Moncton's plan to upgrade park to discourage crime won't solve the problem, critics say
Cutting of 16 trees and other changes could start as early as the fall 2018
A Moncton park will soon lose 16 trees to make drug use and other illegal activity harder to conceal, but critics of the plan say the park is not the problem.
The City of Moncton plans an upgrade of Aberdeen Park that includes removing berms and adding more light to make the park safer.
Mayor Dawn Arnold suggested on Facebook last week that the park had become an uncomfortable place for people who live and work in the area.
"There has been increased reporting of illegal activities and decreased use by the public," Arnold said in her post.
But some say the changes will only move the issues of poverty and drug addiction to other parts of the city.
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"If we think that by changing the physical part of the park that that will address the issue, it won't," said Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble, formerly known as AIDS Moncton.
"I'm not sure where they'll migrate to but they will. Please do not think they're going to go away or disappear."
Although the issue of homelessness and drug abuse is complex, she said, the homeless community needs to be included in a community discussion about the park at St. George and Botsford streets.
No place to go
A need for housing and other services, including mental health and addictions treatment, also need to be addressed, she said.
"The very people we're talking about, we need to talk and ask them," she said. "The park needs to be more than just safe for the people who live there … it needs to be safe for [homeless people] as well … because they have no place else to go.
"If they're sleeping in the park, it needs to be safe for them because they have no place else to go. We forget about their safety and well-being as well."
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Arnold said there's been an increase in drugs, weapons and illegal activity in the area, including vandalism in some parts of the park.
"While it is true, many of the issues are social in nature, as a city we also have a duty to provide safe park spaces for residents," she said.
Although 16 trees will be removed, Arnold said the city will plant 17 new trees in the park.
CBC News requested an interview with Arnold, but she declined.
Not an easy fix
A bid on the project will go to council and if approved, the work could start as early as this fall.
Coun. Paulette Theriault, whose ward includes Aberdeen Park, said the city was too quick to redesign Aberdeen Park and hopes citizens will express their views to council.
"We have other parks in our city, we have the same problems in these parks as well," said Theriault.
She said the park is also a historical area, designed to accommodate visual and performing arts.
"I think we need to find a better way to protect this space," she said. "The park is definitely not the problem."
With files from Information Morning Moncton