Community works together to address concerns over Trinity Bellwoods
JUL 09, 2013 | BY ISAAC THORNLEY
Thursday evening, a crowded gymnasium in the Trinity Bellwoods Community Centre served as the meeting place to address recent complaints over alcohol consumption, excessive noise, and general safety issues in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Representatives from the Toronto Police, Parks and Recreation, local media and over a hundred concerned or curious community members contributed to the discussion.
Councillor Mike Layton hosted and mediated the meeting, encouraging small group dialogue with the goal of laying out a list of the benefits and challenges of the park, as well as a set of solutions to combat the recent complaints.
Despite the media attention surrounding the event, the meeting was about more than just alcohol consumption. The meeting focused on maintaining the positive and addressing the negative aspects of the park in a way that could keep all park-goers as happy and safe as possible.
For many of those that frequent Trinity Bellwoods, the park serves as their unofficial backyard. In densely populated downtown Toronto, private backyards are expensive and hard to come by for the average citizen. Similarly, public green spaces are few and far between. The sheer size and central location of the park makes it a hub for people of all walks of life, including those who enjoy the taste of alcohol on a warm summer’s day.
Project Green Glasses is an initiative the Toronto Police launched in April to combat the rise of public drinking, littering, violence, and rowdiness in the western half of downtown Toronto’s green spaces. Many of the issues raised at the meeting were in response to this initiative, which has been described by many as a “crackdown” on alcohol consumption.
With regards to the recent interest generated by this police project, Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso, who represented Toronto’s police at the meeting, explained that this project isn’t anything new; rather, this initiative has been a priority for downtown’s public spaces for the past few summers.
Project Green Glasses recently prompted Torontonian Ben Johnson to start a petition to formally allow the consumption of alcohol in Toronto’s public parks. The petition has reached over 3,200 signatures to date.
There were about ten groups, each containing about ten people. After 30 minutes of brainstorming, each group presented a summary of their discussions. One recurring concern was an increase of police presence in the park. Several community members proposed a system of community self-policing rather than increasing the number of uniformed officers. Others maintained that a certain level of police presence was absolutely necessary in a park the size of Trinity Bellwoods, whose central location means that anywhere between 3,000 - 5,000 people can pass through each weekend.
Another concern was over the black and white nature of Toronto and Ontario’s public drinking and open container laws. Rather than issuing fines to people found with open alcohol, many suggested penalizing only those drinking to excess. Punishing public drunkenness rather than public drinking was the general sentiment.
In terms of proposed solutions, several suggestions reverberated, including the need for more garbage receptacles and more washrooms open at later hours of the day. Also, the need for late-night security services for the park, whether that means uniformed police officers or not was an item of disagreement.
Overall, the tone of the meeting was positive; though many people expressed differing views, the best interest of the park and its users was always at heart. Addressing the press, one woman named Amanda expressed her dissatisfaction with the media coverage thus far: “I think that we were a little bit disappointed with how these issues have been portrayed in the media. I think more needs to be said about the harmony and the greatness that this park provides rather than focusing on the negatives and the conflicts.”
Although the media has represented these issues by pitting young against old, drinkers against non-drinkers, and parents against the childless; those from all walks of life were often able to find common ground.
- Subtitle: Meeting is about more than just alcohol, says councillor