The Vancouver Park Board must stay independent

Parks are not political or corporate toys

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A bench at a grassy park.
PHOTO: Victoria Lo / The Peak

By: Kaja Antic, Staff Writer

Surprise — Vancouver mayor Ken Sim has made yet another terrible decision. Last December, he decided his party holding the majority in City Council, the Park Board, and the School Board wasn’t enough control. Sim proposed an amendment to the Vancouver Charter that would dissolve the independent Park Board and put it under municipal control. Vancouver City Council then agreed to transition environmental control from the Park Board to a council seeking profits over ecological value. This has terrible implications for the city’s greenspaces and those who appreciate them.

Vancouver is the only city in Canada with an elected park board, and it’s had exclusive authority over community spaces in Vancouver since 1953. The distinction from City Council is still important today as community greenspaces are growing rare in major cities. While it may seem like an oddity, it’s an important asset when considering the value of greenspace. The Park Board is essential for prioritizing the needs of community members. Previous executive director Sarah Blyth-Gerszak remembers advocating for more youth skate parks when she was younger. During her time on the Board, she worked on projects like implementing electric vehicle chargers, gender-neutral bathrooms, and even “cellphone donations for seniors.” These were changes made without profit in mind, which is what the Board is for. 

Unsurprisingly, Sim’s position on the Park Board has not always been crystal clear. In June 2021, long before he was elected, Sim pledged to remove the Park Board if he gained the mayoral seat. A year later, the ABC Vancouver party introduced their Park Board candidates, which Sim claimed would help improve parks without needing a legislative change in Victoria. Less than 18 months later, Sim backtracked on this decision. We shouldn’t entrust the care of local parks to someone who was dishonest about their intentions.

“This has terrible implications for the city’s greenspaces and those who appreciate them.”

Along with the dissolution of the decades-old Park Board, Sim proposed another dystopian idea — to sell the naming rights of public city spaces to corporations. He claimed this decision could earn the city up to $100 million from “wealthy people and organizations” if they were able to sell the rights to name buildings, parks, and other city assets. Not only does that potentially limit the inclusion of Indigenous names in the future, but it also feels like a horrible consequence of late-stage capitalism. While I’m all for the renaming of Stanley Park, I’d rather not have the new name be “Galen Weston’s Super Loblaws Park.” 

Even though the Park Board is still technically active as the Vancouver Charter has not yet been amended, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is already acting on Sim’s wishes. Along with an increased budget, VPD officers are taking over beaches. Officers have been removing residents and tourists from the lands under Park Board jurisdiction, because apparently watching a beautiful sunset does not coincide with Sim’s “Vancouver is Fun” policy. Keep in mind that Sim was the former Chair of the VPD Board, and now he wants control over the city’s parks. This is an early example of what’s to come as the city encroaches on park jurisdiction, as the Board meant to resist this intrusion may soon cease to exist.

BC premier David Eby stated in March that the provincial government is committed to Sim’s transition plan — though a formal decision would have to wait until the next legislative session, after the October 19, 2024 election. The Vancouver Park Board is integral to the protection of Vancouver’s parks, beaches, and community spaces. Without the Board separating political interests from social and environmental ones, Sim’s controlling power trip could have drastic consequences for the natural spaces the city is known for.

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