OPINION | When planners play it right

I just went for a walk past a primary school. There's a park conveniently located directly across the road, and the kids have spilled out with their parents and immediately get to playing.

A soccer game is in progress already, only minutes after the final bell, while little ones are pushed on the swings and climb on the play equipment. One girl stands on her own, patiently arranging fallen autumn leaves.

Someone was really thinking when they designed this (newish) suburb, and these kids are enjoying the benefits.

The thing is, no matter how much you want to build a sense of community in your town, if the infrastructure prevents it, you've got no hope.

You can see it in a generation of cheap housing developments, where green space was sacrificed for the bottom line.

If your school children spill out onto a main road buzzing with traffic, or have to stand in bus lines in the middle of nowhere, then they won't develop those after-school friendships, and neither will their families.

If you have no parks dotted around in convenient places, catching foot traffic from here to there, then people will drive straight home and hide behind their own fences.

When my eldest children were very small, we lived in the inner city, in a townhouse with a courtyard the size of a pocket handkerchief. Blessed at the time with a two year-old who learned to run before he could walk, you could be forgiven for thinking that we would all go insane.

But lo and behold, someone in the distant past had foreseen my plight. The inner city was riddled with parks and playgrounds, all shaded by century-old trees and populated with other desperate mums and toddlers. It was fantastic, and put into perspective the idea that suburbia - with its backyards and six-foot fences - was a better bet for families.

In fact, the more options there are at home (garden, trampoline, Playstation and so on) the less I suspect our kids get out to mix with others.

The crucial thing about parks is that they are neutral spaces and, unlike play dates, everyone's invited. Let the town planners out to play - it's better for all of us.


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