In the borough of Wandsworth, London, children will be charged £2.50 to use the local playground on weekends. The Wandsworth council says it will help fund £55m worth of budget cuts.
Some politicians say the new rules are “unbelievably mean-spirited and an attempt to turn play areas into no-go areas for the poor.” An e-petition was filed on the council’s website.
The council claims this particular playground is not only more upscale than most, but has extra features such as an adventure area containing zip wires, climbing walls and large wooden balancing structures. They also say the charges are needed to pay for more than a dozen staff at the park each weekend. They maintain that additional staffing was necessary as a precaution due to the extras.
Clearly not all agree. Some propose that the plan to charge kids for playground use was a function of the city’s budget gap combined with a desire to keep out kids from surrounding neighborhoods. A recent survey of the playground by the council showed that half of the children came from neighboring boroughs.
Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone, objects to the plan and says that parks and playgrounds should always remain free:
“Only the Conservative party could consider charging kids to play. I believe London’s parks and playgrounds should be free for London’s families and I am deeply concerned at this attempt to turn publicly funded playgrounds into areas which only the rich and privileged can enjoy.”
My, how alike we are to Londoners, unfortunately, in regard to letting kids be kids.
First off, I hope that we never begin to charge children to play in public parks here in the United States. But we have our own set of issues passed by city government that restricts our children’s play already. Last month, the New York State Health Department implemented a ban on innocent kids games, like freeze tag and kickball, saying the games posed a “significant risk of injury” and named them as hazards which need to be regulated at day camps. After much public outrage, they quickly recanted and blamed the faulty proposal on former Mayor Patterson, and said they would review the set of risky games (the new list is due out mid-May).
In Florida, one housing complex banned kids from playing outside unsupervised and also declared that certain toys such as Big Wheels and skateboards were not allowed.
Besides the bans being ridiculous and based on unfounded fear, they deny children the chance to just be simply be kids. Children need to play, run, climb, be loud at times and have fun. If they can’t do it outside their own homes or in playgrounds, then just where are they supposed to do it? What’s worse is that many of these rules penalize children for being born into families that aren’t wealthy and don’t have their own homes, yards and play equipment to utilize.
Just as child obesity is reaching epic proportions, we as a society are implementing more ways to keep kids from playing freely. Classes and sports are not available to all children and we need to preserve public spaces to play no matter how much our budget is suffering. If there is one thing I despise above all else, it is when people, particularly politicians (either here in the U.S. or across the ocean) say that children are our future and then continue to place laws and limits that impede their well-being, whether mental or physical. Creating more rules limiting free play inhibit both, and it needs to stop.