Sometimes to get a job done you just have to do it yourself. That’s exactly what this Toronto man did when his community garden was in desperate need of new park stairs. Now, the city has threatened to tear it down.
Toronto Man Builds Park Stairs
In the summer of 2017, Adi Astl of Etobicoke in Toronto, Canada was tired of watching his friends and neighbors struggle, slip, and fall down the steep hill that leads down to their community garden in Tom Riley Park. No longer wishing to wait for the estimated $65,000 to $150,000 city project to tackle the problem, he took matters into his own hands. (1)
“To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” Astl said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.” (1)
A retired mechanic, Astl, along with contributions from his community, built the staircase for just $550. He even hired a homeless man to help him with the build. Shortly after he received notice that the city was threatening to tear it down. (1)
A Welcomed Addition
The entire community was grateful to Astl for building the park stairs and was unhappy that the city wanted to remove it. (1)
“I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” said Astl’s wife Gail Rutherford. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.” (1)
Last year one of their neighbors slipped and broke her wrist while attempting to navigate the hill. After that happened, many of the residents grew impatient for how long it was taking for the city to actually do something about the issue. (1)
“We have far too much bureaucracy,” said community member Dana Beamon. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.” (1)
Despite all of this, it didn’t take long for city bylaw officers to cordon off the park stairs with caution tape. (1)
Not Built to Code
Mayor John Tory addressed the reasons why the city was unhappy with Astl’s custom build. The top concerns were safety and accessibility. City inspectors stated that the steps were not built according to code. (1) Three main problems with them were (1):
- Unsafe railing
- Uneven incline
- No foundation
Tory also pointed out that the hill is actually a short-cut to the garden from the parking lot and that there is an accessible path that leads to the garden. (1)
The Outrageous Estimate
The mayor did agree that the quoted cost of the project seemed quite high for what it was. He did say, however, that while it should cost far less than the $65,000 price tag, it would cost more than Astl’s $550 staircase. (1)
“I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” he stated. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.” (1)
Apparently the city-based the first estimate on projects in other parks, however, the mayor asked his staff to revisit the project and come up with something much more reasonable. (1)
The Stairs Were Torn Down
Though Astl’s stairs were torn down, they were immediately replaced with a city-approved version. Astl was not resentful, however, as he was just happy that because of him something finally got done about this problem.
“I was relieved last night when the mayor phoned me… to thank me to help the city to realize what they are doing is not the right thing,” Astl told CTV News Channel in July 2017. “A whole big stone fell from my heart and said, ‘Now we’re going to get somewhere in helping people be safe.’”
‘It was About Protecting the Community’
For Astl, the project wasn’t about disobeying the city or trying to do anything to make anyone upset. He simply saw a problem that wasn’t being solved and took action to protect his community.
In a written statement that Tory released just prior to the reconstruction of the staircase, the mayor thanked Astl for his help in moving the project forward.
“I want to thank Mr. Astl for taking a stand on this issue,” Tory added. “His homemade steps have sent a message that I know City Staff have heard loud and clear.”
The new steps were estimated to cost $10,000 and were built in just a few days. Tory promised that future project estimates would be much more reasonable.
“We’re also going to take a look at how this process works today so that we can make sure that these kinds of crazy estimates don’t become just a continuous part of how things happen because they shouldn’t,” he said.
Thanks to Astl, now the residents of the Tom Riley Park area of Etobicoke have a safe set of stairs right to their community garden.
Keep Reading: He Built Homes for the Homeless. So the City Sued Him
- ‘Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate’ CTV News Josh K. Elliott. Published July 19, 2017.