British Columbia

Fight brewing over synthetic field proposal in East Vancouver

Some Clinton Park locals say they don't want artificial turf replacing the existing grass and gravel fields.

Some Clinton Park locals say they don't want artificial turf replacing the existing grass and gravel fields

About 300 locals have signed a petition against the Clinton Park synthetic turf field proposal, shown here in a mock-up. (City of Vancouver)

A proposal to install two synthetic turf fields in Clinton Park is not going over well with some of the people who live in the East Vancouver neighbourhood.

"It is so very important to so many of us in the community that we protect ourselves from the plan to plasticate our park," said Peter Nichol, a member of the Clinton Neighbourhood Committee.

The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Field Sport Federation is proposing to turn a grass field and gravel field at Clinton Park into synthetic turf fields. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

The proposal, made with input from the Vancouver Field Sports Federation, calls for the small gravel field and full sized natural grass soccer pitch to be replaced by a yet-to-be-determined artificial grass and rubber crumb infill combination.

Both fields would be lit and fenced, and because of the durability of the new surface, potential usage would increase from 14 hours per weeks to over 80 hours per week.

Vancouver park development manager Tiina Mack said Clinton Park, located near East 1st Avenue east of Nanaimo Street, is being targeted for the upgrade, because it's a soccer destination that already has lights.

Green space versus sports fields

She also says because the area is slated for major densification, a synthetic surface will better serve the expanding population and growing demand from sports groups.

An example of rubber crumb infill that is commonly used in synthetic turf fields. (CBC)

"Our grass fields and our gravel fields can't accommodate the growth, so synthetic turf fields are part of our solution in the city and give more people opportunity to access playing fields to have healthy lifestyles," she said.

But 300 people on the petition against the proposal believe the opposite is true, that a growing neighbourhood is best served by preserving as much of its green space as possible.

"The next closest park to us is about a kilometre away, so it's not like we have a lot of other places to go" said neighbour Lucas Malescu.

Is synthetic turf safe?

Nichols believes the city and VFSF must also address the health and environmental concerns that come with synthetic turf. 

"Putting plastic down in the Pacific rainforest — that's what you do to kill dirt. And the rubber particles off-gas like crazy," he said. "It's not like it's better to play on either ... It's bad for kids. It's unhealthy for knees and professional players won't play on it."

But Mack says there are no issues with the surface. 

Rubber pellets fly up from the synthetic turf during a Vancouver Whitecaps game a few years ago. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

"We have no concerns and we do care very much about wildlife and the environment and the health of all of our residents who play on our sports fields and on our playgrounds," she said.

The City of Vancouver is running an online survey to gauge support for the Clinton project and four other field upgrade proposals.

But the Clinton Neighbourhood Committee has concerns about the veracity of the results, because the survey is self selecting, meaning there's no limit to how many times a person can fill it out. There's also no way of knowing whether the postal code given by a respondent is accurate.

Looking east across the Clinton Park grass soccer pitch. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

"If we have one hundred votes from one computer, we can do some analysis on the data and sort of phase that out," said Mack. "We have over 1,800 responses so far, but we're going to receive more over the next week. We take all that data and we'll be able to map it and analyze it."

The cost of a synthetic turf field ranges between $1.5 million and $3 million depending on the site. According to Mack, the money for at least one installation is immediately available through the current capital plan. 

City staff are expected to report to the park board on the fields survey in February of next year.

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