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City makes permanent, expands alcohol in parks program

Calgarians looking to partake in a local craft brew during a game of ultimate frisbee, or maybe have a glass of wine with lunch, can now do so in more city parks.

The City of Calgary piloted the alcohol in parks program last year.

Last year saw only two complaints out of 1,500 bookings. As a result, the city has added more locations and has made the program permanent.

Added this year is six parks that will not require picnic tables to be booked to enjoy a drink outdoors. Gone too is the two-hour time limit on picnic tables.

“This gives a lot of flexibility to come with a picnic blanket to throw down and have a picnic with a glass of wine, play a game of bocce with a beer, or even just enjoy the view,” said Laura Smith, Calgary Parks team lead for environmental education with the City of Calgary.

Calgarians can continue to book sites and tables online, or via QR codes on signs located at approved sites.

The program also is going year-round. It will allow Calgarians to have something to drink at one of the many fire pits in the winter. They could even do it after a cross-country ski.

The six new open areas where alcohol will be permitted without booking a site include Barb Scott Park, Buckmaster Park, Lindsay Park, Southview Off-Leash Area, Tomkins Park, and West Baker Park.

The City of Calgary announced an expansion and permanency of the alcohol in city parks program at Buckmaster Park in Calgary on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Starting later this spring, an additional six parks will be added without the restriction of limiting consumption at picnic tables. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Benefits from year-round park activation

One of the benefits from allowing increased numbers of permitted activities in parks is getting people outside year-round. More than 70 per cent of program participants who were surveyed said they visited parks more often. They also visited different parks because of the program.

“We are a winter city. We want to try and encourage people to use our parks in winter, and if coffee with some Baileys is the motivation they need to get out, there then that’s what we will do,” said Smith.

The six parks added to the roster of locations today are all largely centrally located inner-city parks. Their selection, said Smith, was a reflection that for many people living in inner-city apartments, these parks serve as their backyards.

The increased park activity seen during the pilot program was also identified to have positive effects on public safety. It also decreased litter and graffiti.

Smith said that Lindsay Park, which has seen significant graffiti and vandalism, had slightly decreased levels throughout last year. It’s not enough to attribute directly to the alcohol in parks program but enough that the city is noticing, informally, the difference.

“So I don’t know if we can actually attribute it to the program, it could have just been luck as the pandemic saw increased use in parks anyway, so maybe that was it. But it was certainly enough to indicate that it’s a possibility that maybe if you legalize alcohol an area maybe it could decrease other problems,” said Smith.

Two complaints were made about the program last year. One was in the community of Evanston, and another for Hounsfield Heights. The latter was removed from the program for this year due to a combination of the complaint, and lack of use for the program.

Catching up to other jurisdictions

Making the program permanent brings Calgary in line with other international cities and jurisdictions. Some of these cities have had successful programs in place for decades.

Smith mentioned that states like California, and countries in Europe, along with other Canadian municipalities like Edmonton and Vancouver have similar programs.

Smith said that rules would continue to be in place to encourage responsible consumption and enforce against public disorder.

“So sometimes people say why can’t we just drink in every single park, and there’s two reasons for that. One is the park would need to be signed and that would be cost-prohibitive. The other thing is we do want to respect that people are wanting to keep these areas away from playgrounds.”

Enforcement is planned to continue to be on a per call basis to 311. Penalties for unlawful activities in parks can be as high as $400.

“So you do want to pay attention to the signage. Either drinking at a picnic table that has this sign, or for the big areas looking at those signs and looking at the map and seeing where you can drink and where you can’t you want to stay within those areas,” said Smith.

The city is also reminding people that not every park has public washrooms.

“So plan accordingly, you probably don’t want to spend the whole day there,” said Smith.

An example of the AGLC required alcohol in city parks program sign at Buckmaster Park in Calgary on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY