Niki Sharma: Inclusion, tolerance, and safety are key to Vancouver parks and recreation system
Every time I have the chance to travel, I come back home with a deeper appreciation for the green spaces that our parks provide to every neighbourhood within Vancouver. In the midst of our urban environment, I am thankful to be able to run around the seawall in Stanley Park or have a picnic with friends on one of our many beaches.
Our shared spaces have the power to enhance our quality of life and build a stronger and more inclusive community.
In the lead-up to my decision to run as a park board candidate, I had the privilege of speaking with a number of people about how they felt about the city’s parks and recreation system.
And while I found great enthusiasm for the wealth of assets that Vancouver had to offer, I also encountered concern from those who felt limited by their caution of when, why, and how they enjoy our parks.
Whether it was the sexual assault that happened in Thornton Park last year, or the potentially racially motivated attack that occurred on the seawall in 2009, I am concerned about a growing perception that Vancouver parks are unsafe for segments of the population. I believe that any city park or facility that feels unsafe—for any reason—is failing as a public space.
The hard reality that we must deal with as a city is that many Vancouver citizens are denied access to our parks and recreational facilities because they fear discrimination, harassment, or violence.
Both women and seniors are often weary of doing anything outside of daylight hours because of a lack of lighting.
Residents from the LGBTQ community have expressed fear of the isolation that parks offer to those who resort to intolerance. Similar sentiments were recently expressed by the LGBTQ committee for city council via a report on the barriers transgendered individuals face when using city facilities.
We must carefully consider the experiences of our homeless population with our park system. With occurrences like the death of Curtis Brick in Grandview Park, I feel that we can and should do better.
I am also extremely committed to reducing obstacles faced by the urban aboriginal population and immigrant communities in accessing the recreational programs, community centres, and parks facilities throughout Vancouver.
This is why I am advocating for the introduction of a Safe Parks and Recreation Charter that will ensure inclusion, tolerance, and safety for all within any park or facility that is under the purview of the Vancouver park board.
The charter would be developed within the community, by the community, and for the community, and make great efforts to reach out to those who are at greatest risk.
We will conduct special consultations with park and recreational facility users, as well as a wide array of stakeholder groups and resident associations to help identify issues, remedies, and a time frame for implementation.
My commitment for the release of such a charter would be accompanied by a detailed action plan encompassing areas such as increased security, additional lighting, facility design features for future capital plans, reducing barriers for participation, and partnering with community volunteers or organizations.
The notion of comfort is the key to this proposal taking shape. I believe in a parks and recreation network that extends the same quality experience to everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or age.
This is a fundamental guarantee that I feel the park board must offer to all Vancouver residents.
Niki Sharma is a Vision Vancouver candidate for park board.