When Louie Lizardo walks in Central Park at night, he carries a knife in his pocket.
“I never used to do that,” he said.
He brings the weapon with him on evening strolls for protection, as he has become increasingly uneasy using the public space after dark.
A series of violent incidents has led the Patterson Avenue resident to believe the area is unsafe.
A vicious assault of a senior and a stabbing in the park less than two weeks apart this July cemented Lizardo’s impression that his beloved neighbourhood park is no longer safe. Those incidents came almost exactly after 13-year-old Marissa Shen was found murdered in the park.
“Things could happen again and we don't have safe place to walk at night,” Lizardo said.
Lizardo said he’s not alone in the perception. He said he has spoken to neighbours who feel the same way and has even noticed fewer people walking a night.
The avid walker said he has noticed drug use increase in the park and has been made to feel uncomfortable by some groups he’s encountered in the park.
“As a Burnaby resident, why do I have to fear going out of my place and doing what I need to do?” he said.
Lizardo said he wants to see the city install more lighting and surveillance cameras along pathways.
Coun. Paul McDonell, the chair of the city’s parks, recreation and culture commission, said the city is already installing new cameras in Central Park, as well as emergency call boxes. He also pointed out that the city recently installed a padded walking track on the west side of the park.
Lizardo said the track’s location near Boundary Road made it inaccessible for himself and most Burnaby residents. He said he believes mostly Vancouver residents use the new infrastructure.
The city should also open Swangard Stadium to the public at night, Lizardo said. Currently the stadium’s track is open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays.
“What the heck is that? Is that a country club? It's supposed to be owned by the people,” he said.
McDonell said it’s unlikely the stadium will see its hours extended into the evening anytime soon, saying that would increase the risk of damage and vandalism to the facilities.
“We don't get much demand for it,” McDonell said.
McDonell also challenged the notion that Central Park is a particularly dangerous place.
“I've been in Burnaby since 1964 and I can probably count on one hand the number of incidents that we've had,” he said. “I mean, one is too many, but it's pretty safe.”
Burnaby RCMP spokesperson Daniela Panesar echoed McDonell’s assertions, saying, “We want to assure the public that Central Park is safe.”
“Burnaby RCMP is continuing high visibility pro-active patrols through the park at all times of the day and night,” she said, adding that people need to take responsibility for their own safety as well.