Stuck with no place to go: child friendly means playgrounds need toilets

Parenting is looking after your children’s needs. Public toilets are essential infrastructure for families. Taking your children to a public place means you will need a public toilet. Ride with kids and there is no quick way home. Without a toilet, a visit to the playground will end as soon as your child needs to go.

A city needs to be child friendly. It should be part of its design. We sent a friend with young kids the Denman playground article, and his immediate reply was: “It is nice 🙂 My wife has taken the kids there a few times! I think the only downside from memory is that there’s no toilets there!”

There has been a shift in Canberra. The traditional model was every suburb had a local primary school, shops, park and playground within walking distance for a child. Family-friendly things need to be close to where you live. We like to live in a place where it is safe and has everything we need.

As adults, we become very independent and forget quickly how dependent children are. A family is all about dependence. Children make every parent aware of their dependence on good infrastructure.

Increasingly, Canberra has fewer schools, shops, parks and playgrounds – but they are bigger. This is most noticeable in new suburbs (estates). A handful of schools become very large, some are government (Amaroo) and some are not. Large schools have more to offer, and we are demanding more for our children. We have higher expectations as parents.

The same is true for playgrounds. The local playground with a swing and climbing frame is uninspiring. We see the mega-playground on the horizon and get excited and want to go there. In the ACT, the mega-playground is called a “play space”.

The play space takes up a lot of room, is expensive to build and maintain and therefore the ACT Government cannot afford to build many of them. They are popular. Kids love them. On weekends it gets crowded and everybody is having a great time. They have been a success.

By necessity, the play spaces will be a long way apart and service a large area and population. Perhaps one in every suburb. In the Molonglo Valley – the suburbs of Denman Prospect, Coombs, Wright, and the new suburb of Molonglo – there will likely be two play spaces for a population of around 20,000 people. The problem here is not the number but the facilities at the play spaces. You cannot invite hundreds of children to stream through a large playground without providing local public toilets.

The strange thing with new estate developments is there are fewer public toilets and further between. The suburb of Crace has one and that is pretty good. Coombs, Wright and Denman Prospect has none. Fast food restaurants are increasingly becoming a public toilet in the suburb. Shops may have toilets but not always. The shops in the new suburb of Crace do not have toilets. The public toilet is a ten minutes walk from the shops.

Denman Prospect is a new suburb that is not even finished. There is only one toilet at the shops. The Denman Prospect Ridgeline Park has a magnificent play space but no toilet.

How should this work? We are invited to bring our kids to this mega-playground only to find that within an hour of arriving we have to rush home again. The play space for most of us is not close by. This encourages car dependence. Only those that drive can get home fast enough to the toilet.

Public transport has the same problem. A park or playground without a toilet is as hostile as any desert. If you walk, the park and the playground must be very close.

This leaves cycling in a difficult position. Ride with your children and it will not be a great distance. We will not get there quickly. This is normal with kids. Getting there under their own motion is part of the experience. Over greater distances it is essential that the end destination has facilities, to prepare for the return leg.

Lack of facilities is a discouragement for active travel. The play space seems like a great idea but, without a toilet, it can only be for the families that can afford to drive there, so that they can return home quickly.

It is worrying that the new Coombs Play Space will be built without a toilet. The ACT Government proposed one but the last consultation ended with the toilet being removed from the design. Paradoxically, the parking space was also reduced. Coombs Play Space will therefore be mostly used by local residents, unless you don’t mind a dash for the trees and parking further away. A play space requires a large budget that would be otherwise spent on local playgrounds. This will cause disparity where those living in Coombs will have a local playground and those in many other areas will not.

A play space is part of the urban centre concept that only works if everything is in one place. We need community paths (local community route) to ride and walk there, car parking for those that drive, picnic facilities, water and toilets. Close to shops and schools and in a park if possible. Ideally, a play space will be built not where there is space but where it belongs.

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