29 September 2017

Vancouver park index aims to improve mental health: UBC study

 Researchers map quality and accessibility of parks in Vancouver

By: Wanyee Li   Metro Published on Thu Sep 28 2017
More than four in five residents in the Lower Mainland live within 400 metres of a public park and that’s good for mental health in the region, according to a new UBC study.
Researchers already know that spending time in nature lowers stress and improves mood in the short term, but this study focuses on the benefits of long-term exposure to natural spaces. UBC PhD candidate Emily Ruger mapped out 200 parks in the Vancouver area and found that the majority of residents are a short walk away from a park.
“About 85 per cent of postal codes were within 400 metres of public green space. That’s really good,” she said.
Ruger, who studies at UBC's School of Population and Public Health, also ranked those green spaces according to accessibility, form, presence, and quality. She says the index will give policymakers detailed information about what is missing from parks that rank low. For the most part, entry fees and lack of playgrounds or sport fields will hurt a park’s performance in the index, she said.
"What they need to know is specifically how many trees, how far from a park, and what types of features at a park are linked to mental health benefits so they can work to provide those.” 
Ruger has completed the first step – the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index was recently published in the journal Environmental Research. Now, she is overlaying survey data from the Canadian Community Health Survey of Mental Health on top of the map.
The last step will be to overlay PharmaNet data on where anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication is prescribed on the map as well.
Those two data sets will help Ruger see the detailed relationship between mental health and continued access to parks.  
Ruger is also working on creating an interactive version of the index where people can look up their postal code and see how the quality of parks in their neighbourhood compares.
So far, the index shows there is little difference between the Lower Mainland’s rich and poor neighbourhoods.
"I picked 100 parks from high-income neighbourhoods and 100 from low-income neighbourhoods and there wasn’t any significant difference, which is really nice to see,” she said.
“It’s something we should be proud of.”

27 September 2017

Balloon ban not such a blowhard idea

— Westender 
 POP! There goes that idea. Last week, a proposed balloon ban for Vancouver parks and community centres was defeated by a vote of 5-2. Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon was the man behind the motion. Mackinnon’s concern was environmental, citing health hazards for animals in the air, ocean and on land.

Before it was defeated, the motion blew up into a crazy amount of coverage, which resulted in parental outrage, tired cries of “No Fun City” and general mockery on social media and talk radio.
Balloon artists and birthday clowns took action, leading to a balloon animal-making protest outside of the Trout Lake Community Centre, as well as clowns showing up at the park board vote (which means it’s entirely possible that the motion was voted down because the park board was simply scared shitless.)

If you’ve read this column before, you probably won’t be too blown away to discover what side of the balloon battle I fall on. Put it this way: who are we to put our kids’ temporary enjoyment in the form of a damn balloon animal ahead of the potential death of an actual animal?

Look, you’re human, you’ve probably had a helium balloon get away on you. Chances are, your reaction was to watch the balloon climb to dizzying heights and then shrug it off. What can you do? But heads up, butterfingers, what goes up must come down, and chances are your balloon ended up either in a tree or the ocean.

According to Mackinnon, wherever deflated balloons land, they can be mistaken for food by birds, dolphins and other creatures, which means they can choke to death on your balloon. Remember that the next time your kid demands that Sponge Bob helium balloon: you could be killing a dolphin. Nice one.

Balloon clowns will argue (and really, who wants to get in an argument with a clown?) that many no longer use helium or Mylar (the shiny material used for most helium balloons). Instead, socially conscious clowns now favour biodegradable latex.

If you’ve ever taken a stroll down certain trails in Stanley Park, though, you’ll know that it takes a long time for latex to break down. That time gap is still a problem for animals. (Also, fair warning: what that person in the bushes is blowing is NOT a balloon animal!)

Another argument is that our city has bigger issues to deal with than park rangers chasing after kids with balloons; like, for instance, human health risks surrounding discarded needles in public spaces. Fair point, so deal with that, too.

And so the balloon ban motion has burst, but let’s hope the floataway from all of this inflated attention is public awareness: we are all now fully aware that those shiny, happy balloons are in fact an environmental menace. And that's no clowning around.

© 2017 Vancouver Westender

21 September 2017

Helping the Burrard Inlet ecosystem: salt marsh in New Brighton Park already attracting juvenile salmon and rich marine life

Vancouver Park Board
Media advisory
Sept 21, 2017

A new tidal wetland in New Brighton Park in east Vancouver has been created to improve access to nature for park visitors, and provide habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. Salmon fry have already been swimming in the marsh.

The Vancouver Park Board and Port of Vancouver, in consultation with Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, have worked together on this unique project to improve the health of Burrard Inlet.

Native plants, including 25,000 salt marsh plugs, over 800 trees, and 3,500 shrubs have been planted in the newly constructed wetland. These will benefit a broad range of species such as songbirds, raptors, and native bees.

