After what has been deemed a successful first year of allowing alcohol consumption in some city parks, Calgary city administration is proposing to expand the pilot program even further.
The city’s proposal includes adding 20 new tables in higher density areas to serve Calgarians without a backyard, expanding the program to larger picnic sites as well as improving the process to allow for instant booking using QR codes.
The city’s Community Development Committee heard the proposal would allow the city to designate entire parks, or portions of parks as picnic sites, where drinking alcohol is allowed.
“We would do some further investigation, but some examples include Edworthy Park entirely south of the train tracks, or much of North Glenmore Park,” said Laura Smith with Calgary Parks. “We would want to start with no more than five to ten parks to allow us to monitor any negative impacts.”
Although most of the city’s proposals for expansion would take effect this spring, it would also include allowing alcohol at bookable winter firepits in parks.
The committee voted unanimously in favour of endorsing the expansion, which will now go to council as a whole for debate.
“What I’ve heard through our constituents, not just in Ward 7 but around the city, is that they enjoy it, having a bit of alcohol during their fun, but they also take great responsibility in managing that,” Ward 7 city councillor Terry Wong said. “I just want to be sure that we are enjoying ourselves in a safe community environment.”
The city’s alcohol in parks pilot project began this summer, allowing alcohol consumption at 58 picnic tables in certain parks throughout the city.
According to city administration, there were 1,556 bookings between July and September as well as first come, first serve use.
City administration told committee there were concerns the pilot program would lead to “disruptive behaviour,” however that wasn’t the case.
In its report, administration said there were only two complaints reported to 311 which included litter and public urination, with no issues reported by Calgary Police, bylaw officers or the parks department.
“The data we’ve seen is that it’s been largely successful and that some of those potential challenges haven’t been realized, and I think that is confidence that we can trust our public to act responsibly,” Ward 11 city councillor Kourtney Penner said. “For me, we’ve seen responsible use, we’ve seen an increased call for the use, so that makes me comfortable supporting an expanded program.”
City administration also presented participant feedback to the pilot program which showed 92 per cent of participants surveyed said the pilot enhanced their park experience, with 73 per cent saying their park use increased because of the program.
The survey also showed that 71 per cent of park users who do not agree with alcohol consumption in parks continued to visit those parks as they normally would.
However, Alberta Health Services said it is advising against moving forward with the pilot program and unsupervised alcohol consumption in public.
Dr. Karla Gustafson, AHS medical officer of health for the Calgary Zone, said the health authority is encouraging the city to increase policy and program awareness to reduce alcohol related harms.
“Let parks be parks,” she told committee. “We don’t need to turn our parks into unsupervised bars.”
Gustafson told committee there remain several concerns with increasing access to alcohol, and that there has been a rise in addictions issues related to the social and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her concerns also included Calgarians’ comfort in some parks where alcohol is permitted due to beliefs, or individuals recovering from addiction, but city data showed that was not the case in the first months of the pilot.
Ward 9 city councillor Gian-Carlo Carra, who originally brought forward the notice of motion to kickstart the pilot in the previous term of council, said he was in support of “thoughtfully” expanding the program.
“I want to draw a distinction between what we are trying to do here, which is destigmatize responsible use of alcohol and make it a regular part of responsible life, and addictions and poverty and mental health crisis,” Carra said. “I think that what we’re trying to do here is to celebrate responsible use of alcohol and celebrate our parks system and in no way condone abuse or crisis.”
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