Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?

 

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Overtime Faceoff
Overtime at hockey

This season, I got 1/2 a season-ticket pack, thanks to Jen & Neil‘s absconding off to the UK. Which has been really great. I love the privilege of getting to see these guys live on a regular basis. Even Leah likes going, which is a total bonus. Excuses for extra nights out with here are good.

But as a result of watching more live hockey, I’ve had a couple of thoughts, triggered from ongoing thoughts about fights, injuries and concussions in sports (Maybe not all sports: but two that I love: hockey & football. But even Baseball seems to have similar issues).

I don’t like hockey fights, but I admit to being caught up in the moment at a game sometimes when a fight breaks out after a dirty hit on a star player. At a certain level, I completely understand the need to protect your star players in such a brutish way. But that enthusiasm fades in moments. And then I keep thinking about there’s lots of talk about how to “clean up” hockey (which, amazingly for modern sports, isn’t referring to drugs: it’s referring to dangerous plays & fights). So here’s my idea, harsh as they may be:

  1. Fights: as every telecast reminds viewers, the NHL owns the rights to that telecast. They could simply dictate the telecasts cannot show fights & that fights are not allowed to be used in sports-highlight packages. Would this end fights? Not immediately. But by removing them from mainstream view, it would lessen the “glory” of a fight. I suspect that there would be less fights. If getting into a fight guarantees that your not going to be on TV, every rookie tough guy would think twice: for many, it’s their only opportunity. Make hockey highlights about the play, not the extraneous stuff.
  2. Injuries: This one’s harsh. On any play where a major penalty is assessed AND there’s an injury on the play, the offending players is automatically suspended a minimum of 2 games. Regardless of time of year. In addition, if the victim is injured, and cannot play, the offending player cannot play again until the injured player returns to the ice. The suspension, however long it is starts at that point. There should likely be an upper-limit in the case of career ending injuries. Perhaps a full season, including playoffs. &, perhaps to prevent “gaming” this, by having a role-player be “injured” to keep an opposing team’s “star” off the ice, the evaluation of ready-to-play status needs to come from the NHL/NHLPA, not just the team.

The Paradigm shift needs to start here

Tonight I took Liam to see the Vancouver Giants play the Portland Winterhawks at the Pacific coliseum. It was a fundraiser night for the Vancouver Thunderbirds, Liam’s hockey league, so the place was full of kids. Guy LaFleur was also on hand. For the most part, it was a great game: the home side won 8-4; Ryan Gallagher had a hat-trick (7 points overall), and they celebrated the return of a bunch of plays from the World U-17 & Junior championship.

But, there’s a few things that really disgusted me:

  1. One of the “highlight-of-the-night” film reels they showed on the big screen was of a recent fight. They provided play-play celebratory commentary and the crowd cheered wildly
  2. The biggest cheers of the night were all for fights – bigger than LaFleur’s ovation – bigger than the cheers for Gallagher’s hat-trick goal.
  3. While getting drinks, listening to 2 mums talking about how stupid it was to delay the introduction of hitting, one complaining that her kid was big, so she didn’t have to worry about anything happening to him.

The media talks a lot about how the hockey world needs to catch up to the public on their take on concussions and fighting. The recent NY Times piece on Derek Boogaard certainly has people I know talking about fights differently:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/YoungestSenior/status/155724518281854976″]

And yet everyone at the rink was nuts for the fight – even so far as to have the overhead scoreboard show a graphic “It’s Clobbering time!” during a fight. And remember, these are all kids out there: 18-22 year-olds. During the intro video for Guy LaFleur, they showed him whizzing around the rink, his hair flying, helmetless. A few shots showed some players wearing helmets. They grandfathered that in. And you know where they started the change? with the kids. These days, U-17s have to wear full face protection. Juniors have to wear at least half-visors. That’s still not a requirement at the NHL level, but it shows how this could work:

  • Ban all fights. Or if not fights, all hits to the head, in fights or otherwise: teenage boys are nothing if not inventive in thinking up new ways to hurt each other. All & any contact to the head could be an immediate suspension, with minimum lengths for intent-levels.
  • Refuse to release rights to the media to show any fights or head-hits – if the media doesn’t glorify it, it might fade.
  • Remove all encouragement/fighting graphics from scoreboards
  • change the padding rules for the kids – grandfather it in as they progress up the ranks.
  • fine coaches & teams for fights, repeat offenders. Hell – punish teams via the draft if need be.

Hockey will never be a “safe” sport. But I don’t believe for a second that fighting is an integral part of the sport. I also believe that players can learn to stop, to avoid the dangerous head hits. Most people respond well to financial (dis-)incentives.