Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turning off the lights will not increase safety in Langley Parks

Over the past several years, I have noticed more people taking up residence in the City of Langley parks system. The reasons for people living without proper shelter are varied, and the solutions to ensuring people get access to proper housing, health care, and training is complex.

Unfortunately, homelessness and addiction are usually linked. In Langley City, this means that where there are people living in parks, there are also exposed needles and other garbage being left around. This increases the health risk to other park users, and threatens the ecology of sensitive ecosystems like within the Nicomekl Floodplain. It also discourages other members of the public from visiting our parks.

The City of Langley recently commissioned a review of Rotary Centennial Park due to the following concerns:

  • Short term street loitering throughout the neighbourhood including overnight camping, drinking, drug use and sex acts.
  • Long-term street camping on the east side of the Fraser Crossing plaza.
  • People with mental health issues travel through the park.
  • Ground floor residential units along the eastern perimeter of the park could be prone to break-in.
  • Street people use the park as an open urinal and as a place to hook up with suspected drug dealers.
  • Street people use the park washroom facilities for sleeping, bathing, drug injection and sex acts.

This park has seen an increase in illegal and risky activity lately, in part, because of its design. As you can see in the following map, the park is completely cut-off from the street, so there are no “eyes or ears” monitoring the park. This is one of the critical pieces to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).

Aerial view of Rotary Centennial Park.

The City reviewed options to increase the safety around and in the park. One of the options included closing down the park completely, but it looks like the City will actually be looking at doing a comprehensive design review of the park in future years.

The City of Langley has moved forward with some of the short-term recommendations in the review including turning off the lights in the park after 9pm. I find this an odd recommendation because the ambient light in the park will still allow people to see. Also, darkness would aid campers in keep their activities unnoticed.

Talking to a friend of mine who is a CPTED expert, he noted that proper lighting is key to discourage risky and illegal activity.

While turning off the lights may hide illegal and risky activity from people at night, it won’t actually resolve or reduce the issue.

Opening up the park to 56th Street, for example, with proper lighting will increase the safety and reduce risky activity in the park. I hope that the City moves forward with a redesign of the park that enables “eyes and ears” into Rotary Centennial Park.

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