Closed parks major blow for suburban kids

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The longer it takes, the harder it becomes for people to stick to the rules, says social psychologist Tom Postmes, connected to the university in Groningen (big bike city btw), Netherlands in an on line article on Dutch news site He continues by explaining that “on one hand the usually bold and libertarian Dutch have been following the rules surprisingly obediently, but on the other hand it isn’t surprising because it is a natural human reaction to a disaster“.

He explains that every crisis has three phases:

Phase 1: Fear rules and many people are willing to obey and sacrifice

Phase 2: Situation becomes normal and there is more space for complaining about the new rules

Phase 3: Rules are largely loosened

A run on open space

It is a difficult balance to loosen the rules and at the same time remind people that the Corona virus is around, says Arie Dijkstra, social psychologist at Groningen U in the same article.

It was not too difficult to keep people at home when it was freezing cold in Ottawa, but one could have expected that as soon as the weather was going to improve, the pressure to loosen rules was going to increase. We saw that already in the Netherlands where people a month ago were massively going to the beach and the tulips to a point that Dutch authorities had to close the roads to popular destinations.

No space in the burbs

Earlier this week, some people mentioned that the suburbs have their own space and shouldn’t drive to Queen Elizabeth Drive to bike. However, I live in an older suburb (50’s and 60’s) where the parks are closed. Sadly we actually have very few parks in the first place, and they usually have one crummy 50 year old asphalt path.

No sidewalks

Unfortunately the neighbourhood has hardly any sidewalks either. We also don’t have cul-du-sacs and dead end streets. Our neighbourhood was built in an era when the idea was that everyone would eventually only move around in private vehicles. So we are now in a situation that the parks are closed for safety reasons and instead we expose kids to speeding delivery trucks (Yes I look at you, Fedex and others) and some locals who don’t recognise the maximum speed of 40 km/h in our hood. On every street in our neighbourhood we can expect a car zooming around the corner.

Fisher Heights
The red dots indicate the parks in our neighbourhood

More kids on bikes on roads

Now the weather is improving I see a lot more kids coming out on their wee bikes. I have never seen so many kids on bikes as this year, something I hear from other areas of town too. The increase in kids is probably also because our neighbourhood goes through a rejuvenation; it appears to be a serious alternative for young professionals who can’t afford the Glebe or Westboro. I read that MEC saw an uptick of children’s bikes sales and then later the adult bikes; cycling is one of the few outdoor activities left.

There are kids out every day in front of our house now, meandering across the street and I can see they just love to bike. I see parents cycling with their kids. I see adults on bicycles who I have never seen before in our street, some still a bit unstable. It is very encouraging.


Taking the kid for a spin

At the same time as officials close the parks, Dr Etches is encouraging us to go outside, which I have been doing all along anyway to stay sane.

I am quite impressed with Ottawans and how they keep their distance from what I experienced on the pathways. It wasn’t difficult when it was -3 degrees though: few people were out.

But I disagree with closing parks. It is the last place left where kids can kick a ball or run around, fall in the grass or have a picnic. It becomes clearer that kids don’t play a factor in the Covid spread anyway. I think when you create rules that don’t make sense, people are going to break them anyway (think ‘walk your bike’).

As Dr. Henry said: “The risk that somebody who is sick spreads this virus from coughing or sneezing outside and you walk by them very quickly, even when it is within six feet, that risk … would be infinitesimally small.” I can’t even pronounce the word ‘infinitesimally’ in one go but it sounds really small.

How to pronounce infinitesimal: Listen here

Slow to respond

I would have liked to see a fast reaction to the call for more space, either by leaving parks open or close more streets. It costs money, yes, but so does building roads. The fact that Milan consulted with Janette Sadik-Kahn to set up bike infrastructure quickly shows where Italian authorities think transportation is going in the land of Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini.

Tuesday at the Arboretum

We do have many kilometres of MUPs already but it is not about a commute into town and 35 km loops but about walking out of your door into a safe space. Kids need to play outside. Closing parks and the whole 880 dollars fine was an unnecessary bureaucratic non starter.

The space has been taken away from us and that is not right. Not downtown, not in the suburbs.

This week it is time for Phase 3.

1 Comment

  1. The purpose of the lockdown was to flatten the curve, thus saving hospitals and our medical care system. The curve is now flatter, the hospitals underutilized, and our original goal is forgotten. Now it seems no one can be allowed to get sick ever again as our covid response becomes ever more polarized / politicized warfare daily.

    Yes, open the parks. Yes calm the streets. Good goals.
    I keep in mind people choose to live in neighbourhoods with large private lots and small parks, rather than neighbourhoods with smaller lots and lots of parks. And they choose to live in neighbourhoods that haven’t sidewalks or much of anywhere to walk to. Thems choices people make when considering lots of tradeoffs. One size will never fit all.

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