TORONTO — His handiwork may have been torn down, but a Toronto man who took it upon himself to build a staircase to help residents get down a steep park embankment says he’s just happy his efforts have led to city plans for a permanent structure.
Adi Astl, 73, has found himself becoming something of a local celebrity in recent days after the tale of his wooden stairs, and the city’s opposition to them, began to spread.
The senior’s eight-step structure came down on Friday, but with their demolition came a promise of a new set of stairs by next week, Astl said.
“The end product is safety for the people,” he said. “That’s what everybody achieved.”
Astl, who lives in Toronto’s west end, had heard about locals at Tom Riley Park having trouble getting down the short, steep embankment and injuring themselves. In one instance, he recalled, a woman had broken her hand going down the slope.
A rope tied to a fence at the top of the embankment was being used by some residents to get down the slope, he recalled.
“I said, ‘there’s gotta be a better solution for that,’” he said.
So he spoke with his local councillor, Justin Di Ciano, who got in touch with the city’s parks department.
Their quote to have a staircase installed? Between $65,000 and $150,000.
So Astl started building the steps on June 22, with the help of a homeless man he met in the park. He bought the man breakfast, paid him, and the two got to work, he said.
The entire endeavour cost Astl a mere $550, he said.
Nobody complained about his steps until last week, Astl said, when a local resident reported them to the city.
At that point, Astl rallied the local community to support his stairs. Last Friday, he put up notes along a garden fence just below the steps, asking residents to call their local councillor and demand that the structure stay put.
“He was just overloaded with emails on Monday morning when he got into the office,” Astl said.
Interviews with Toronto media outlets followed, then national outlets, and — on Friday — international outlets. Astl said Fox News, CNN, and the BBC have asked for pictures of his stairs or reached out for interviews.
The city’s parks department, however, said Astl’s stairs had to come down because they were unsafe.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, however, promised Astl in a phone call that new steps would be installed by the city for $10,000, Astl said.
“Next Friday, the stairs are going to be finished here,” he said.
Tory said in a statement Friday morning that the city’s original cost estimate for the stairs in the park was “absolutely ridiculous.”
He said new stairs that will be built by the city will be “safe, durable and reasonably priced.”
Astl said it doesn’t matter to him who builds the stairs — as long as people can get down the embankment safely.
“This was my goal, to have steps there,” he said. “Who builds them? I don’t care.”