Letter: Defending public parkland

An open letter to the Parks and Recreation Master Plan steering committee

An open letter to the Parks and Recreation Master Plan (PRMP) steering committee.

You have wasted much time debating permitted commercial uses of our parks. This is not only an unnecessary diversion from your purpose, it is a trap.

You have appropriately defined public parkland as unencumbered land for the use and enjoyment of the people. Now your job is to research best practises to maximize the use and enjoyment of our unencumbered parks by our citizens.

Your energy should be spent studying how other municipalities have planned and designed their public open spaces to meet the health, environmental and cultural needs of their citizens. There are some marvelous examples out there. I have reviewed dozens of Canadian parks and recreation master plans, and commercial use of parks is never once mentioned in any of them.

Why? Because they understand the inviolate premise that their public open spaces are preserved, protected and promoted to provide opportunities for rest, respite and recreation. It is so obvious that any ancillary services and amenities must support these restorative functions that there is no need to define commercial use or fend off commercial development. This is Park Stewardship 101.

Don’t take my word for it. Go check them out for yourself at http://lin.ca/collections/master-plans-rfp-examples.

Our mayor and council know full well, but won’t admit, that our citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to commercial development in our parks. They shrewdly imply that the community is divided on this issue and argue we need to find a solution that “balances” competing interests. That is why they have made this a priority item on your agenda.

Hogwash! The community is not divided on this issue. The people of Penticton are united in their opposition to a council driven by private interests whose political influence greatly outweighs their numbers. This is not new. Since 1965 taxpayers repeatedly rebuffed councils that have tried to sell-off or commercialize our waterfront parks. In 2002 an overwhelming 92 per cent voted in favor of a park dedication bylaw with the clear expectation that this would protect our parks from future commercial development, only to later discover it contained a huge loophole. So here we go again.

This council seems fixated on turning our parks into revenue generators. You will be pressured to change the definition of a park to enable this and future councils to continue efforts to commercialize these precious assets without assent of the electors. I urge you to stick to your guns. Focus on a clear and firm definition of public parks, and spend the rest of your time building a sustainable, exciting parks and recreation master plan for our city that we can all be proud of.

When it comes to stewardship of our parks, Penticton has become an embarrassing outlier among our peers. You have a chance to reverse that trend. Please don’t blow it.

Dr. Gerry Karr