Why are public ping pong installations unsafe to play?

None of the current public ping pong table installations in the city of Vancouver is without objective hazards. Just take a look at the above photo of the Empire Fields Tables on a busy day to see a playing area full of objective hazards. When it comes to permanent safe infrastructure for table tennis, it doesn’t exist in Vancouver. So far, public ping pong tables have been dropped into existing strips of asphalt or concrete “pop-up-style”, much like a ping pong table added to a rec room where the furniture, the walls, ceiling, windows and bric-a-brac are all accepted objective hazards. We can do better when we start to consider ping pong to be a sport and, in doing so, consider the safety of every player from the beginner to the advanced player. Players of all ages and abilities deserve to play on safe ping pong installations within the broad lawns of any given park, where a long hit shot won’t run off into traffic, or a bike lane.

Our mission at Ping Pong In Vancouver is to bring this disparity to the attention of the Vancouver’s park planners, invite them to consider elevating ping pong, table tennis, to the status of any other public sport where safe, standardized playing facilities are the norm.

In this era of COVID-19, indoors options to play ping pong are basically non-existent. Let’s ask our parks planners to step-up and give the idea of safe standard public ping pong in parks some serious thought. Help shift the perception of ping pong from “a post-prandial pastime” played in a six-foot basement to one that recognizes table tennis as a legitimate sport played by millions around the globe. Please give us safe places to play in parks.

There is a safe solution, just look to European cities

A quick trip to the internet reveals the popularity of outdoor table tennis in European parks. The Canadian website, The Outdoor Playbook, (dedicated to thinking outside the classroom and, in the process, transforming Canadian schoolyards into dynamic environments for learning, growing and playing), has this to say about ping pong infrastructure:

In most European public parks, table tennis or ping pong tables are ubiquitous. Gradually, these permanently installed tables are starting to make their way to North America, with park visitors only needing to bring their own paddles and balls to strike up a friendly game of ping-pong. These tables would make an excellent addition to any school ground, providing a fun game for students and community members alike.

Come on Vancouver, we can do this, too!

In 2009, after recognizing the popularity of public table tennis facilities in China and Europe, Table Tennis England in partnership with Sport England, installed 47 ping pong tables in 26 London parks. From their website: “The project was a success. The tables were quickly adopted by the communities they were placed in.” The article lists a number of key benefits for organisations who have installed outdoor table tennis tables.

What about Vancouver? Can we do the same as London? Yes, we can! In fact, back in 2017 there was a modest move by Vancouver Parks and Recreation to embrace public ping pong with the installation of three tables at Empire Fields Park. Shortly after the tables opened, an article in the Globe and Mail by Frances Bula, titled “Table tennis emerges as unlikely urban trend in Vancouver” heralded this new trend. But the momentum towards embracing public ping pong was short lived. No other installations were built in parks. Since then, pop-up ping pong tables have been added to existing public spaces but no sustained attempt has been made by city planners to take table tennis seriously as a sport and create safe playing facilities within green spaces as London and Berlin have done. Playing ping pong in any of the ping pong table-equipped parks of London or Berlin is a joy with no worries about safety. In these big cities tables are safely situated within designated playing “courts” surrounded by grassy areas. Here your ball won’t roll into a busy street, and you won’t collide with someone walking through your playing area. Surely, the safety of players should be the top consideration.

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