2020 OPA Winter Sward

From the Parks Bench

Adapting to Change and People’s Behaviour

say we worked through some organized chaos to get to where we are today. Now, with some experience behind us, we can take a deep breath and plan for what comes next. The list of topics that should be included in that discussion is

As I contemplate our current situation in the parks and trails sector, I can not help but make mention of the impact COVID-19 has had on us in 2020. What strikes me as interesting is that some of the proposed changes in how we do business and deliver our parks services post-COVID-19 were in fact already being considered long before the virus ever struck. What the onset of COVID-19 has done is highlight some of the key areas of change that we must prioritize moving forward. Not all impacts of COVID-19 have been negative, so if we discuss and plan our strategies carefully in the parks and trails sector— future outcomes could be positive for everyone. There has been significant attention brought to our parks and trails systems since government restrictions and isolation protocols were first put into effect. When residents heard that their daily visit to the park, playground, fitness station, splash pad and trails were being restricted, the response was unanimous —“Why?” Residents were upset and felt strongly that taking away their outdoor activity simply did not make sense. They needed open space, fresh air, sunshine and physical activity to relieve the stress of the crisis, and maintain good physical and mental health. However, it was not them being outside that called for stricter measures, but rather their behaviour while in these spaces. As parks professionals, we are well aware that on certain occasions and special events, our parks can become overwhelmed with users. So with that in mind, we expected the same kind of challenges during a time of pandemic; but that was not the case. Residents were told to stay inside, and were glued to the television, social media and/or had ears to the radio to listen to the daily national and provincial news updates. Unfortunately, they all seemed to come away with different interpretations of what was said. Even municipalities struggled with how they were going to comply, and then get the public to comply, with the new and constantly changing directives. It would be fair to

long, so I will just touch on some of the main ones I know are at the top of your agendas. This includes: Signage — Is it clear, relevant, accessible to everyone and in the right places? Are signs similar throughout the municipality or are there updates needed? Are changes always made in a timely and consistent manner? In many cases, we witness irate behaviour when signage is confusing or non- existent. Park, occupation, usage policies and bylaws — Without clear and concise bylaws or rules of engagement, it is very hard to manage unexpected activities that take place in parks when we least expect it. This goes beyond permits and extends to; gatherings, music and noise levels, garbage removal/littering, placement of tents, drugs and alcohol and overnight camping in parks. Council to front line communications — Lags in communication or misinformation can cause very negative community fallout as well as frustration for frontline staff. We are currently experiencing new changes on almost a daily basis, so it is extremely important to assess if your communication tree is well-understood and accessible to all required staff. Crew sizes and staff allocations —We must tactfully come up with a solution to this major issue, so service levels and routes of travel can return to being effectively and efficiently managed. This is a real challenge given the fact budgets are not increasing and more vehicles may be required to comply with distancing guidelines. Park monitoring and enforcement —This issue escalated during COVID-19 because our users were


The Green Sward - Winter 2020

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