July 22, 2016 - 12:39 PM
Who would have thought that 150 people would be doing yoga in McDonald Park. That’s what someone said to me about the “Yoga in the Park” event that happened there this week. That’s because, it doesn’t seem that long ago that McDonald Park was not the place to be.
Just over a decade ago, McDonald Park was a much different place. There was drug use and sex trade activities in the park. There was late night partying and undesirable activities. Local residents didn’t enjoy the park, and people from other neighborhoods didn’t use the park either.
But now, the park is a happening place. From music in the park to a community garden. From national Aboriginal Day celebrations to the recent opening of the new water park, the park is a vibrant hub to the neighborhood. There’s a gazebo, updated bathrooms and benches.
The change started in the early 2000’s when the neighborhood association raised $70,000 to spruce up the park. That was the start of much larger changes to the park. The next step was the creation of the McDonald Park Neighborhood Plan. This was created by the City of Kamloops in conjunction with an advisory committee from the neighborhood, the North Shore Business Improvement Association, Interior Indian Friendship Centre, Boys and Girls Club on the North Shore and others. The plan was a roadmap of what the neighborhood and the city wanted to happen with the park.
It was because of the initial work by the neighborhood association and its members like Tom and Shannon Hammer that changes to the park happened. Since then, other groups like Community in Bloom and the North Shore Business Improvement Association came on board with beautification projects and activities. Community events such as Overlander Days and Movie in the Park bring people from across the city into the park.
The neighborhood plan created by the City of Kamloops council led by then mayor Mel Rothenburger gave a road map for the changes that have happened in the park over the last decade or more. Community groups kept the plan on track.
Which brings us to today and the new challenges the City of Kamloops faces. One issue that comes up cyclically is the number of street people in downtown Kamloops. There are a wide range of different types of people. I recognize many street people who have lived in Kamloops for decades. Sometimes they panhandle, but just as often they just sit on a bench. I think they come to the downtown for the same reason most of us do: to be around other people.
Then there are the groups of mostly young men hanging around on street corners looking like they are dealing drugs. Some of them are. Others probably don’t have anywhere better to go. Though generally they leave others alone, they intimidate many people and sometimes act out.
Some of the street people are passing through Kamloops while others are here for the foreseeable future.
There is a desire by many to “clean up” downtown Kamloops and to reduce the number of street people. Just like McDonald Park, there are undesirable people doing undesirable activities.
Based on the work of McDonald Park, I would suggest that it is possible to change the feel of downtown Kamloops. But it will take time. I’d also say that, just like with McDonald Park, it will take more than one thing.
More people, of all sorts, doing things downtown makes for a better place for everyone. The Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association has been doing a lot of great things, such as expanding their red shirt Ambassador program, hosting multiple events, and adding street furniture. But it’s time to inject some fresh ideas into a perennial problem.
Something that has been missing for a long time is hearing from the street people. While it might seem obvious, it would be helpful to find out what they are looking for. The other group that could be involved is the downtown residents association. It was the McDonald Park residents association, not the North Shore Business Improvement Association that spurred change on the North Shore. So it seems obvious that the downtown residents may have useful ideas to share.
If you go downtown and see the street people, you can say “that’s how it’s always got to be.” But McDonald Park is an excellent example of how a place with undesirable activities can be revitalized. It just takes the community and City of Kamloops working together.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.
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