Growing up without a backyard – why Wellington needs more playgrounds

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by Graeme Sawyer
Parents, kids and anyone who cares about how kids grow up in Wellington should be sending a submission to the Wellington City Council about its draft new Play Spaces Policy.

Wellington is growing; adults with no kids are enjoying cosmopolitan CBD apartment living while those with cash or good prospects may be enjoying our burgeoning new suburban developments like Stebbings Valley and Lincolnshire Farm. The working poor are looking to buy – or rent – wherever they can afford it that will allow their kids the basics of a kiwi upbringing: increasingly, that’s in the outer suburbs, where “intensification” is creating smaller housing units that struggling families can afford to rent, yet have schools and some amenities nearby.

Suburban residential intensification is planned to add one third of ALL Wellington’s new homes in the coming 15 years. By re-zoning outer-residential areas via new Medium Density Residential Areas, the WCC encourages developers to pull down old houses and build flats and townhouses up to 3 stories high, typically at the rate of more than one housing unit per 100m2 of land. That is more than twice the density that Housing NZ define as “medium density” – what MDRA seeks to create is in fact low-rise, high density housing.

As the Wellington residential accommodation market becomes increasingly unaffordable, young couples with kids (or with plans to have them) are facing tough choices. How to balance their accommodation budget with the desire to raise their kids in a suitable environment (schools, sports clubs, amenities), yet still have access to the city?

Increasingly, new parents are choosing low-cost, high-density accommodation options. Yet the WCC’s proposed new Play Spaces Policy fails to cater to that changing paradigm. The WCC must change the Policy to better equip suburbs marked for massive residential intensification, so they can meet the increased needs of the thousands of kids who will grow up with no back yard.

What will MDRA redevelopment mean for a suburban neighbourhood? A ”typical” 700m2 suburban home could typically be replaced by seven or eight new “units”, two to three stories high. Look at a small street today with 20 such traditional homes, imagine a future with 150 homes in the same space, and you get the idea.

This zoning is now a reality for Johnsonville and Kilbirnie, and it’s on the plans for Tawa, Newlands, Karori and Khandallah and Island Bay soon. These suburbs will be asked to “take one for the team”, by letting massive intensification of their neighbourhoods take place so that Wellington City will have enough houses as it grows.

But these are all family-oriented suburbs (with six to eight times the proportion of kids who live in inner city apartments). These suburbs will always attract parents looking to raise kids, to attend excellent local schools and to enjoy the classic kiwi suburban childhood experience. “MDRA” suburbs will continue to appeal to families in the face of intensification – as has been proven in Johnsonville, where MDRA was voted in by the WCC over six years ago; since then both the total population and the proportion of children have exploded.

The problem with the residential intensification program is that the WCC are not investing enough to mitigate its effects (as the RMA, and their fiduciary duty to citizens, oblige them to do). The WCC plans to attract thousands more people to these MDRA-zoned suburbs, yet they are failing to provide the social infrastructure those families need to thrive as they traditionally have. Playgrounds should be an absolutely critical part of the infrastructure for Wellington’s future generations.

WCC research proves that most kids use the playgrounds nearest them most often. The lack of carparks in MDRA zones aims to discourage vehicle ownership, meaning that parents will have less options to visit ‘destination’ (better equipped) playgrounds further from home.

WCC’s proposed new Play Spaces Policy is a relic of earlier times – it entrenches the disadvantage of suburbs which are re-zoned for residential intensification. The problem is that neither the WCCs existing Playground Policy nor the proposed new Play Spaces Policy plan any measures for better public play facilities within higher density suburban communities.

Children who will live in these areas will, in effect, have no back yard. They NEED to play. But MDRA re-zoning will create new high-density precincts of up to around 8,000 people, none of whom will have access to a private yard as we know it – (a shared asphalt driveway doesn’t count and it’s certainly not a safe place for kids to play.)

The draft new WCC Play Spaces Policy takes no account of the increased need for public play facilities as suburbs are intensified. That is a dereliction of the WCC’s duty to its voteless young people, and Wellingtonians should make individual submissions to the WCC draft Play Spaces Policy to get this rectified.

Consultation is available on the WCC website at . Making a personal submission is as simple as copying this text into an email, editing it as you wish, adding your name and address, and then pushing ‘send.’

Graeme Sawyer is president of the Johnsonville Community Association

Continue reading this article at the original source from Scoop Wellington





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