Myers Park’s theme of ‘play in the backyard’ gives inner-city kids a destination that evokes the feeling of an overgrown garden. It is suggestive of a children’s story, surprising and surreal, with quirky, oversized garden birds and insects, brightly coloured flowers on tall, slender stems, and sprawling kamo kamo vines that are perfect for climbing, swinging and balancing. This is a place for both the mind and the body to run a little wild.
One hundred years ago, Auckland’s city fathers carved a long, green finger of land out of the residential allotments hugging the banks of the Waihorotiu Stream, which descended from Karangahape Road into the city. They called it Myers Park – after Sir Arthur Myers, the benefactor who made it a gift to the children of the city. In present-day Auckland, population growth coupled with housing availability and affordability issues has led the city to consider compact forms of housing, with an associated reduction in yard size and a growing need for communal outdoor spaces. Inner-city playgrounds are rare in Auckland and the provision of quality city centre spaces for children has become a pressing issue.
This project shows how public parks, streets and playspaces can work harder, and be more accessible, richer and robust – and how they can (and should) have opportunities for play embedded within them. High quality spaces for play and education, designed specifically for children and with their input, are small, positive changes that make cities not just more liveable, but more civilised.
Over the years, Myers Park had become a less child-centric place, but it is an important inner-city green space and council-led consultation suggested that there was an opportunity here for a destination playground that could provide a safe, familiar and nurturing environment for children where they may explore, create and dream.
The original Myers Park playground served as a backyard for the nearby free kindergarten, a historic building almost as old as the park, and it was to the children of this kindergarten and the school next door that the designers first turned, encouraging the kids to think about things they would like to see in a new playground. “What do you do in your backyard? What would you like to do?” the school children were asked, while for kindergarten kids the questioning was Lilliputian: “If you were shrunk in size, what sorts of things would you like to play on?”
The resulting playspace, unsurprisingly, is a riot of imagination, writ large with colour and scale, where children exercise mind and body under an abstract canopy of tall, slender, disc-shaped flowers. There is a network of sprawling kamo kamo vines for swinging on, large, perforated leaves for climbing, and super-scaled garden birds and insects. To encourage social play, there are low-concrete stepping walls riddled with colourful cut-outs and playable brick edges surrounding a ‘garden plot’. There are also traditional play items: swings and slides, a giant nest-basket swing and other more physically challenging pieces of equipment to entertain and challenge regular users. A sinuous path for scooters and bikes winds through the site, a reference to the former course of the Waihorotiu Stream.