Deep thinking needed for playground

The development of a smaller ‘‘metro-style’’ version of Christchurch’s Margaret Mahy playground ...
The development of a smaller ‘‘metro-style’’ version of Christchurch’s Margaret Mahy playground (pictured) could be fast-tracked on Dunedin’s waterfront, the Dunedin City Council says. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Dunedin may finally be in line for a "destination playground", as reported in the Otago Daily Times this week.

Destination playgrounds are valuable pieces of city infrastructure and offer numerous benefits to families - especially in this age of sedentary-fuelled obesity. They are also powerful tourist lures and, with Dunedin embracing the economic potential of tourism, any infrastructure which attracts high-spending visitors deserves contemplation.

Families seldom travel cheaply. Family tourism is a large section of the market and family choices are often driven by how well a destination caters to the needs of children. A great playground, in a great location, which can be easily accessed on foot from central hotels, would be a wonderful selling point for Dunedin.

The site being suggested - in between the railway tracks and the waterfront at the head of Steamer Basin - meets those needs. It will also serve to drive people into the area to kick-start its revitalisation. However, any destination playground should also be handy to locals, should take into account a city's particular quirks - including weather and accessibility - and should be planned, built and maintained with a constant understanding that ratepayer money is hard-earned and has myriad demands on it.

In the ODT report it was suggested the playground could be temporary, require road realignment, and lead to the removal of part of the Jetty Street overbridge system - though none of those suggestions may end up being championed, let alone acted upon.

However, they do illustrate the space-constraints a large playground would have in that location. It seems fair to ask whether the drive is to give Dunedin a destination playground, or to give the proposed Steamer Basin project some momentum. If the drive is the former, is sandwiching a new playground between the waterfront, busy roads and railway lines the best option?

By all means the area lends itself to a playground. Following a 15-0 vote by city councillors, Dunedin is getting its $20million foot and cycle bridge across the railway tracks. Having something on the waterfront side of that bridge which attracts children is sensible. There is no reason why a small playground would not work in the Steamer Basin area. But perhaps a larger destination playground would better serve the city if it were located somewhere else.

Dunedin is probably financially capable of planning, financing, building and enjoying just one destination playground over the next several decades. Alternatives to a waterfront site must, therefore, be considered.

With the wonderful work being done to reinstate the High Street cable cars, is there an opportunity to site a destination playground on Mornington Park? With a potentially world-class tourism ride taking visitors from the central city to Mornington on historic cable cars, Mornington Park will essentially become, for tourists at least, as accessible as Steamer Basin.

Yet it is also close to family-filled suburbs and is large enough to accommodate car parking - and most suburban-based parents will be bundling their children into the car to reach any destination playground.

Developing Mornington Park would not require the expensive roading changes raised as possible options at Steamer Basin. It also has established trees and varying topography - both factors which could be accentuated by good playground design.

Any trip to a Dunedin playground proves children are often as happy playing with trees and grass banks as they are playing with fancy equipment. The Dunedin City Council's decision to go public with their ideas around the proposed playground should be commended. Such open communication breeds conversation, debate and analysis among the city's populace - that is both healthy and effective.

It will be up to the council to listen and consider other viewpoints. If it does, and the community accepts a final decision as being the best available, the city can look forward to a wonderful asset, both for locals and tourists.


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