Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Fence fiasco predictable

by Richard Rolke - Vernon Morning Star posted May 11, 2016 at 1:00 AM
City of Vernon staff should have expected a backlash over ripping out the fence at Sawicki Park. After all, kids and playgrounds are motherhood issues and parents and grandparents traditionally get alarmed when something they perceive protects their children is suddenly taken away. No sooner was the fence down April 12, and social media went viral. Complaints also started to roll into elected officials. “The opposition to it is unanimous,” said Coun. Scott Anderson at city hall Monday. A two-page report was presented to council defending staff’s decision to eliminate the four-foot-high fence, but it did little to divert criticism. “I’m not convinced by the rationale here. A chain link fence does not impact visibility,” said Anderson. In the report, staff states, “the fence was removed to place emphasis on increasing accessibility, visibility and transparency for safety, and to enhance the landscape and provide more shade through additional tree planting.” As someone who drives past the park semi-regularly, I almost forget there is a chain link fence there. It virtually blends into the landscape and it’s difficult to know how a fence impacts sight lines more than a tree once it becomes fully mature. But the biggest reason many parents and grandparents are upset over the fence removal is the speedway known as Middleton Way. Yes, the speed limit is 30 kilometres an hour in the playground zone, but very few motorists do that. Obviously there is a need for increased RCMP enforcement of the speed limit there, but you can’t have an officer sitting all of the time. A fence provides an established boundary for kids, who can be unpredictable when running around. Staff insist that other parks don’t have fences around them, but instead of taking out the fence at Sawicki, one should question why more fences aren’t installed. In the case of Girouard Park, 20th Street has become a busy link between the north end of town and East Hill. The only support for staff at Sawicki came from Coun. Catherine Lord. “If you are going to take children to the playground, you will be with them. Why do we need a fence there?” she said. Of course parents must be responsible but you can be the most diligent parent in the world, and your kid is still going to zig when they should zag. Things can happen at a blink of an eye. A fence is not about bubble-wrapping kids but ensuring there is a basic safety standard for them and for motorists. In the end, the biggest mistake by city staff was the lack of communications. Before the fence was removed, park users and immediate neighbours should have been consulted to see if there was any interest in the plan. And while the role of council isn’t to interfere in day-to-day operations at city hall, the politicians should have had advance warning about a contentious action, and perhaps they should have been asked for guidance. As well intentioned as staff was, the reality is that considerable time and effort has been wasted and a fence is going back up. Any future fence removals at parks must be placed on hold until council provides further direction.

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