by James Barber
One of the many playgrounds or papa tākaro which we are lucky to have in Newtown is on the corner of Constable Street and Daniell Street. The taniwha on whose back I grew up, Whātaitai, is depicted in the fort. He is surrounded by pictures and sculptures of kararehe or animals.
The theme was devised by the children of the next door Te Ara Hou flats and the story is that Whātaitai is calling on the animals, from kereru to panda bears, to protect the local children.
There are swings, a shady grassy lawn, a wobbly buzzy bee in need of repair, the fort, a slide, an elephant (not many playgrounds can boast that) and half a basketball court with a kakī roa, or giraffe, holding up the hoop. Hence my eldest’s name for it, “the giraffe playground.”
If you read my last piece on Wellington.Scoop  you would know that my family and I live in a small place. We need to get out and spend most of each day out and about. As such, we’ve become pretty familiar with all the playgrounds within walking distance and boy are there heaps! Some you can sit down and relax at. Others you will spend your entire time running after your toddler as they try very hard to terrify you. Most of them also seem to have plenty of wild animals nearby. Not just tui and kereru. As you get closer to the zoo you’ll see tigers and lions, and even Tahi the legged kiwi.
On the southern side of the suburb there’s the zoo playground which is an excellent place to get really distracted before a trip to the zoo, and getting really dizzy on all their spinning things.
In the far north there’s the amazingly named ViceRegal playground. This is now a pretty flash new playground at the start of the town belt. With the amazing native bush, and blackberry bushes, nearby you have a little seclusive paradise.
In the very heart of Newtown there is also my personal favourite, what we call the Newtown Library Playground. There’s a simple toddler playground and a bigger kids’ one. It is also slap bang in the middle of Newtown with tall buildings and giant Pohutukawa and Kowhai all around and therefore plenty of shade. It is a bit chilly in winter but damn fine in summer particularly when the kids are refusing to wear sunblock or sun hats. If it gets too cold or wet you can simply head into the whare pukapuka or library.
One important thing about playgrounds is having plenty of sun and decent amounts of shade too.
Now, at first glance you’d think that the council’s plan for high rises would certainly create plenty of shade but this doesn’t seem to be the case for most of our playgrounds. The Te Ara Hou playground is a great example of how to build next to four storey apartment blocks without losing light. Hopefully it’s something any future property developers will learn from.
To be honest, it can get too sunny at times. Try going down a slide which has been in the summer sun for a few hours and you’ll know what I mean. But for those who embrace the warming rays of Tama Nui te Ra, the place itself is an example of great design. This seems to be the case with a lot of the playgrounds around Newtown. Usually they’re built a bit of distance away from houses so the main shade usually comes from the trees. The main exception I’ve spotted so far is my favourite, the library playground which is half shaded by the tall buildings nearby.
As far as playgrounds go, we are really lucky to have heaps of cool papa tākaro in our neck of the concrete jungle. Anyone living in the central city, or the people who will move into the light industrial wasteland of lower Adelaide road, will be a bit bereft for decent nearby playgrounds or greenspace. If high rises were built in Newtown we can rest assured that any kids moving into the tower blocks would have somewhere to play.
One playground I haven’t mentioned so far is Carrara Park. Head along Daniel Street until you find the tunnel of wild animals on your left. If it’s mid afternoon on a weekend there should be a horde of kids at the freshly redeveloped playground as soon as you turn the corner. It was done up by the council during lockdown and opened around the time we first reached Level 2. To be honest the old one was pretty good but the new one is too.
At the moment some things are slightly too big for our three year old but this is the problem with playgrounds, you’re trying to design something for everyone from babies to adults.
There’s an exciting new flying fox, a playhouse for really teeny toddlers like my youngest and even a community garden which often boasts some of the biggest healthiest looking caterpillars I’ve ever seen. It even has barbeques and it is huge! Even though it has houses on all sides it is so big it really wouldn’t matter if you surrounded it with soviet style tower blocks. The main shade here are the giant and well established trees.
One ongoing controversy with Carrara is that despite the redevelopment, the picnic tables, the water fountain and even the barbeques there are still no toilets. We’ve had several kids’ parties there and it’s a great space but we always have to check in with our local friends and book their wharepaku in case of a call of nature.
Complaining about toilets may sound pretty trivial. To be fair, in a lot of the suburbs the playgrounds mainly serve the locals who are in a position to nip home for lunch or to use the loo. But this isn’t true with some of the big playgrounds like Carrara Park. I’ve met families from all over the city there. It is largely socially acceptable for a pēpi to have their nappy changed in the far corner, or for a young child to nip behind a tree for a mimi. But, there comes a time in everyone’s life when piddling behind a tree in the middle of a public space is frowned upon.
I contacted the City Council to ask about the lack of public toilets at Carrara. Apparently the most recent development only had money for playground equipment, which toilets clearly aren’t. However, this does beg the question as to whether the new barbeques built as part of the same project are playground equipment. I contacted the councillors heading the parks and place space portfolios, Teri O’Neil and Jill Day. Jill responded and was supposedly asking about the situation last week. I haven’t heard from her since. These are small things but the impact of them is big. It’s about creating a genuinely welcoming and accessible space.
There is a redevelopment happening ib part of the Te Ara Hou playground and the Daniel Street hall next to it. Hopefully it will look nice but more importantly, hopefully it will have a drinking fountain and a public toilet.