No hangover for Calgary’s booze in parks pilot project

This Edgemont park bench is one of the 50 locations used in the city's pilot project, which has been ongoing for seven weeks. ETHAN WARD/ FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Over the past seven weeks, Calgary has been getting a little tipsy in our outdoor spaces. But not obnoxiously so.

Early in June of this year, the city of Calgary started a pilot project focusing on alcohol consumption in parks.

At the start, roughly 30 tables across various Calgary parks were available through online reservations or first-come, first-serve. This later expanded by 20 in the second phase of the project.

Whether through reservation or just showing up, people could enjoy alcoholic drinks in city parks free of any repercussions.

The project was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on indoor dining. The idea being that people could get out of their houses and enjoy some drinks with members of their cohort.

The idea, however, has been in the works for a couple of years.

Laura Smith, team lead at the City of Calgary Parks, said that initially there was a surge of interest, with many people making use of the online booking service. That initial interest eventually died down, however.

As of this week, more than 1,300 groups have used the online booking service to reserve a table for alcohol consumption. It’s difficult to track the number of first-come, first-served users. The city hasn’t been monitoring the tables for the comings and goings of users outside of online bookings.

Tipsy tale painted by usage data

Smith said that if the project continued next summer, the booking system would be one of the main systems to get an overhaul.

“We know our booking system is not user-unfriendly. It was put together very quickly on a small budget. So, if we continued next summer, we would take more time to make sure the experience was better, encouraging more people to use it,” Smith said.

One of the more positive findings of the pilot project was that complaints from citizens stemming from the designated tables were extremely low. Only one complaint regarding the designated tables was documented. And that had to do with litter, not unruly or drunken behaviour.

The distribution of people using the pilot project has been uneven. Inner-city communities close to the downtown like the Beltline, Earlton, and Bridgeland have had hundreds of people booking tables. However, outlying communities n the edge of the city and the suburbs have seen bookings in the single digits. Communities like Sage Hill, Skyview Ranch, and Country Hills have low usage numbers.

Possibilities for the project moving forward

Smith said that these numbers may require rethinking the distribution of tables and the possible addition of new benches.

“We know that in the Beltline, people wanted more tables, and to be honest, we don’t have any more tables right now, Smith said.

They would take a more strategic look at usage before determining expansion.

“There are ten sites that are very popular, so we’d look at those first,” Smith said.

Once the pilot project is over, these findings will be reported to city council for further direction. Smith said that since this project was in response to COVID it’s uncertain how it will move forward with no pandemic.

“We may be seeing less use of tables because of restrictions being lifted. If COVID isn’t a factor, I don’t know if people will want the tables as much,” Smith said.

“We don’t know if people were using the tables because restaurants were closed. We need to gauge interest from the community about continuing with the project.”

The pilot project is wrapping up in September.

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