Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.
Earlier this month, Torontonians learned that a pilot program is under way that allows us to drink in public parks. Kind of. We’re not about to be Europe or anything like that. Park drinking has been permitted from Aug. 2 to Oct. 9 (how generous!), and only in 27 parks, selected partly on the basis of washroom or porta-potty access. (Weed smoking in parks is more generally permitted already, with certain exceptions.) Recently, I’ve seen people drinking in area parks and thought, Oh right, that’s legal now, but looking more closely at the list, I’ve noted that none of the parks I regularly go to made the cut.
There’s a case for making things legal that are already happening regardless, which drinking in parks most certainly is. In the United States, for example, the legal drinking age is 21. If you imagine that this means 20-year-old American college students don’t drink, I, uh, regret to inform you that this is not the case. What a drinking age of 21 does, in conjunction with a social norm of under-21s consuming alcohol, is allow the proliferation of an uneven and arbitrary system of enforcing underage drinking laws.
So, too, with parks. Removing a ban on park drinking means that police will be less likely to single out and crack down on certain park-guzzlers, perhaps on the basis of race. The program also offers lower-income apartment dwellers the same alfresco drinking opportunities as those with yards or cottages. (Alcohol is alcohol, whether it’s pinot noir sipped on a yacht, or a can of whatever was cheapest at the LCBO, enjoyed on a bird-poop-splattered bench.)
That said, I’m not personally looking forward to any increased park drinking that this pilot program may inspire. I don’t think it’ll have a measurable effect on public intoxication either way, but I do see other potential concerns.
The toilet situation in Toronto parks is, as the urbanist journalist Shawn Micallef often reminds us, somewhat lacking. I feel like I’ve spent half the summer perching a 4-year-old on a porta-potty with someone’s beer can (empty or not, doubling as an ashtray or not) poised for easy access for the adults using these facilities. This does not improve the odour, nor the which-liquid-is-that-exactly situation.
The paucity of public washrooms, even in the parks that have them, is only going to become an issue of greater urgency the more beverages you throw into the mix. Put bluntly, where is it anticipated the revelers will pee? We all know where, and good luck guessing which tree-adjacent areas to avoid.
I was amused to read, in media coverage of the new guidelines, that alcohol cannot be “consumed within two metres of certain areas – including playgrounds, wading pools, splashpads and outdoor swimming pools.” I’ve seen plenty of parents – ones with better alcohol-metabolizing abilities than mine, no doubt – cracking open a beer in the playground, and indeed recently shared a wading pool-adjacent bench with two abandoned cans of Miller Lite. Are the teenage wading-pool attendants not legally allowed to remove them, or are the cans part of the decor?
Toronto parks are already baseline unusable a lot of the time for small children, and as my main reason for being in a park is to keep my kids entertained, this comes up rather a lot. In my local park, hard-drug usage is lower than some, but dogs are off-leash everywhere except, mysteriously, the large fenced dog run that is right there. The new law seems a bit like if they announced a pilot park program to allow dogs to roam free at all hours. Who would even know?
I’m going to now offer a counterproposal, one with year-round potential: A coffee truck in every playground. Not as in, a pilot program permitting these. No, it would be mandatory. I have never not wanted a black coffee, cappuccino, or – a girl can dream – iced Vietnamese coffee while chasing my two under-fives, and have only rarely remembered to pack a thermos with coffee from home when filling the stroller undercarriage with what often feels like the full contents of our house.
The new coffee-truck law would boost the economy, as many parents (okay, at least one parent) would pay a bit extra not to have to haul a wagon and its tiny denizens into a coffee shop. While bringing coffee to playgrounds brings about its own share of toilet-related concerns, maybe the city can step things up in that department, installing a lavish, multi-stall washroom in Sorauren Park by using the taxes on my beverage purchases alone.