Calgary is now the second city in Alberta to be piloting a project which will allow drinking alcohol in city-owned parks.

Calgary city council voted 12-2 to approve Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra’s proposal that will allow public consumption of alcohol in city-owned parks.

The decision comes on the heels of Edmonton city council approving its own pilot project last week to allow alcohol consumption in their parks, starting at the end of May and running until October.

“Going into COVID summer no. 2, we realized that getting outside and celebrating our outdoors and being outside is very important to our mental health and physical well-being,” Carra says. “The response has been very positive in the media, and with everyone else.” 

Through the project, it will now be legal to have an alcoholic beverage at designated picnic table sites, which will be scattered in parks around the city. The project, which will run from June 1 to Sept. 7, allows Calgarians to book one of the approved picnic tables to have a drink. The number of tables hasn’t been determined yet.

The City of Calgary explored the idea of allowing alcoholic beverages in parks in 2019, engaging the public and finding 60 per cent of residents approved.

Similar to the firepit program from the past winter, the booking system provides the city a way to gauge how popular the program is.

“I think the majority of Calgarians are law-abiding people and I think if we open it up, a lot of people will enjoy it.” Coun. Carra says.

Carra adds the data from the project, once it winds down in September, will help determine if it was successful and people followed the rules or if concerns raised by other councillors and Alberta Health Services were valid.

Opposition to the plan

Both Coun. Jeromy Farkas and Diane Colley-Urquhart opposed the idea of legalizing drinking alcohol in Calgary parks, raising concerns about how it runs counter to the recently approved Calgary Mental Health and Addiction Strategy and Action Plan (CMHAS). 

“When we look at the mixed messages we’ve been sending on a number of different issues, this to me, does the same thing,” Coun. Colley-Urquhart said. 

She adds that by allowing alcohol into public parks, it goes against the opinion of the Calgary medical officer of health.

AHS weighs in

Alberta Health Services (AHS) delivered a statement in late April strongly opposing the plan for alcohol consumption in Calgary parks, saying it goes against the mental health and addiction strategy city council had unanimously approved on March 22. 

“The proposal for liquor at Calgary picnic sites would be in direct conflict to all aspects of this strategy and I do not support this proposal,” wrote Dr. Karla Gustafson, Medical Officer of Health, Calgary Zone. 

“Parks are accessible and safe spaces for healthy lifestyles — physical activity, social gatherings, and family time. This is integral for supporting the mental health and social connections of Calgarians.”

Moving forward

The public is tentatively on board, provided the city implements this correctly.

“I’m all for it, because that’s the freedom that we as Albertans have. If that space is there, we should utilize it and it’s all about feeling connected to each other,” says Tal Klaudt, who works in downtown Calgary, and passes through the parks daily.

Others have some concerns.

“My only concern is litter. I think more recycling and waste bins should be available to eliminate the potential issue,” Oliva Goemans posted on Twitter. 

The project ends in September, when the city will reevaluate whether to continue this project or put it back on the shelf. 

The City has updated their online booking system to now allow individuals to book a picnic table online here.

Tables were alcohol is permitted are booked in two-hour blocks, at no cost, time slots are between 12-2 p.m., 4-6 p.m., and 7-9 p.m. Booking is broken up into quadrants, for different areas of the city