Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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Citizen-Z Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis




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Research Overview

See also Current Research, Mandate, and Pub Guidelines

''A repository of original CELOS research, and external source documents. See also Research on the dufferin park website for some material that will eventually be integrated into this area.

See some examples of Practical Research and Background Research.


We have found over the years that many issues identified close to public spaces can be traced back to general governance issues. For example liability issues seem to take a dominant role in attitude toward management of public spaces. And unfamiliar requests are resisted in the absence of established protocol. This body of research is aimed at tracing the links between the front lines and general governance.

Our current focus is a project to apply the findings of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom to many of the specific situations for which we have data, to see what we discover about both the situations we are including and the Ostrom Method. This is the Ostrom Workbook.

See Governance: Research and resources regarding management structures and practices that impact administration of public space.



Obviously financial resources have a major impact on public spaces. The budget of the City of Toronto in general has been rising faster than inflation, and the proportional budget allocation to staff has been rising disproportionately to the whole. Certainly the Parks Forestry and Recreation (PFR) budget, particularly the recreation portion, has been rising rapidly over the last decade. Then the question becomes: to what effect?

An emblematic puzzle is the state of repair of picnic tables - a very basic asset that seems to be perennially neglected in face of these budget increases. And we have found difficulties encountered in cityrinks (see cityrinks.ca. Also there is a very large ongoing planning effort, which we have trouble linking directly to frontline results.

Bureaucratic efficiency in general is a topic that has broad interest, and we share that interest.

This Financial section collects information about City and PFR with occasional early attempts at analysis.

See Finance: Collection of information on budgets, expenditures, and financial controls as these effect use of public space.

Some Analysis


An important part of public space, available to most in Toronto, is the parks and recreation facilities managed by Parks, Forestry, and Recreation. We place most emphasis on this, with historic involvement in Dufferin park, city rinks and many other situations close to the front lines. These efforts have been in aid of experimentation and discovery, and have resulted in a wealth of journals, and very broad public participation.

Even so, with broad acceptance of the success and benefits of many of these efforts, there is a lack of agreement within PFR as to lessons that could be taken away and integrated into operations. So we continue to work and study to understand key factors of effectiveness.

In operational research apart from the above efforts at parks and rinks, we have focussed on two interesting specific cases: Park Playground replacements, and the Cinergy Energy Retrofit contract. These efforts are ongoing.

See Operations: This area is a repository for detailed information about some of the key public facilities that we are interested in researching. Also some key areas of support services, as we look into how these influence the usage of public space.


Legal and Regulatory

Bureaucracies have traditionally been responsible for enforcing regulations as well as providing front-line services. This is a difficult thing to do in a large complex urban centre, with varied and often conflicting interests at play. Through its direct involvement in community initiatives over the years, CELOS has become aware of the labrynthine nature of the regulations at work in the city. The rules are often confusing even to city staff, let alone users. They are sometimes contradictory, and can be difficult to link directly to obvious need. Given the stresses of the work, the rules are even sometimes used as a shield. Yet obviously some common understanding of conflict resolution is required.

We continue to try to make sense of this difficult area. One theme has already emerged: liability issues are often paramount in the application of rules, even in the absence of direct evidence of risk.

CELOS currently has two main initiatives related to this area:

  • A Regulatory Research Database to pull together not only the rules themselves, but also experiences with those rules.
  • The Ostrom Workbook, which is a kind of retrospective review of some difficult situations through the lens of the work of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom.

See Legal and Regulatory: Research regarding the legal and regulatory frameworks, and the place of liability in the development and interpretation of policies effecting public space. See also the Regulatory Database.

Access To Information

Obviously access to information is vital to a research organization such as ours, so we highlight what we have learned in this area. See Access To Information: Accumulation of experience in accessing information to support our research. In the process, we collect information to support research into City practices regarding access to information. This is part of our Legal and Regulatory department.


We have developed a notion over the years that culture, within city staff and among public space users, is a critical part of involvement and outcomes. We hope to explore this in some detail. Some very early thoughts can be found in an article A Clash of Cultures on the cityrinks website.

Content last modified on May 08, 2019, at 02:25 PM EST