Investing in play - and not just for kids

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Aucklanders want their Council to do more to support intergenerational play, so parents and grandparents can frolic at parks with younger family members. That’s the feedback on the discussion document, Tākaro - Investing in play, which is aimed at helping Auckland Council draft a play plan to guide it through the next 20 years.

A council spokesperson said locals are generally supportive of extending play areas to a wider range of ages and abilities, including adults and the elderly. Specific suggestions on how that could be achieved included investing in larger, more challenging play structures, and the integration of play into the public realm. Overseas, in places like Montreal for example, around 21 bus stops have swings, while in Vauban, Germany, sand pits and climbing rocks are spread sporadically along sidewalks.

Feedback to Auckland Council identified nature play, sensory play, and pop-up play spaces as being more naturally inclusive of different ages and abilities, and good at supporting intergenerational interaction. The role of ancillary infrastructure, such as seating and shade, was also emphasised.

 The Bench Go Round playfully re-imagines public seating to create connection between strangers. It's the creation of George Zisiadis and Rachel McConnell in San Francisco. Photo credit - George Zisiadis.

The Bench Go Round playfully re-imagines public seating to create connection between strangers. It's the creation of George Zisiadis and Rachel McConnell in San Francisco. Photo credit - George Zisiadis.

The council owns or funds around 940 play spaces across the region. Most are comprised of traditional playground equipment, aimed at able-bodied children aged between two to seven years old. But the council acknowledges this model of provision may not be delivering the best value to users or ratepayers, hence the discussion document. It says the cost of renewing existing play assets consumes over half of all council spending on play. Investment in new assets is on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis, with limited consideration of regional needs.

The document shared international research on play, but was also aimed at gathering ideas and testing public appetite for change. It included questions on whether publicly-funded play should serve a wider range of ages and abilities, including children, teens, adults, and the elderly.

Research suggests that play into adulthood and old age supports the continued development and maintenance of cognitive and behavioural functions gained as a child. It’s also believed it might help reverse cognitive decline in seniors with dementia, the discussion document says.

AUT’s associate director at the Human Potential Centre, Scott Duncan, told NewstalkZB in Christchurch that there is science behind the idea. "If we just played a bit more, we know that it increases brain function, we know it relieves stress, we know it makes us socialise and makes us happier people. Anything that can build that back into our community is a good thing.”

 The award winning Margaret Mahy Family Playground by WSP Opus brought play back to post-quake central Christchurch. Photo courtesy of Opus International Consultants Ltd.

The award winning Margaret Mahy Family Playground by WSP Opus brought play back to post-quake central Christchurch. Photo courtesy of Opus International Consultants Ltd.

Work is now underway to draft the play investment plan. Policy decisions are yet to be made. Once the draft has been completed, it will be subject to a public consultation process later this year, before being proposed for formal adoption by the council. Once adopted, local boards will be responsible for determining how to implement the plan within their local board areas.

The investment plan is part of the council’s resolve to become more “age-friendly”. It recently joined the World Health Organisation’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, along with 600 other cities. Membership of the group means a commitment to creating age-friendly spaces, and ensuring the city is inclusive and beneficial to everyone.

Have a look at a lovely example of urban adult play in the video below.  It's of the prototype of the Bench Go Round by George Zisiadis and Rachel McConnell in San Francisco.