Public drinking is not for every park

Langara Park's users will have to look elsewhere for garbage cans and washrooms

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By Andrea Dante

As ABC Vancouver takes over Vancouver city hall and promises to make drinking in public parks permanent, Langara students and experts wonder if Langara Park and Vancouver are ready for that policy.

From June 3 to Oct. 16, the Vancouver park board temporarily allowed alcohol consumption at Langara Park and in 21 other parks across the city. According to the City of Vancouver, each pilot park had to guarantee public amenities such as garbage cans and washrooms to maintain the area’s cleanliness. It was the first year Langara Park was included in the project despite not meeting the requirements.

ABC Vancouver, which won a majority on the Vancouver park board in the October civic election, promised to make drinking a permanent feature in Vancouver parks.

Langara’s study on the alcohol in parks program

Langara College students with the social sciences and humanities departments began a study in May on the city’s pilot program to identify its issues and strengths.

“When you look at the public survey that the parks board conducted after the first year of the pilot project, one of the main concerns was about littering,” said Apsara Coeffic-Neou, a design formation student at Langara College and a participant in the study. “I can’t remember if they mentioned broken glasses, but that was something I certainly brought forward.”

The study presented several proposals to improve the pilot. Increasing the number and quality of public drinking fountains, making parks more welcoming by encouraging events and meeting opportunities, and promoting lower-risk drinking culture are only a few of the ideas Coeffic-Neou and her colleagues examined.

The closest amenities for Langara Park are located at the college and Langara Family YMCA, both are not designed to handle park users drinking alcohol.

Adapting the drinking culture

Coeffic-Neou said that when she first joined the study, she appreciated the initiative to allow alcohol in parks. Her father is French, and she has always heard stories of how drinking wine in public was part of his culture.

However, Coeffic-Neou said implementing public alcohol consumption into a culture that had long prohibited such activity can be difficult.

“Alcohol is so taboo, and because of that, we have a tendency for young people, and even young adults, to sort of hide away from authority,” Coeffic-Neou said.

What could go wrong…

Amanda Farrell-Low, assistant to the director at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, helped author a 2021 report into public drinking in B.C. parks. The report concluded allowing drinking alcohol in public areas would be dangerous for public health and the economy.

“From a public health perspective, it’s not a great policy. Anything that really contributes to the normalization of alcohol isn’t good,” said Farrell-Low.

She said Vancouver’s pilot is the wrong response to a public desire to socialize in public in the wake of pandemic restrictions. “It could disproportionately impact marginalized populations and just kind of contribute to the further normalization of alcohol and its prevalence in our society,” said Farrell-Low.

David Harrison, senior communications specialist at the Vancouver park board, said in an email to the Voice that “findings from the pilot are currently being reviewed, including analyzing public and park ranger feedback.”

Harrison added that an update with appropriate recommendations will be provided soon after the review.

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