Media are invited to learn more at a celebration event hosted by the Port of Vancouver:

·         When: 11am Thursday  September 21, 2017
·         Where: New Brighton Park, 3201 New Brighton Road
·         Who: Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe, VP of Port Infrastructure Cliff Stewart, representatives
                    from Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Wauthuth First Nations, invited guests
·         What: Celebration followed by media tour of salt marsh led by First Nations biologist
Parking available adjacent to the park on New Brighton Road or in the parking lot at the corner          of New Brighton Road and Commissioner Street*

Loss of tidal wetlands from Coal Harbour to Second Narrows has impacted fish and wildlife. The creation of a salt marsh is also part of the restoration of Hastings Creek through Hastings Park.

Salt marshes prevent coastal erosion and reduce flooding and act as nurseries and refuges for many species of marine animals, and protect water quality by filtering runoff.
The Park Board is working on similar biodiversity projects elsewhere such as restoring a historical stream through Volunteer and Tatlow parks on the citys west side. Construction is expected to begin next summer.

These initiatives support the Park Boards Biodiversity Strategy to improve ecosystems throughout the city.

Media contact:

19 September 2017

Balloon ban motion defeated by Vancouver Park Board

Majority felt the proposal, which received national attention, was too far reaching with not enough study

By Justin McElroy, CBC News Posted: Sep 19, 2017 5:56 AM PT

The Vancouver Park Board has deflated a proposal to ban balloons in all city parks.
In a 5-2 vote, commissioners rejected the motion, which had gained national attention since it was introduced last week.

Green Party Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, who introduced the motion, said its most important effect would be to let people know the environmental hazards of balloons.

"We really need some education about this. Do people really understand the consequences of their actions when they have helium balloons, when you leave balloons in the park, when you have water balloons and they explode?" he said.

"Responsible people put their trash into buckets, but not everyone does that, and these are very serious consequences for our wildlife."

The Canadian Paediatric Society agreed in 2012 that balloons are the most common non-food item children choke on. Balloons have also been blamed for power outages in B.C. after they have become entangled in power lines, including a power outage for much of Granville Island during the Fringe Festival earlier this month.

But aside from Mackinnon and the other Green Party commissioner, the Park Board ultimately felt education was a better idea than prohibition.

"There is a general consensus that we do not want to use ranger time on this and I agree that nobody wants to be policing children and anything like that," said commissioner Catherine Evans.

Other board members expressed concern community centres and restaurants that operate on Park Board land hadn't been consulted, and that park rangers had better things to do with their time, including cleaning up used needles.

There was also an amendment to the motion so it would only apply to helium balloons, but that failed by a 4-3 margin.  ​

'I'm very surprised by the attention'

After the motion was revealed, it gained significant attention and provoked a protest by clowns — a development Mackinnon said caught him by surprise.

"I'm very surprised by the attention. I thought this would be a little motion, I would be labelled no fun Mackinnon, and we would move on," he said.

Despite the failed motion, he's heartened by the public debate it produced.

"I am pleased that we had this conversation," he said to commissioners, minutes before his motion failed.

But he predicted it wouldn't be the last time a balloon ban would come up at the park board table.

"We will have to change the way we act, whether it's now or later. The time is coming when our world is becoming filled with toxic things that are killing it.

"While the earth will go on forever, we may not."

(c) CBC 2017 

16 September 2017

Vancouver Park Board floats balloon ban

/ Vancouver Courier
September 13, 2017 03:49 PM

The Vancouver Park Board will next week entertain a motion that could deflate future festivities in city parks, community centres and beaches.

The motion, tabled by Green Party commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, asks the board to prohibit balloons in parks, community centres and other areas under the board’s jurisdiction.

It states that balloons, made of plastic and latex, are non-renewable and are increasingly found in landfills, on beaches, in waterways, oceans and other natural areas. It says deflated balloons pose a risk to animals, such as sea turtles, birds and dolphins, as they frequently misidentify deflated balloons as food, which can lead to stomach and intestinal blockages and eventual starvation.

It also cites a study by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the DuPont Institute that found that balloons cause more childhood deaths that any other toy.

Mackinnon said it’s an issue he’s been considering for some time, but one event earlier this summer in particular solidified it for him. It was at the A-maze-ing Laughter statues in the West End. Several helium balloons had been tied to each of the figures and, he said, he saw children untying some of the balloons, which were then flying off over English Bay.

 “What we need is some good education here,” he said, adding that’s the purpose of his motion.
 “I love balloons myself,” he said, acknowledging that they are fun, inexpensive and easy to acquire.
“We just don’t think about what happens to them.”

Mackinnon said what was a fairly minor motion has garnered a lot of attention. After the agenda was made public, he was inundated with calls, emails and messages on social media — most of it positive.

The motion will be considered at Monday’s meeting.


© 2017 Vancouver Courier