Every after school afternoon i take my three young people (6, 4 and 3 year olds) to our local playground (often times with beau beau de guard our SPCA pooch), we are met with a small, ever changing and yet dedicated tribe of slightly older children kicking the ball to each other in the lush expansive green space that sits beneath the swings, slides and climbing frame, that mine often inhabit.
Does everyone think their park is simply the best?
What our whanau love most about Kings Avenue Reserve is it’s nestled between houses, making it a sheltered spot, a totally different experience to our big brother park down and around a few corners – Fergusson Park, exposed to the harbour and her winds. Our Kings Ave Reserve is slightly elevated allowing glimpses of that aforementioned water, twinkling beneath the Kaimai Ranges above Whakamarama and the like. Our park is best round dusk as the sun is low and golden and the skies and hillsides turn to fuschia and tangelo. Our park has a wide green lawn (any homeowner would be proud of) big enough to play a proper game of footie. Luckily or unluckily as some may view it, the lawnmower doesn’t make it down our end of our gentle Peninsula as often as others, and oftentimes the grass that once was Levers Farm is left long and lush, soft under our children’s feet. It’s how we like it. Real. Natural. Simple living.
Our family walk across our park’s grass barefoot to go play down at the estuary. To spot the herons and the little crabs. To feel the mud squish between our toes. Other times when we’re feeling more adventurous and ambling we all wander down to the Saltmarsh to spot pukeko poking about in the wetlands, or try and find that pheasant that flew in front of my lens last winter.
The people around here enjoy what our Peninsula has to offer. Because it’s a Peninsula and the traffic is only ever that of residents or people visiting. We seem to all know each other, and take a vested interest in our space and one another.
Christine Sadlier bringing back the Levers Farm Christmas BBQ in our beloved Kings Ave Reserve. Celebrated on New Zealand’s Neighbours’ Day at the end of summer, our community of babies, toddlers, children, parents, grandparents, couples, singles & canines come together on the grassy knoll of our green space to play frisbee, kick a ball, throw dogs sticks, picnic on rugs, follow after our crawling babes on the grass and generally feel how blessed we all are to live in such a connected peaceful community.
It’s somewhat picture perfect on the Peninsula.
Perfect until Tauranga City Council start following through with a regional campaign to ‘link’ spaces, in layman’s language put footpaths where there were none previously.
Christine Wildhaber, from Tauranga City Council Parks and Recreation, has come from a decade of managing Parks in London, where it’s common place to consult with community about decisions regarding their communal, local spaces. Thanks to Wildhaber 450 Matua residents are surveyed (within a 0.5km radius of Kings Ave Reserve). But within the mailed survey, public are asked to tick their preferred choice for Option 1) Pathway runs along side the playground – This option fits most closely with current desirelines. Option 2) Path runs around the south side of the reserve. This option retains more open space within the reserve.
As a concerned resident I phoned shortly before the survey deadline to voice my (I guess you could say) disapproval. Where was the option 3 tickbox for people who wish the park to remain the same (without a concrete path)? I communicated I felt the survey was incomplete and urged her to re-do it.
At the beginning of April we received another letter in our mailboxes from Council, informing us 250 people ‘voted’ on the matter of the path route. Of this 85% of people (i.e. 200 people) were in favour of ‘running the path through the centre of the green space’. The Council plan to action what they feel the majority of Matua residents prefer. What of the other 200 people that either voted against cutting through the centre of this green communal space, or remained silent? What percentage of people who didn’t vote, didn’t have their say, because their say (tickbox of keeping the Reserve without a path) wasn’t included as an option in the original ‘consultation’ process?
And people were ‘sold’ the idea of following the desireline in Option 1. As it turns out Council are adjusting the entrance to the right hand side corner, as the current central entrance on Kings Ave leads people to cross into the Sadlier’s driveway, which obviously comes with risks which can be avoided by repositioning the Reserve’s entrance. As an aside Council listened to the survey and mooted to make the path astroturf after the playground, when it dissects the green space in the lower part of the Reserve.
So the entrance to the Reserve on Kings Ave is moved to the right hand side corner of the Reserve which creates opportunity for a new desireline. Desirelines otherwise known as the most direct, shortest or organic route. Hold onto this thought, we’ll come back to it shortly.
During one of my morning walks through our Reserve and around the ‘hood’ I stop to pick up some doggy do-doos on the edge of the new park which runs between Eaton Crescent and Matua Road. And would you look at that! Their footpath flows around the perimeter of this fresh green space. This maximum green sparks my attention. Dump the doo in the wheelie bin, feed and water the pooch and I’m on the blower to Wildhaber again.
