The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake wants to hear from residents about the use of Ryerson Park, located along Niagara Boulevard in the Chautauqua neighbourhood.
A town survey is asking residents their thoughts on what should be done to mitigate complaints about overuse of the small park due to its growing popularity.
The survey comes after resident group Friends of Ryerson Park claimed heavy traffic to the park is creating parking and traffic headaches, and unsanitary conditions because the park has no public washrooms.
The survey, available through the town’s Join the Conversation platform, is open until Tuesday, May 4.
During Monday's council meeting, Coun. Erwin Wiens took exception to the general attitude of some people who think parks should be limited to residents, saying he believes a public park should be available to everyone.
He abstained from voting on a plan to allow propane barbecues in some parks, saying it was being done to mitigate use of some parks.
“There's never been an issue with people have any barbecues in parks, but then since parks are becoming more and more popular, we've had a very a vocal group, a very large group, and they're well-heeled, privileged, well-educated and they can speak and they've used words like overcrowding, or overuse, but they've also used words like 'our park.' We need to take back 'our park,' ” he said.
Wiens said, “Whether you live next door to a park, or across town from a park or even in British Columbia, parks are a public issue and entity.”
“Parks are supposed to be inclusionary for everybody.”
However, Friends of Ryerson Park representative Brian Crow said the goal was never to exclude or limit people from using the park, but to address legitimate safety concerns caused by parking and traffic problems.
“I don't think (exclusion) ever was (the goal),” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The park has limited parking spaces, he noted, and many visitors have been parking along the narrow neighbourhood streets. Most area streets are only about 13 feet wide. Often on summer days there isn't room for a firetruck or ambulance to get down the street if there is an emergency.
He said the group is suggesting permit parking only on Chautauqua's small streets, and asking the town to place a sign on Queen Street to divert traffic from flowing into the neighbourhood.
The group would also like to see the town enforce parking restrictions and raise the fines.
“$35 to some people is just a cheap day at the beach. When they come from Toronto, you pay 30 bucks an hour for parking.”
There isn't a realtistic option to limit parking on the streets, he said, noting the driveways are small.
The group has also claimed the high traffic is creating unsanitary conditions at the park, as it has no washrooms or amenities for people who stay for hours. The group also expressed concerns about excessive noise and public nudity from people changing into their bathing suits to use the small beach.
However, Wiens said he doesn't think overuse or noise is a valid concern.
“There is no such thing as overuse. There is no such thing. We build these things for people to use them, to come to them, to enjoy them and if we want to attack people who come to this town, we're going to attack people that don't have the money that all of us have,” he told council.
“It's going to be people that rent places, and they want to feel welcome, not have pictures taken of them that are sent to us because they're 'monopolizing' our parks.”
He said “people cannot monopolize a park” and doesn't agree that people should be stopped from “having fun and listening to kids screaming” in the parks.
“God forbid somebody changes a diaper in public, or somebody breastfeeds,” Wiens said.
He said council needs to focus on calling out exclusive attitudes when it comes to parks.
“I've been speaking up against this since I've heard all the delegations of all of this, none of them has been inclusive, none of it. It's all been exclusive, and by very wealthy, very privileged, very white people who live next door to parks, who feel that they have their parks and they have more of a use to that park than anybody else. And that's not true.”
“None of that ever gets called out, because the people who are saying it are privileged, they're wealthy, they're educated, they're well-spoken, and they can do that. And so we don't speak out against it,” Wiens said.
“So, what we do is we compromise by saying, 'We'll give you this park,' so it was separate but equal. It didn't work in the '60s in the Deep South and it doesn't work here. This is not inclusion, and our parks bylaw should be the last bastion of the use of our Charter of where we say everybody should be welcome.”
Wiens noted his wife and children are visible minorities, as are workers on his farm, and they all “feel that” pressure.
Crow said he hadn't yet heard Wiens' statement at council but noted he “made a comment at our last meeting that he wouldn't feel welcome anymore as a resident. But some people misunderstood things — we've never, ever said that this was only for Chautauqua residents.”