While students were enjoying their summer break, a unique project to bring an adult-sized cricket field to the school came one step closer to becoming a reality.
With the receipt of a $500,000 grant from the Trillium Foundation, Canada’s largest middle school and the surrounding community can move forward on the next stages of planning and permitting. Meanwhile, the community continues to come together over a shared love of sport and sustainability.
The $1.5 million project is the collaborative effort of an extensive network of community partners. According to Project Co-Chair, Lisa Grogan-Green, the project wasn’t always intended to be so ambitious.
“Science teachers at Valley Park wanted to create a butterfly garden on the school grounds,” says Grogan-Green. “They invited us to develop a conceptual plan to identify where the garden should be located on the site.”
But lead designer, Shompa Hai, instead emphasized the importance of engaging the community in the design process – of figuring out what students and local residents wanted from the site.
One key message was the inadequacy of the current school playing field as a recreational space. This problem is true of the wider neighbourhood – Thorncliffe Park has almost no flat greenspace available. Existing spaces, such as R.V. Burgess and Leaside Parks are small and heavily programmed.
According to Thorncliffe resident, Yousef Syed, “currently, kids in the neighbourhood play in the parking lots of malls and in the lobbies of apartment buildings. From a safety perspective, this is quite risky.”
Valley Park serves 1,200 students from the Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park neighbourhoods. The community is predominately South Asian and home to many recent immigrants. For Hai, the key to the project’s success was finding an element to draw the community together.
“Cricket is the main spirit for this community,” says Hai. “I understood that message.” Hai grew up in Bangladesh where her whole family was crazy for cricket.
Syed also has fond memories of the sport from his own childhood, “Internationally this game is well loved and celebrated. We need to create opportunities for people to learn about cricket here.” This summer, Syed taught his son and friends to play the game on pavement.
There’s something unique about cricket that brings this community together. According to Grogan-Green, “there are 18 kids on the Valley Park cricket team and parents who don’t even have children on the team sign up to drive team members to games.”
With cricket as a rallying cry, the original project team was able to forge partnerships with the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services, local mosques, the TRCA, the Toronto Environment Office, the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Hydro, Toronto Police Force Cricket Club and the Islamic Society of Toronto.
“Cricket is what excites people but it also enables us to achieve our goal of ecological restoration,” says Hai.
To make space for the field, the project team will need to move portables and gain access to adjacent hydro lands.
With sufficient space secured, Hai’s design will seek to restore forest lands and aquatic habitat along the banks of the Don River. Rainwater collected from the school’s roof will be used to irrigate the field, reducing the impact of the site on the stormwater system.
The project is also creating opportunities for the community to connect with the Don River system.
“Some people in the area are permanent residents; others are newcomers. A lot have been in Canada for less than two year so to get hem hooked on sustainability and local watersheds at this stage makes us pretty happy,” says Grogan-Green.
To do so, Hai’s design will try to make natural hydrological processes more visible.
“Our design should help the local community to understand the beauty of natural places and create an outdoor laboratory for learning about the natural world. We want to create an opportunity for new immigrants to better understand where they are.”
“It’s incredible for young people in the community to see their parents realizing a shared dream for this space and to understand what is possible for them here.”
Syed has witnessed the changes this project has brought to Thorncliffe and Flemingdon already: “I am really touched with this initiative. It is building a momentum in this community.”
The Valley Park Go Green Cricket Field Project is striving to meet their fundraising goal of $1.5 million. To donate or to learn more, please visit the Toronto Foundation for Student Success.
Rendering by Shompa Hai, Images by Hilary Best, with files from Jake Schabas.