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Melissa Atama’s children at South Auckland playrounds
Melissa Atama’s children at South Auckland playrounds

ParentsJune 8, 2018

‘Our kids deserve the best’: The fight for South Auckland’s playgrounds

Melissa Atama’s children at South Auckland playrounds
Melissa Atama’s children at South Auckland playrounds

Parents living in South Auckland were shocked, but probably not surprised, to learn this week that Auckland Council have been underfunding their playgrounds. Angela Cuming looks at some of the reasons why – and what is being done about it.

So Hamilton City Council has finally done the right thing and voted to build new destination playgrounds after all. During recent budget deliberations a majority of councillors agreed to reinstate the Playgrounds of the Future plan and now seven new, large scale destination playgrounds and other smaller, neighbourhood playgrounds, will be built across the city.

And while it was a win for Hamilton’s children, it cannot go ignored that other councils, other cities, are still short-changing the health and happiness of their own region’s tamariki.

As a mother to three little boys I was appalled, angry and just plain sad to learn that Auckland Council has been chronically underfunding South Auckland. Newshub reported that playgrounds in Mt Albert and Mt Eden have more than five pieces of equipment on average, but in suburbs like Otara, Manurewa and Papakaura the average is three.

Making matters worse was the news that despite North Auckland being home to only one-fifth of Auckland’s under-25-year-olds, that area is set to receive one-third of the city’s total playground funding.

Playgrounds aren’t just ‘nice to have’ things for communities. They aren’t toys for already spoiled children. They are as vital for the health and wellbeing of a community as a library, school or hospital, and local councils need to start treating them as such.

Just ask South Auckland mum-of-five Melissa Atama. Like any other mum, Melissa knows in her heart that her kids – and all kids – deserve to be treated fairly.

Melissa Atama daughter at a South Auckland playround

“I would love to see the correct investment put into our community,’’ Melissa says. “And not because we want to have the flashest playgrounds and be able to compare to other cities or areas, but because our kids deserve the best.

“Auckland Council need to also step up to maintaining their assets and not depend on the community to call in broken equipment and hazards on parks and playgrounds. The systems are ineffective, and this in turn puts our community’s safety at risk.

“We are all pretty aware that the South is the ‘poor cousin’ and you wouldn’t see a smashed up roundabout barrier remain unfixed on the North Shore for over two months but it’s common to see that in the South.’’

South Auckland has a “really proactive” local board but can only work with the budgets they are given, Melissa says.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to build our very own Wynyard Quarter on our doorstep, especially as many in our community face barriers of lower incomes and lack of access to transport to make it into the city?

“Making destination playgrounds more accessible on our back door step would bring many smiles to kids’ faces and provide amazing facilities for whanau to create memories and engage positively. I would love to see some of the destination play spaces like New Lynn’s Olympic Park built somewhere like Clendon.

“Our youth are asking for these facilities so why aren’t we listening to them?”

And it’s not just parents who see the value of playgrounds. UNICEF is a leading advocate for playgrounds both here and across the world.

‘’Play is a fundamental right of children,’’ says Jacqui Southey, UNICEF NZ’s child rights education manager, who calls playgrounds “an investment for the positives of a community”.

“How does the council perceive children? Do they see them as legitimate citizens in their community?’’

A spokesperson for Auckland Council said the council is currently working on its Takaro – Investing in Play policy, which will set out Auckland’s “investment framework and priorities for play now and in the future”.

The council has already concluded that “existing assets are not located in the areas where the greatest number of young Aucklanders now live,” the spokesperson said.

A new budget for playgrounds would be drawn up and, subject to Council approval, would go out for public consultation in the second half of 2018, he said.

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