During the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience of the public realm in urban areas has all but vanished. There is one place where the public realm hangs on in many cities, the local parks. Unfortunately several cities around the province have resorted to the closure of their urban parks due to the reluctance of their users to practice proper social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Several cities have recognized the culture of park users in the past does not necessarily reflect the new reality we are facing and have made some excellent adjustments to help curb the spread of the virus. We know that access to parks and green space is an excellent way to improve public health, and park users often have decreased stress levels when visiting a park. These are both great reasons to work to keep our parks open during a pandemic!
Moncton and Richmond
Moncton is a city of many parks. With trails that are used extensively and several active civic park groups. Both the city and the citizens of Moncton agree that keeping the trails open is an important step for maintaining citizen’s health. In each of the city parks, the municipality has designated one trail loop to be one way only. This reduces the number of interactions between park users that could be points of transmission of the virus. Additionally, city employees are out monitoring city parks to encourage resident’s to keep their distance and respect the rules.
The city of Richmond has also undertaken these measures steps to encourage social distancing in their parks. These steps were considered necessary due to the large crowds that were congregating to witness the flowering trees, something that many other Canadian cities will soon be experiencing! The city has posted signage to ensure that everyone knows the directions to follow along all the nearby trails.
On April 9th the city of Winnipeg announced their park ambassador program to educate and inform people of the park rules that were in place as a result of the pandemic. The park ambassadors are all city employees whom are deemed non-essential during this crisis. An excellent alternative to laying off hundreds of city workers. Some members of the public commented that it may encourage people to use the parks more knowing that there is some method to encourage people to follow the rules. The community ambassadors are also collecting information on Park and trail use to inform decisions about how the city’s parks can be operated into the future.
These are just a couple ways in which municipalities are keeping their parks open to the public while maintaining social distancing programs. In addition to the above, as this Atlantic Article points out closing city parks amount’s to “pandemic theater” and does nothing to improve public health outcomes, and is in fact largely ineffective. Hopefully we can keep our parks open here in Peterborough!