I’ve now had a chance to canvass to over 1,000 residences, and a common refrain at the door step is that consultation practices are broken in this city.
The question of replacing the soccer fields at Topaz Park offers a sterling example of poor consultation in action.
Plans to modernize and renovate the park have been in the works for two years, and $4.2m has already been earmarked for replacing these heavily used soccer pitches. At least 2,500 soccer players, both kids and adults, use these fields in an official capacity, and many neighbourhood families use the Finlayson fields in the off hours.
The user groups have been consulted over the past two years and made it 100% clear that they wanted turf — or at least not pure grass — on account of the heavy rainfall in Victoria that renders fields unplayable in winter. Soccer clubs use the fields year-round and want to continue doing so.
So then why would city council suddenly endorse grass fields at the 11th hour? Why toss out two years’ worth of input with last-minute threats of installing grass, needlessly freaking out user groups? If council had wanted grass at Topaz, then it should have made that position clear over the past two years. Instead, a day before the decision was expected, numerous councillors, and the mayor, spoke out against turf and in favour of grass.
It's too late in the process for an about-face, and caused needless panic among the soccer community.
Now, I *do* share the concerns that council has with turf fields. The situation at Oak Bay High, in which micro-plastics from the turf field made their way into Bowker Creek, was a wake-up call. Weighing the merits of grass vs. turf (or other options) are fine, but do so during a two-year consultation process, not at the last minute.
Further, very few soccer players are genuinely excited to play on turf, and it does generate waste when the pitch is eventually removed. The city does need to look at these issues through the lens of climate impacts.
But what's lost here is that grass fields also generate emissions. Conventional fertilizers are emissions-intensive to produce and the mowing of grass requires fossil-fuelled mowers. Neither turf nor manicured fields are great from a climate change point of view.
That said, the soccer pitches at Topaz Park are far from major climate culprits. Half of the city’s jurisdictional emissions come from buildings, and the oil and gas upon which they run. Another 2/5 of our emissions come from cars and trucks. Vehicles and buildings should be our main focus for reducing emissions. Not fields that support our community's thriving soccer culture.
A proper and comprehensive consultation on soccer fields would have revealed that new hybrid fields have been installed all over Europe, including, notably, in Ireland, a place known for its rainy weather. These hybrid pitches are 95% grass and only 5% synthetic, thereby cutting down enormously on waste and plastic consumption. They also look more natural and ‘play’ closer to real grass fields. The results have been fantastic, and the pitches have earned the highest rating (in terms of suitability of competitions) by FIFA.
Victoria would be an excellent place to investigate, and potentially install, these hybrid fields.
Better consultation practices will, I believe, lead to better outcomes that allow Victorians to build consensus and move forward as a community.