Not Your Ordinary Thursday Night in Bellwoods

En route to the community meeting about drinking in Trinity Bellwoods park, my Metropass reminded me that I am, in fact, an “Adult”. While pondering the impact of Project Green Glasses, the fact that the police are cracking down on adults hadn’t crossed my mind. The people being ticketed for drinking are grown up with rent and debt to pay who are just looking to unwind in a cheap and pleasant manner. Luckily, the meeting at the Trinity Bellwoods Assembly Hall (aka a gym) reflected an astute awareness of partakers’ adulthood.

Meeting

It was clear that the 100+ attendees were unexpected, as chairs were positioned foot to foot around the 10 meeting tables. In his opening remarks, Mike Layton attributed this to the media hype around the event, noting that 12-15 community members were what he had in mind originally. What wasn’t clear, as both the 14 Division Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso and Layton stated in their introductions, was that this meeting wasn’t just about what the media was promoting – alcohol consumption in Bellwoods. It was literally called “Meeting to Discuss Alcohol Consumption in Trinity Bellwoods Park”. What did we miss? Regardless of the apparent over-sensationalism of the press, the meeting was exceptionally well thought-out and resulted in a positive night of discussion, unlike any other I have been to before.

After the official introductions of city representatives, in which Mr. Di Tommaso stressed the importance making sure everyone had equal opportunity to enjoy our parks and that the people currently being ticketed were only receiving the $125 fine mandated by city by-laws and not the additional $200 that the province requires, the ten tables of community members received 30 minutes to chat amongst themselves. The idea was that each group would address the issues that the park is facing and come up with possible solutions. When the time was up, one representative from each table would share their findings with the room.

Lonely Can Lady

I decided to use the break (press weren’t allowed at the tables) to take a walk through the park. For a Thursday night in ol’ Bellie, the place was deserted. This was surely in large part due to the frenzy over the very meeting that was going on as I strolled. Another factor was likely what the Can Lady I attempted to speak with started pointing at while verbosely expressing herself in Cantonese: the bike cops patrolling the area.

Despite the relative ghost town feel of the park, there were still a handful of sun-loungers, some of whom were drinking openly. Perhaps even more importantly, as many as a quarter of the people doing so were disguising their beverages in plastic cups, which, based on my eyeballing statistics, is a 100% increase. It was a gorgeous Summer evening and with all the rabble scaring young adults away, there were also significantly less children than you would expect. I did notice a small group of tikes with their parents playing soccer right by a spot between both baseball diamonds that would ordinarily be occupied by groups of drinkers. They were having a pure, fun time. For a moment, I wondered if the artist conception of a desolate Bellwoods from my first piece on this subject might not be a bad thing. Then, on my way back to the community centre, I spotted the real thing and reassured myself that parks are for populating.

Desolation

Back in the gym, I had found a spot on a bench lining the far side of the room. A young gent sat beside me and introduced himself. His name was Sunny and he had come “To be involved”. Realizing this was vague, he elaborated that the meeting about building a Wal-Mart near Kensington had really piqued his interest but he didn’t make it out. Sunny wanted to know how community consultations worked but wasn’t ready to participate yet, so he was just going to soak this one in. The most surprising thing about the composition of those in attendance had to be the number of young adults. It had to be at least 60%. I wasn’t the only one who was taken aback: Eric, a local resident of 14 years, also noted to me that he’d been expecting “A bunch of curmudgeonly locals”.

The Community Speaks…

The representatives from all 10 tables lined up, notes in hand. As they spoke, it was clear that there is a huge amount of passion for Trinity Bellwoods. Mixed in the overlapping priorities for the park were some very eloquent speakers and some not-so-much. Also, there was a random guy who missed the discussions but stood in line and went up to speak anyway, but that’s all you really need to know about him.

Safety – The issue of safety was raised a number of times. Based on my discussions and eavesdropping, the sheer number of people there all the time actually makes the park safer. There are always witnesses. The park was a much seedier place a decade ago and, in addition to a temporary increased police presence, steps such as trimming trees around lights to increase nighttime visibility have made Bellwoods an exceptionally safe place to convene.

Landscape – Ian from table 1 posed the question “How are we going to keep the park in good shape with so many people using it?” This is an excellent question that I had not previously considered. It’s also a finicky matter to tackle. The easiest solution is to block off parts of the park with fences to allow regrowth. However, at the current level of occupancy, the logistics of this might prove difficult.

The Law – Obviously the pink elephant in the room and the subject that brought so many people together. What came from everyone who stood up was a nearly unanimous consensus:

“A moderate amount of alcohol should be tolerated”

– Table 4

This was met by applause and cheering from the room and even a subtle smile and nod from Mike Layton, who, let’s not assume anything here, could have just expected such a reaction.

As they should, the community questioned the role of the police in our parks.

“The law should reflect the way people use the park, not dictate the way people use the park.”

-Table 2

The girl from table 8 even went so far as to recommend that the police rebrand their effort to enforce the law and to consider what glass Project Green Glasses was looking through. This was in contrast to table 3’s amateur suggestions of “No drinking signs” and maybe even “Individual Drinking Licenses”. There was a lot of talk of posting guidelines on how to respect the park, even designating certain areas (or other parks) as places where it was okay to imbibe.

The evening was a delightful experience. Although no decisions were made, camaraderie came in all forms as people found a shared commitment to making an area they love function in the best way possible. Despite a suggestion out of left field that there were too many baseball games in the park that even Jeff, the table’s speaker, didn’t seem to understand, everyone was on the same page.

“Apparently there’s all-day tournaments or something.”

– Jeff, Table 5

About Seamus Gearin

Séamus once found a $100 bill and gave it to the first person who passed by. He's regretted it ever since.