A beautiful community garden nestled within Tom Riley Park in west Toronto is quite popular among people of all ages, particularly seniors living in a nearby community. But they have had difficulty getting into the park’s garden due to a lack of stairs.
The hill leading down into the garden through the park wasn’t easily accessible for everyone. So local senior Adi Astl asked council member Justin Di Ciano if the city could put a set of stairs in and make the area safer.
But what he was told shocked him. Justin said it would cost between $65,000 and $150,000 to construct a simple set of stairs.
So Adi, a former mechanic, took matters into his own hands to help keep park users safe and built a nice set of wooden stairs for $550 in just 14 hours. It solved the problem and everyone seemed thrilled.
“People were falling down. One person broke their hands. So it is not a good situation for anybody.”
However, Justin said the city deemed Adi’s staircase unsafe and not up to code, so workers tore it down. Park users and garden lovers were angry.
“At the end of the day, the city has a liability issue. We have to make sure that assets in our public spaces are to code and meets certain safety standards. The stairs that Adi built were well-intentioned. They worked well. They would have worked well for the short-term. They wouldn’t have worked for the long-term.”
After Adi’s proactive response to a hefty price tag placed on a set of stairs that would have prevented additional injuries, Toronto Mayor John Tory contacted him. The mayor thanked him for his contribution to the community and advised him that a new staircase would be built to code at a more reasonable cost of $10,000.
Adi expressed his satisfaction with the result of his grassroots efforts, even if his original staircase was torn down. It was the solution that was reached that mattered most, he said.
“Everything is a negotiation in life, so long as you reach the meaning and the end. The meaning and the end was to have steps for people to go down safely. Who installs it, doesn’t matter anymore. We’ve proved our point.”
Adi was glad someone with the city took notice and helped, particularly in a more economical way. Now, more seniors and others will be safe as they descend the hill into the park. Additionally, others are now aware of how inflated government project prices are that are being paid with taxpayer dollars. The mayor even issued a statement calling out the original project estimate as “absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality.”
“I want to thank Mr. Astl for taking a stand on this issue. His homemade steps have sent a message that I know city staff has heard loud and clear. The city always needs to be looking for simple, cost-effective solutions to problems no matter how big or small they are … I’m not happy that these kinds of outrageous project cost estimates are even possible. I’ll be working to identify what changes we can put in place to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.”
Adi and other park lovers have been reassured that construction on the new steps will not take long. They are hailing Adi as a local champion.
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