For better or worse, Queen’s has a reputation for its party culture. Instead of trying to shed it, Queen’s and Kingston should take the opportunity to capitalize on it by sanctioning the street party.
Street parties in the University District happen every year during orientation, Homecoming, and St. Patrick’s Day. Each year, police direct students to avoid congregating for large, noisy parties and each year, students don’t heed the advice—by midday the mob on Aberdeen St. is declared a nuisance party and shut down. The cycle leaves everyone less than satisfied. The community condemns the rowdy partying while students condemn excessive enforcement.
The City of Kingston wishes it could spend its precious policing resources elsewhere. Queen’s community members have advocated that the problem must be solved through carrots instead of sticks.
Consider how harm reduction approaches to preventing unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections don’t demand abstinence or shame young people for having sex, but rather are sex positive and advocate for safe sex. Similarly, preventing unsafe street partying is accomplished not by abolishing unavoidable parties, but by providing a safe environment for students.
University community members and Queen’s alumni recognize sanctioned alternatives to street parties providing the same festive and interactive atmosphere can be greatly beneficial.
Before the pandemic, Queen’s partnered with the AMS to organize the ReUnion Street Festival. The event featured street food, performances such as a live concert, and a photo booth. Moreover, it supported the City of Kingston.
Though that initiative was a great start, it’s time to think bigger. Instead of hosting a party for just the Queen’s community, the University can expand beyond Homecoming and take the opportunity to celebrate all students across the province and country. One avenue for this could be a Kingston Canadian University Festival.
Kingston is a great place to host such an event. The city is already a hub of festivities for students coming in from other universities. Geographically, the city sits at the midpoint of Canada’s largest cities—Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. As Canada’s first capital city, Kingston isn’t only home to one of the oldest Canadian universities, but it’s one of the first universities to enroll women. As such, having a nationwide celebration in Kingston holds immense symbolic value.
The event would exist separately from the existing Homecoming activities for Queen’s alumni and would be targeted towards current students.
Many cities have vibrant festivals attracting people from across the country. Toronto hosts the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and the Caribbean Carnival; Montreal entertains Osheaga, and Calgary has the Stampede. While festivals like the CNE are more broadly themed, other festivals like Caribana celebrate a specific community. Organizing a function for the post-secondary students of Canada would fit right in.
Street parties can be safe. Every year, scores of large outdoor events see hundreds if not thousands of people celebrate in cities all over Canada—Kingston included—without any of the trouble seen on Aberdeen Street.
This year, Western University’s Homecoming street party went largely without incident. Police had a strong presence, but students took the initiative to organize activities for charity, including speed dating and a pull-up challenge. As Queen’s students invested in the friendly Queen’s-Western rivalry will tell you, Queen’s can do anything better than Western.
Even alcohol-centered events can be successful. In Kingston, the YGK Craft Beer Fest takes place annually each summer with beer, food, and live entertainment.
Of course, YGK Craft Beer Fest charges a price for admission. However, having to buy a ticket rarely stops someone from going to a party, festival, or nightclub, and attendees will flock to events if they sound enticing enough. Besides, if students party despite the threat of a $2,000 fine, a $20 ticket shouldn’t deter them.
Aberdeen is a small street in a residential neighbourhood, so the revelers need to move elsewhere. There are several sizeable parks in the vicinity—including City Park, Victoria Park, and the Kingston Memorial Centre—that can host festivities instead.
The event can happen in one place or be spread around multiple venues. Either way, it can include capacity limits, and security screening at admission points to reduce crowding and ensure safety. Alcohol can be served in a controlled manner by licensed local businesses.
Efforts could be made to contain outdoor partying to these designated sites. In the rest of the University District, the existing rules under the University District Safety Initiative (UDSI) would be enforced.
Within the proposed festival grounds, illegal and dangerous behaviours such as climbing rooftops and excessive alcohol consumption wouldn’t be tolerated—but so long as students aren’t being physically hurt, interfering with emergency services, or inciting hateful or unlawful activity, they should be allowed to drink, shout, sing, and dance as much as they want. There’s no need to hand out a penalty for public drinking unless someone is behaving inappropriately.
The event could be beneficial for Kingston as well. It’s an opportunity for increased tourism that supports the local economy. Though some businesses have experienced concerns with rowdy groups, this can be alleviated by setting up more outdoor food options on festival grounds.
Aside from eating at local restaurants, out-of-town students will likely visit nearby destinations, such as the Kingston Penitentiary or the Thousand Islands. With revenues from the festival helping to pay for security, the burden on Kingston Police and taxpayers would be eased too.
Ultimately, the right kind of organized event, with appropriate but not overbearing safety measures, is the best chance at ending unsanctioned street parties on Aberdeen St.
Kingston’s post-secondary institutions are a defining part of this city. Let’s embrace it in a bold way. Hopefully, the idea of a Kingston Canadian University Festival offers a novel pathway towards a better arrangement for the municipality, residents, Queen’s University, and students alike.
Oliver is a second-year Law student.
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