So we are in the middle of Parks Week Australia and New Zealand (3 - 9 March) and so far, our little family has been to a park three out of the four days, so we're definitely getting in the spirit!

What is Parks Week? Well its an annual celebration of the important role that parks play in contributing to the health of our communities. There are a variety of events big and small taking place to celebrate.

Parks and reserves come in all shapes and sizes. Here in Perth we have beautiful national parks, such as John Forest and Yanchep. We have the pristine Kings Park and we also have hundreds of tiny local or pocket parks dotted around suburbia. This Parks Week, I want to talk about the importance of local parks in children's lives, and by local parks I mean the ones you can walk to from your home. 

Our family is lucky to have three local parks and the river within easy walking distance of our house. These parks feature significantly in our lives, and we go between two and six times a week, usually for one to two hours at a time. We have all the usual fun there, we play on the equipment and in the sand, we play make believe, hide and seek and chase.
Picture
Picture
But when going to the park means, going to the local park, it becomes about so much more than an opportunity for play. Going to the local park is about us defining our sense of place and fostering a deep sense of connection to the community we live in.

I'll tell you a little story, humour me for a while. For our family, going to the local park also includes:
  • having a chat with neighbours on our street we see on the way there or back
  • looking at and counting the alpacas in the property at the end of the road
  • picking bougainvillea from the tree with abundance and gathering frangipanis from the ground along our way
  • speculating if the bunny in the local kindergarten we pass (that we've seen just once, many months ago) might make an appearance
  • talking about the architectural features of the houses along the way, why they are different, how old they might be, why some have chimneys and some don't
  • discussing the  gardens, who has lemons, oranges or loquets growing, why they are in or out of season and whether they might give some to us if we knocked and asked
  • for my daughter, playing with local kids and getting excited if a child she has played with before makes an appearance
  • for me, enjoying conversations with other local parents, especially those I've seen there before
  • talking about the maintenance of the park, why the play equipment is dirty, why the path has been dug up, who is responsible for that and why

And there is so much more, often a trip to the local park leads to a stop off at the library around the corner, a visit to the ice-creamery or a visit to the local second hand book shop. This in turn fosters further connections with local places and regular community faces.
 
So why is this story important? Because whilst it is an ordinary story, it is a story that plays out in our children's lives day after day, week after week, year after year. It is a story which connects children to the place they live, it grounds them and gives them roots.

And whilst going to the park is about so much more than just 'going to the park', I do wish that our local parks had some of the care and attention paid to the them and resources allocated that our bigger parks and reserves do.
PictureWhiteman Park
Council funding is increasingly targeted at overhauling or creating large, natural playspaces around Perth. We love these playspaces, they are challenging and visiting them is great fun. But we only visit them, every now and then, because visiting them requires getting in the car and going 'somewhere else'. And when our focus is on going 'somewhere else' for play or for connection with nature, we risk disconnection from our own communities. And community connection is so important for our children's health and wellbeing.

So when we are talking about parks in the context of placemaking and building great communities, lets not forget the local park, the pocket parks, the parks kids and parents go to week in, week out. These spaces have meaning in children's lives, they have meaning in family life and they deserve to be beautiful, nourishing, inspiring places too.

So this parks week, live it local. Walk to your local park, get in touch with what you love about the place you live...and then do it all again tomorrow!
For more articles like this, visit AndMe's blog here.

 

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