Public parks should not be spaces for alcohol consumption

There are still gaps in Vancouver’s pilot program that need to be addressed

Art by Kristen Frier

Art by Kristen Frier

The City of Vancouver has launched a pilot program for the consumption of alcohol in 22 public parks, including Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park. The program started June 3 and will go until Oct. 16. 

Various rules have been put in place for this pilot program, including the prohibition of drinking in playgrounds, community centres, and sports fields. Park users would be permitted to bring their alcoholic drinks. The consumption of alcohol in these parks would be permitted from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm daily. Enforcement of these rules is in collaboration with Parks and Recreation staff and the Vancouver Police Department. 

Survey results from a 2018 review of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation’s Concession Strategy found that 79 per cent agree or strongly agree with alcoholic beverage sales in concession stands. 

An Alcohol in Parks pilot program done in July 2021 by the Vancouver Park Board successfully helped determine resource allocations, potential pitfalls, and potential effects of alcohol consumption in public parks. A survey done for the pilot last year found that the benefits of alcohol consumption included more opportunities for in-person connection and personal enjoyment of meals in an outdoor space. 

Alcohol consumption in parks is a relatively new idea and has its benefits as well as its issues. The survey results showed that the top three concerns of the public included the overall cleanliness in parks and washroom facilities, disruptive or obnoxious behaviour, and potential enforcement issues. The top open-ended concerns included disruptive behaviours, enforcement of rules and responsibilities, and the park cleanliness as well. 

Allowing alcohol consumption at the park would increase the use of public parks as social spaces. However, since public parks are for the enjoyment of all patrons, I think that consideration should also be given to groups who do not consume alcohol or may not be comfortable around it. 

There are no limits on what would count as responsible alcohol consumption throughout the pilot, and it would likely vary from person to person. 

Ensuring that there is adequate access to designated drivers in public parks could also mitigate some issues with disruptive behaviours. The allocation of funds to provide for additional resources would prove to be a challenge since there are more pressing issues that the funds could be used for, like looking after the park in general regardless of alcohol concerns. 

The 2022 pilot does explain some of the ways in which they plan to mitigate specific concerns. However, there is no guarantee that every patron will abide by these rules or what the consequences would be for breaking them. What if a patron consumes alcohol over the legal limit and wanders off into an alcohol-prohibited zone where children are present, like a playground or school? There is no clear answer presented. 

The pilot also mentions that “prevention is the best approach,” but without a robust plan that outlines various consequences of consumption of alcohol in an alcohol-prohibited space. It would be hard to feel comfortable at a park in both spaces. 

There are still unanswered questions, and I hope this pilot is not expanded any further.