How Pokemon Go Nearly Destroyed a Quiet Suburb

First published on GameSpot.

It was nine o'clock on a Wednesday night and dense crowds of people  had gathered in a public park. The low rumble of casual conversation  could be heard throughout, punctuated every ten minutes with a loud,  excited cry of "Oh my god!"

It was not a festival. There was no special event  happening. Hundreds of people had flocked to an otherwise ordinary park  for the sole purpose of playing Pokemon Go. Named Peg Paterson Park, the  area is located in a suburb named Rhodes, situated 30 minutes away from  Sydney's central business district.

Described by its residents as a normally a quiet suburb  primarily populated by families with young children, Rhodes saw an  upsurge in visitors in the last few weeks thanks to Pokemon Go. And  although the influx has since been stemmed with the removal of three  PokeStops, the area is still recovering from the impact of the game.

Many players flocked to the area following reports that Peg  Paterson Park was a hotspot of rare Pokemon--partly due to the three overlapping PokeStops which frequently had lures activated, creating an  area nicknamed by players the "Safari Zone." Hundreds of people  regularly turned up at the park despite the cold weather; Sydney is in  the midst of winter, with reports that the city is being hit with  near-record levels of cold spells.

GameSpot quizzed players in the park, with some claiming to  have travelled more than 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) via public  transport to scope out the area, drawn by the rumours of rare Pokemon in  the area. The reputation of Rhodes as a Pokemon Go hub spread  throughout Sydney via social media and mainstream news channels, which  triggered an influx of new players.

"Around peak times, there [were] so many people in the park  that they spill out on to the roads," local resident John* told  GameSpot. "When I get home from work I need to walk past the park…  people just stop on the sidewalk and they don't move, and that's every  three steps."

The influx of visitors put a strain on the physical  condition of the park--grass was trampled to mud, a public recreational  chess set was removed after it was vandalized, and an increased amount  of litter appeared. According to long-time resident Tom*, the  deterioration of the environment had "taken place as a direct result of  having large numbers of people congregate within confined areas," with  the increased amount of cigarette butts strewn throughout the playground  especially noticeable.

Nearby residents reported noise from the crowds persisting  until the early hours of the morning every day of the week. The park  sits in the middle of several large blocks of apartments, meaning that  the noise generated by hundreds of people gathered could easily be heard  by hundreds of locals who lived nearby.

"I've had times when people yell and run across the street  because there was a Gyrados there. At 2AM, people were yelling near my  balcony for no reason… they don't care what time of night it is, they  just do it," John described to GameSpot. Following complaints about  noise and an increased amount of litter, the local council installed  signs asking visitors to refrain from being too loud, and placed  additional garbage bins around the area. The signage also asked the  park's attendees to restrict use of play equipment to children, and to  refrain from smoking too close to the playground.

"To be fair, I think the majority of players are respectful  of noise levels, but like with anything that attracts people in large  numbers, it's often the minority that tend to stand out for the wrong  reasons," Tom commented.

John described an incident where the glass door which  provided entry to his apartment block was smashed one evening. "It may  or may not have anything to do with Pokemon Go, but I'm leaning towards  yes," he said. Residents also shared photos on social media showing  players breaking into local construction zones marked as off-limits--all  in the name of catching Pokemon.

The noise didn't just come from people yelling; the honking  from cars persisted late into the night. The sudden influx of traffic  presented its own problems for the suburb, with some of its two-lane  roads that normally serve light, local traffic "very easily [becoming]  bottlenecked with no alternate ways around."

"This results in traffic being backed up for hundreds of metres, snaking around the blocks of apartments with residents being  subjected to long and prolonged beeps and occasional yelling," Tom said.

Due to the increased traffic, a fire truck had difficulties  reaching an apartment where a fire was occurring one day and some  motorcyclists had taken to riding on footpaths to get around the  congestions. Police officers were brought in on some evenings to help  control the surge in traffic. Last weekend, the council shut down entry  to a particular street to help ease congestion. The increased numbers of  cars has also meant less parking, with residents reporting incidents  ranging from parked cars obstructing driveways to non-residents  illegally entering private carparks.

"The driveway entry to my apartment complex [was] partially blocked on a daily basis, especially in the evenings… cars will often  illegally park in the half-space of 'no parking' on either side of the  driveway, resulting in their tail or front end obstructing cars entering  and leaving the complex. So when you're exiting the driveway, not only  is visibility up and down the road almost non-existent, but one must  cross into the opposing lane while turning in order to avoid the  illegally parked car," Tom described.

Locals have also reported break-ins to private car parks, with Pokemon Go players allegedly parking in spots reserved for  residents and/or disabled parking spots. The local council reported  issuing over 250 fines to enforce parking violations.

"We have written a submission to Niantic asking for the removal of two of the three PokeStops in Peg Paterson Park, Rhodes as we consider the volume of both traffic and pedestrians to be potentially  dangerous," the local council's general manager Gary Sawyer stated in a press release.

GameSpot reached out to Niantic for comment on the issue, but has not yet heard a response. Despite the lack of communication from  the developer the issues were seemingly heard, as a recent update to  the game saw all three PokeStops from Peg Paterson Park removed,  effectively nerfing the fabled Safari Zone. Residents described the  update as a "welcome relief" and were thankful that action was  eventually taken. The park has returned to its formerly quiet state,  although it will likely be a while before its physical condition is fully restored.

Tom described the sudden change as "strange, even a little surreal."

"There were no Pokemon Go players around any more. No more  crowds. No more traffic jams. So is this it? Is it finally over? I felt both a sense of freedom as Rhodes returned to a state of normality but,  in a weird twist of events, I also a feel sense of loss. Perhaps I'm suffering a kind of Stockholm Syndrome as a result of my experience over the past few weeks, but one thing is for sure--I'm happy to have my suburb back."

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