All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

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Parks across Canada are closed, with the exception of walking through

On Saturday April 11, during the Easter long weekend, the City of Toronto announced that a team of over 350 police officers and bylaw enforcement officers would shift from an education-based campaign of verbal and written warnings to people congregating and using closed amenities in parks to a zero-tolerance ticketing campaign. Tickets for violating orders — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — include a fine of up $1,000.

In the press release, the city listed twenty parks specifically targeted for enforcement. Though most are located in the old City of Toronto and along Lake Ontario, there are several others located in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

The list of parks include several along Toronto’s waterfront, including Humber Bay Park, Woodbine Beach, and Bluffers Park. It also includes several small downtown parks adjacent to recent high rise residential development, including Corktown Common, College Park, and Allan Gardens. Large suburban parks known for family gatherings and picnics, such as Earl Bales, G. Ross Lord, and Sunnybrook Parks are also on the list.

These parks are illustrated in the map below.

Toronto_Target_Parks_COVID

Parks targeted by the City of Toronto for stricter enforcement (click for larger image)

Though many of us are at home, working remotely or waiting for schools and workplaces to reopen, those employed in essential industries and services do not have a choice. For the rest of us not required to self-isolate, an occasional walk or bicycle ride is good for our mental and physical well-being. It may be necessary to pick up food and prescriptions.

For those of us without yards and quiet residential neighbourhoods, going outside means either navigating narrow and occasionally crowded sidewalks, or going to nearby small and busy parks, especially those without access to a car. In my experience so far, the vast majority of people are respecting the calls for physical distancing.

Closing parking lots and amenities such as playgrounds and picnic facilities makes sense. Where possible, we shouldn’t be straying far from home while physically distancing, and we should be keeping close to those we’re living with. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people live in apartments in Mimico and Humber Bay Shores; they shouldn’t be crowded out of their own backyard by others seeking a stroll along the waterfront.

But downtown and in the Yonge-Eglinton area, quiet open spaces close to home may be hard to come by. Sidewalks are narrow, construction barriers such as scaffolding make physical distancing especially difficult, and along Eglinton Avenue, Crosstown LRT construction has made getting around on foot especially challenging, with pedestrians often restricted to narrow passages.

These help to explain the problems at College Park, Eglinton Park, and Allan Gardens. Furthermore, Allan Gardens is close to several shelters and social services such as Seaton House, and has long been a place for marginalized residents to socialize and linger.

This is one more reason why dense, growing urban neighbourhoods require more space. Increasing the space allotted to pedestrians and cyclists by removing underused traffic lanes would provide some of that relief.

This was the argument made by two associate professors of epidemiology at Ryerson University, who sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, arguing for more road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.

This entry was posted in Maps, Parks, Toronto, Walking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

  1. Stephen Saines says:

    [It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.]

    This is indicative of a much greater ‘social divide’ in action. They might as well be stating “Let them eat cake” to the peons they claim to be protecting. .The absolute tone-deafness of Trudeau and Scheer exemplifies it. ‘Do as we say, not as we do’.

    I note an odd change in stance of the press, and this subject brings it to the fore. The normally large C conservative press of the UK, Canada and elsewhere are the ones pointing out the irony of the ‘lecturing class’ telling the peons what’s best for them. The UK Telegraph has been posting some of the most topical articles I’m aware of in the UK press, questioning any number of ‘rote’ actions the present UK Conservative Johnson regime has been touting.

    In Canada, that questioning role (mostly) has been in the normally disdainful National Post. In all fairness, articles have appeared in the Globe and TorStar also asking questions, some hinting at what the heavy hand of authority is starting to culture:
    https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2020/04/14/canadians-arent-rebelling-against-dr-theresa-tams-orders-but-they-might-be-starting-to-bristle.html

    This might be difficult for many Canadians to relate to, polls show a clear majority compliant and in agreement with the methods of ‘lockdown’….they don’t live in dense metropoles like Toronto, or surrounding areas, albeit Ottawa has examples of the heavy hand of the law going too far, with examples like a dad and his autistic son playing in a park together being warned by a by-law officer and threatened with a massive ticket.

    Very few disagree with the need to adopt physical distancing and wearing of masks. What many can’t do is lock themselves in one room apartments with no balcony or green space. Why that is so impossible for Shiny Brown Oxfords to understand is the stuff of revolutions.

    The ‘push-back’ is coming, and I don’t state that as promoting revolution. The way to relieve that is via evolution, and that’s giving citizens back the right to walk, cycle and play in their own neighbourhoods.

    What a concept…Doctors and sociologists recommend it.

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