Toronto’s alcohol-in-parks pilot project is a step towards a more equitable city

Details will be finalized in July when city council meets after the byelection

Starting Aug. 5, Torontonians will be able to consume alcohol in some parks. (Cole Hayes/Toronto Observer)
Starting Aug. 5, Torontonians will be able to consume alcohol in some parks. (Cole Hayes/Toronto Observer) 

As Toronto’s mayoral election approaches on June 26, residents eagerly anticipate not only casting a ballot but also raising a glass in their beloved city parks.

A pilot project that’s made its way through city council in May is allowing for personal alcohol consumption in certain parks between Aug. 5 and Oct. 9 in parks where the city councillor has opted into the program.

City councillors Josh Matlow, Brad Bradford, Anthony Perruzza, all mayoral candidates in the byelection, voted in favour of the pilot project. Matlow pitched a similar pilot project in 2022 but it was deferred by then-mayor John Tory and city council when it was proposed. 

An equity issue

In a city where 46 per cent of its residents are renters — many of whom don’t have outdoor spaces — some believe the project is a step in the right direction for Toronto.

Mason Sankey, a recent graduate from George Brown College, is excited for the pilot project to begin. 

“As a renter in Toronto, drinking in parks benefits me in many ways. Namely the ability to drink in parks without having the fear of a ticket,” he said. “I’ll be able to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather without having to sacrifice having a beer (outside) or paying a premium for a patio.” 

Allowing alcohol in public parks is an equity issue, says Mariana Valverde, a professor at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto.

“Why shouldn’t they (Toronto residents) be able to have a picnic in the park the same way that I, who has a backyard, can invite my friends over and have beer and wine and not have to worry?” she said.

Valverde brought up the regulations in Spain in an interview with the Toronto Observer. She mentioned that what is a pilot project in Toronto is normal there. 

“Everybody knows that the trends are going in a particular way,” Valverde said. “There’s no reason to limit anything to pilot projects.”

It’s been done before

Toronto wouldn’t be the first city in Canada to try out one of these pilot projects. In 2021, Calgary had a similar pilot in their public parks that was successful. According to data from the City of Calgary’s website, over 65 per cent of Calgarians supported the program, with 96 per cent of users believing that the pilot project was a good alternative to being indoors. Additionally, 73 per cent of those surveyed experienced an increase in their park visitation that summer.

“I find the people who used the program, and typically that would be in areas with the higher density where people maybe don’t have their own backyard,” said Laura Smith, a spokesperson with the City of Calgary. “Those people really appreciated the program and we got tremendous feedback.”

Smith highlighted that one of the biggest reasons for the program’s success was the co-operation from the public. “People really appreciated the program and therefore they respected it.”

Drinking in public parks is now legal in Calgary, and while some restrictions do still exist, its success shows its potential to work in other major Canadian cities.

Why now, Toronto?

Coun. Shelley Carroll, chair of the economic and community development committee, first introduced the motion for this pilot project to city council, and it was seconded by Coun. Chris Moise.

When city council meets in July, with the new mayor in place, finalizing the pilot project will be on tap. The pilot project will happen this summer regardless of who wins the byelection.

“The mayor is one vote on council,” said Moise. The new mayor will play a role in what comes after the pilot project, he said.

“I know the new strong mayor powers are still in effect, but it’s limited as to what the mayor has strong powers on. For example the budget, things on housing, but when it comes to other things the mayor does not have veto powers on it,” said Moise. “The city doesn’t stop, and the work in the city hasn’t stopped because we don’t have a permanent mayor in place right now.”

“The majority of Canadians and Torontonians do consume alcohol responsibly and I think we can do that in some of our public parks as well,” he said.

 

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Posted: Jun 23 2023 1:09 pm
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