My mother is an artist, so I take every opportunity to show off our city’s vibrant arts scene when she comes to visit from out of town.
A couple years ago, we participated in the Illuminaries Lantern Festival together. We sang with my community choir, joined a procession of meticulously designed lanterns, gazed at glowing art installations, and watched an impressive fire show.
As dusk turned to darkness, musicians could be heard playing down by Trout Lake. We wandered over to find dozens of community members listening and singing along. People of all ages were dancing, chatting, and getting to know their neighbours. I even got my mom up to dance with me for a song.
“Sorry, folks!” A man and a woman in brown outfits called out as they approached the crowd. “Last song. Gotta shut it down now, the event licence is over.”
You could just about hear the screech of a record player grinding to a halt.
I look at my watch; it reads 10:23 p.m.
The group complained—but to no avail. We were asked to leave the park and wandered home early.
At first glance, this may not seem like a big issue. Of course we can’t have music in the park every night. Of course nearby residents need to sleep. Of course the fun has to stop at some point.
But in a city where social isolation is a top concern for local residents, moments of authentic connection among neighbours are precious. And as people increasingly live in smaller-footprint condos, suites, and laneway homes, our parks and public spaces play an even more crucial role in connecting us with each other.
The official Parks Control Bylaw was originally drafted in 1967, when hippy “Be-In’s” in Stanley Park were a major concern for Mayor Tom Campbell and other local officials. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the rules that govern our parks were not written with the intent of connecting neighbours.
Last updated by the park board in 2008, the bylaws include many rules that are necessary to effectively govern our parks and community centres. But they still include a number of relics from the past.
Some seem outright silly (3a: No sitting on walls in parks). Many are not enforced consistently (3b: parks only open during posted hours). Some reflect our city’s No Fun reputation of the past (8a: no concerts, gatherings, or meetings without permission). And one is anti-democratic (8b: no public addresses or demonstrations without permission).
With those rules, it’s a wonder how anything fun still happens in our city’s parks. But thankfully, it does.
On a warm spring night last week, an urban outdoor festival called Connect Vancouver sprung up in Vanier Park. Organized by a collaborative team including Gen Why, CityStudio, and Radius, the event was intended to “reimagine social connectedness.”
It was a fantastic, free family-friendly event, with giant bubble-blowing, live music, a photography exhibit, and a fire show. People of all ages were relaxing, laughing, dancing, and… connecting. There was even a propane fire for neighbours to gather around and share stories. It was an inspiring place to be.
I heard many comments of approval throughout the night: “This is so great! I’ve never been to something like this in the city.” “Why can’t this happen more often?” “I wish this was here every weekend!”
There’s no reason community events like this can’t be happening more often and in more locations throughout our fantastic parks system. We have an opportunity to connect people, improve our health, and have fun doing it, and I believe the park board has an important role to play in making that happen.