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Calgary ices public drinking pilot project in city parks

Looks like Calgary’s going to can the idea of public drinking in city parks – at least until next year.

After receiving more than 15,000 responses with more than 22,000 visits to their online engagement portal, the city determined more time is needed to put together a pilot project allowing liquor consumption in some city picnic sites.

The idea came during discussions about cannabis legalization talks and citizens at that time expressed an interest in consuming booze in city parks.

City public drinking engagement comes back split

The city opened an engagement portal in January 2019 to collect feedback from Calgarians on whether or not this was something they’d like to see.

“With a divided public opinion, we need to make sure a pilot project is well thought out to ensure logistical and enforcement issues are addressed and park experiences remain positive for all Calgarians.” said Laura Smith, Calgary Parks Business and Policy Planner, in a prepared released.

Of the survey responses received, 7,346 (47 per cent) were in favour of allowing public drinking in all picnic sites in Calgary parks. In comparison, 40 per cent were against it at any public park (6,241 responses). Some (five per cent) said that it should only be allowed in major parks, and four per cent said it should be allowed only in a small number of sites in major parks.

Engagement Report What We Heard LiquorInParks Final by Darren Krause on Scribd

The concerns were virtually split among six different areas, with reasons including: Damage to parks, drinking before river rides, increase in disorderly conduct, exposure of minors to liquor, safety concerns and drinking and driving. All of these areas received between 11 and 18 per cent response.

Nearly the same number of positive responses was reflected in the willingness to book a liquor-allowed site (7,572).  The vast majority of respondents who answered the question of payment for the use of the sites, said they wouldn’t pay extra for a liquor-friendly site.

Cannabis a slippery slope?

Some were concerned that it presented a slippery slope that would ultimately allow for the consumption of cannabis in city parks as well.

In September 2018, the city put the consumption of cannabis in four citywide locations on hold over concerns from citizens. Of the 1,800 responses in that engagement, more than 75 per cent were opposed.

Budget concerns with new pilot project

While Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra knew the public engagement would be split and administration would take a careful look at how to move forward, he said he believes the decision is also tied to recent budget cuts at city hall.

Earlier this month council approved an aid package for Calgary small business that included $60 million in budget cuts and $70 million from city savings.

“What’s really sort of driving this is we’re at a point in time when a lot of administration’s attention is turned towards budget cutting,” he said.

“Doing additional piloting and stuff like that while they’re looking for savings in the budget is a bandwidth issue and it’s also a challenge to rationalize those two things together.”

The city said it would address some of the concerns that came out of the public drinking online engagement and would hopefully put together a pilot project for the 2020 summer picnic season.