Written May 25, 2015
This evening I was biking over to my local coffee shop, at Yonge and Briar Hill, to take care of some bookkeeping for Wilmington Tennis, when I decided to veer off my typical bike route. Something about the warm and windy weather today made me want to stay outside longer. As I turned the corner to cut through Eglinton Park, the giddy cheers of kids (and parents!) stopped me in my tracks. What was happening? It sounded like a party. I wanted to see. I wanted to be part of it.
Then suddenly I remembered: oh yeah, soccer’s back! For as long as I have lived in the area, every Monday and Wednesday during the spring and summer Eglinton Park is transformed as countless tiny tots sporting soccer uniforms descend on the park.
It looks like this:
It warms my heart to see literally hundreds of my neighbours come out of their homes to enjoy the nice weather and partake in sport. When I was little I played soccer too! Sport has played such an important part of my life that I know, deep in my bones, that what I’m witnessing is inherently good. It’s good for the kids who are running around, some breathless from the competition and others just happy to be chatting with friends and counting airplanes. It’s good for the parents, some of whom are meeting each other for the first time and others who are obviously well seasoned, prepared with their camping chairs, snacks, and picnic blankets. It’s good for the youth who are hired to oversee the equipment, referee the games, and lead team cheers. Its good for the not-for-profit agency that runs this league, amassing so much money over the years that they were able to contribute to the significant renovation of the clubhouse in the park. And it’s good for the government too. For you and your department, it is good that you allow such a successful program to operate in a public park. If this is not the epitome of community use of public space – the biggest bang for our public buck – then what is? As I sit here on a park bench, writing this letter to the sound of reluctant cleats being dragged home after the final whistle, I believe I am looking at recreational perfection.
But I’m also feeling something else. I’m feeling jealous. I’m wondering why organized soccer, along with a multitude of other sports, are allowed to enjoy permitted park space but tennis is not? For a long time PF&R has trumpeted that public courts ought to remain permit-free so that anyone who wants to play has access to the courts at all times. As an entrepreneur in tennis, I can easily see that supply and demand are not intersecting where they should be.
Let’s look at the supply side first. With over 600 courts sprawled across 44 wards, Toronto is Canada’s leader in public tennis infrastructure. (Vancouver is a distant second, with about 300 courts) Yet it is undeniable that tennis courts across Toronto, as a whole, are underutilized. I will be the first to concede that select parks in certain neighbourhoods are “overcrowded”, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Meanwhile, demand for convenient recreational sport options, especially for kids, is as healthy as ever. Tennis is especially sought after, in part because easy lessons are so difficult to access! One need not look further than their local park, as I have, to see how much organized sport is valued. I strongly believe that if programs were allowed to be organized on tennis courts, just as soccer is on public fields, Toronto would immediately realize benefits:
- revenue to the city through permits
- higher usage of public facilities while more people learn how to play
- increased participation across the spectrum (healthy active living, of any kind, being a big win for everyone)
To illustrate the stark contrast in today’s use, I took a photo for you of the tennis courts adjacent to the soccer pitch. I happened to actually catch people playing! But in general, the community was so indifferent to this tennis site that no one complained in 2013 when a permanent hockey rink was built on top of the four courts, mutilating it into two awkward tennis courts…now oriented east-west…so that the sun could be in our eyes when we serve morning and evening. Thanks. I can only imagine the uproar if the soccer field were halved in a similar manner. No one cared because not enough people play here, despite being an affluent neighbourhood.
Howie, do you know how many tiny tots could learn to play tennis on four adult size courts? At least 60 per hour! It would be amazing! It would look like this, with four adorable kids per mini-court.
Please allow tennis to fulfill its potential. To emerge in the public consciousness in the same spirit that soccer has embodied for decades: as a sport of the people. It starts by allowing programs to be run in our communities. Let’s collectively make an improvement in policy! Together we can ignite change for the better.