“By Jingos Christine, I have a solution. Continue the footpath along what will become the new desireline, along the right hand side of Kings Ave Reserve. This option will meet the needs of everyone. It is the shortest route, therefore the least expensive. It will provide greater access to the playground (for people pushing buggies, riding bikes and wheelchairs) AND it will retain the wide green space, allowing the continuation of free play for today’s children and families to come.
Wildhaber is empathetic. I can tell this desire to consult is an authentic one. She really does care about what people think and feel, especially about their spaces. She says, “I need to take this to my seniors.” She calls back. Plans will go ahead as communicated. Entrance changed to right hand side corner. Concrete path winding around trees to the playground. Concrete path coated with synthetic abrasive astroturf to continue intersecting the once natural green free playing space utilised daily by so many of our tamariki.
Most people give up at this point. Unluckily for me I attended MUV Talks last week in Toi Tauranga Art Gallery where the Herald’s New Zealander of the year Leisa Renwick reminded us:
Democracy is something we actively participate in, we are part of its process. Keeping democracy alive requires belief, courage and action rather than passivity, and resignation.
I’ve drawn up a detailed but hopefully quick and easy Typeform online survey. I’m hitting the streets with my 3 kids, their bikes and the canine to deliver as close to 450 letters as i can muster to Matua residents before the camping weekend away for ANZAC ‘weekend’.
I visited Shelley and Brian Gray who live in one of two houses on the right hand side periphery of our neighbourhood Reserve to gauge their response to the survey. Shelley suggested Council come down and watch our Reserve in action. Any day during the school holidays, she intimated, Council would find kids chasing each other, falling all over the lovely grass, playing ball. It would be such a waste and such a shame to spoil that for future generations, by interrupting children’s safe and happy play with synthetic abrasive astroturf.
I am personally in favour of having a path because:
* I love Matua’s foreshore and walkways and I love the concept of walkways, ‘run’ways, cycleways being linkable.
* I think paths are inviting and any opportunity to get community connecting and people moving their bodies is a helpful and mindful thing.
* Paths across grass make it easier for bikes and I’d like to increase how much I bike with my kids, now they are getting older and stronger.
I am personally in favour of keeping the lower expanse of grass ‘whole’ and natural or ‘real’ rather than intersecting it with an astro-turf path because:
* Even though the green of the astroturf matches the green of the grass (so aesthetically Council have met some families’ concerns) I can imagine feet (especially of toddlers or young children) tripping up with the ‘change’ of texture underfoot i.e. the contrast of responsive earth covered with soft grass as opposed to concrete covered with a synthetic plastic abrasive astroturf. I have fallen over on astroturf and the grazes are similar to concrete. My ‘babies’ fall over so easily. I still remember how much grazes hurt when i was a child. I would rather my children don’t come away from the park crying and begging for a plaster. I ask myself do rugby players and soccer players play on astroturf?
* I adore the fact that Kings Ave Reserve has been laid out in such a way that there’s a playground catering for those desperate mums, dads, caregivers and grandparents to help their tamariki and mokopuna burn off some energy whilst building confidence, strength and skills on the ‘jungle gym’ in one corner and then there is a wide open green space for families to play ‘freeing’ in.
* I witness we need all the encouragement we can get to keep things real. Their is a peacefulness in real’s simplicity. It’s nearly impossible not to get lured into believing we need ‘things’ to make us happy. There are more people coming back to grass-roots, getting out in and appreciating nature. One could say this is inspiring people to be authentic too, rather than contrived or pretending or aspiring to being ‘more’ than they are.
There are Forest Kindergartens are sprouting up or as in Tauranga – Outdoor Explorers.
Schools are allowing kids to climb trees again.
Playgrounds are being designed with ‘natural or elemental’ features and less primary coloured plastic.
* When there is an option to hug the boundary of a reserve/park with a path, as opposed to intersect a green space with one, I will choose the ‘former’. The path that allows a simple, wide, green, soft, lush, grassy space to continue to live as that. We can learn a lot from nature, foremost it’s ability to be ‘real’. If we choose to dissect a community space with path we are severing a ‘whole’, it forever becomes aesthetically and therefore symbolically two sides, two spaces. Unity, one, is a helpful space to occupy, for a common-unity.
* Walking barefoot on grass is one of life’s wonders. Let’s preserve this simple right of nature to exists in its nature, for the people that follow after us, where we can.
Reserves, parks are spaces us urbanites park our worries, kick off our shoes, unwind and be with nature, ours and everyone’s.
Let’s choose an option such as placing the path on the perimeter of the park to maximise the green space, keep it whole, and keep it free of fake plastic grass. Let’s keep it real.
What do you want? What will you do to encourage that to come alive? Communities need participants, need speakers, need listeners. Thanks for listening.
If you want to get more authentic, get out in nature, she knows how to be real best.
By Emily Marks