilets reduced their water usage by six times the norm.
The City of Edmonton parks system has put in bio-toilets that will be up and running by next summer. The Bronx Zoo in New York City has “eco-restrooms” designed to accommodate more than a half-million visitors per year, with 14 foam-flush bio-toilets and four waterless urinals. The Mountain Equipment Co-op in Winnipeg has bio-toilets, and so does the CK Choi Institute of Asian Research at UBC in Vancouver. They figure that their five units save nearly 100,000 gallons of water per year.
Meantime it seems pretty clear by now that Parks management is not much interested in supporting the Dufferin Grove bio-toilet project. Georgie Donais was only occasionally allowed to be at the table when the plans were drawn up by the architect hired by the city (an architect for a toilet is unusual, but that’s what the inspectors required, after the project’s opponents alerted them). Since Georgie was not allowed to be a full participant in the planning, the building permit that came through has some serious problems. But the foundation plans are fine, and that part might have been started in September. It seemed like the City’s own workers might take on the foundation contract, since it mainly involved pouring cement, something at which the city’s Technical Services are very experienced. However, Georgie was not allowed to talk to them directly – everything had to go through Parks supervisor Peter Leiss. After three months of keeping her waiting, Mr.Leiss finally let Georgie know that Technical Services wouldn’t do it. And so on it goes, with blocks and inaction in every direction. .
Georgie has written to Mr.Leiss that she can’t continue to work on this basis: “It is clear to me that we continue to have two very different ideas about what kind of cooperation and collaboration it is going to take to get this project successfully completed….It is time for the city to stand behind its stated commitments both to water conservation and to community collaboration.”
It may be that the issue will need discussion at the Parks and Environment Committee, to see whether environmentally-minded councillors can direct Parks management to stop dragging their feet.
The city’s commitments to water conservation are firm, but sometimes hard to see in action. Certainly the drought this past summer and fall was a warning, but conserving water during that time by not watering the newly planted trees seems like it was a bad idea. Better to try an ingenious little waterless technology that can be built and installed with hands-on help from park users, and that can add fertility to the park instead of sending more sewage to the lake.