Back in 1970, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens put out a song, and it went a little something like this:

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

I live in the CBD, and my considered response to this rhetorical question is: where indeed? To my knowledge, there are just three playgrounds in the central city: one at Myers Park, one at Wynyard Quarter and another nearby at Victoria Park (let me know if I’m missing any). And, as we were all reminded recently, Myers Park is not without its problems.

CBD playgrounds

Despite some great public spaces in the CBD, there are not many places where your kids can have a slide or a swing. The CBD is just not very family-friendly, and outside of events like the Santa Parade, children are actually quite a rare sight. The situation is improving – Wynyard Quarter and Britomart have revitalised the waterfront area, and there seem to be more families wandering around the bottom of town. Even so, we’ve got a very long way to go, if the CBD’s population is going to double in the next 30 years and if those people aren’t just going to be more students and DINKs (double income, no kids). So come on, Auckland Council, let’s get a few more playgrounds around the central city. How about, for starters, one in the Vector Arena/ Quay Park area, and one midtown – maybe Freyberg Square, where there’s already a Pumpkin Patch store?

Here’s what the CBD’s population currently looks like:

CBD pop by age

Of course, there’s a big bulge in the 20s – not surprising, with the universities and nightlife. There are also a lot more CBD residents in the early-30s range; after that, people seem to get the heck out of dodge and go and procreate somewhere else.

If you look at the under-14 population, it’s interesting that there are a few young kids in the 0-4 age bracket, and almost none at school age (5-14). I wonder why this might be?


According to the Ministry of Education’s Directory of Schools, there are more than 2,500 schools in New Zealand. That’s about one for every 1,800 people in New Zealand.

The Auckland CBD, with a resident population of 22,000 people – to say nothing of its working population of 90,000 – has just four schools: ACG Senior College, ACG New Zealand International College, Mindalive, and Kadimah. There are no state primary schools in the CBD (Kadimah is an integrated school, with a Jewish emphasis) and most central city residents have to take their kids to school in inner-city suburbs: Parnell or Freemans Bay. This reinforces car dependency, because it’s pretty hard to get your kids to those schools any other way except by car.

There are billions of dollars invested in the CBD, with plenty of public and civic facilities of regional importance. It’s strange that you can do just about anything in the central city, except take your kids to school there.

If the central city is going to grow, central government is going to have to come to the party, with school facilities. This won’t be cheap – high land costs and a lack of outdoor space for physical education will see to that – but it’s a necessary step.

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  1. Isthmus Group blog had some new design work up for Myers Park which looks cool as of this week.
    I’d also add Kadimah to inner city school list. The fountains at Britomart are popular with the kids. And taking the train to town is an event in itself – especially when the electric one’s get here. But some more kid friendly places would be excellent. Didn’t they use to have pedal cars on top of the Farmers buildings.

  2. two things I suspect the pointy-headed peeps at the MED will need to get their heads around if NZ is to develop schools in denser areas:
    1. Shared facilities, e.g. playing fields, pools, and libraries, with local governments; and
    2. Density. Pure and simple multi-storey school buildings, ala Sweden and Netherlands.

      1. Are you sure Conan? Are you sure you arent unconsciously deeply scarred from not having green playing fields strecthing to the horizon? Do you struggle to interact with other people and move your limbs in a useful way?

        You know like all the hundreds of millions of Europeans who go to urban schools.

        And those poor Danish and Dutch children who are so disturbed that they have deluded themselves into appearing on surveys as the happiest children in the world. For example, 80% of Dutch children are cruelly forced onto their bicycles to risk their lives on cycle paths instead of being driven to school in an SUV.

        Shocking. Wont SOMEONE think of the children!!!!!

        1. Although all of the 3 high schools in Wellington that have tower blocks, ( Wellington High, Wellington College and Wellington Girls) all still have at least one “playing field” (similar in size to Auckland Girls Grammer)

          As an aside I guess that Freeman’s Bay school would get most of the kids on the Western side of the CBD, and to be honest it is probably closer that a number of schools in the outer suburbs are to their catchments

        2. Schools in NZ tend to be (or are entirely?) stand-alone buildings. Is there any reason you couldn’t start a school on a few floors of a shared office building? That’d mean you could create a school anywhere the government could rent office space, rather than needing to find and clear an inner-city site in order to develop it as a school. You could also rent more or less space on a flexible basis to account for increasing or decreasing student numbers. In fact I can’t see any reason that a school couldn’t rent space in multiple office blocks, provided they were close enough to walk between classes.

        3. No reason at all Obi, though wait for the ‘where will the children play’ backlash. If you did this near to an existing park would be no issue of course- down by Vic park for example.

          The reality is that you don’t spend a whole lot of time on the fields provided at secondary school and a great deal of time in the classroom. Wellington High had a tiny field, but also the grounds of the museum and art gallery (at least it was in my day). So sharing open space makes sense where possible.

        4. Pretty sure the Senior College kids turn out OK (well, most of them…).

          No playing fields (or outdoor facilities at all) to speak

        5. One interesting aside is that schools don’t pay rates, ( they do pay user charges like water and possibly rubbish),
          but State/integrated Schools, Universities, Polytechs etc do not pay rates, so Councils may not be overly keen for them to start taking over buildings downtown, 🙂

        6. Obi, there was a Steiner school in the ground floor of a Wellington office building in the 2000s. Not sure if it’s still there, but it’s been done (albeit by the unconventional).

    1. The Transport Link is …..that good urban design promotes foot transport – ie walking. That transport and urban design are intertwined not separate. Train photos on the previous post.

    2. The NZH believes that playgrounds are for communists. Everyone knows that kids can only develop properly if the grow up on a farm, and failing that a large section with plenty of open space to play. I wouldn’t hold my breath on reporting like this in the Herald. Unless of course it turned out to be Len Brown’s fault, or alternatively Len Brown proposed a new playground in the city we would have Cameron Brewer in the NZH telling us what a waste of money it is.

    3. Hi Clare,
      I did mention transport briefly in the third-to-last paragraph, but we’re not just about transport here at the ATB (we’re not even just about Auckland either). We’re interested in things that affect our city and things that could make it better. We do a lot of talking about intensification, public spaces and services, and so on.
      If you just want to read transport-related posts, feel free to skip ones like this, but if you don’t feel too much that you’ve been forced to read this under false pretences, then please read on!

  3. Because we have such a rules-based, prescriptive attitude to development (I suggest), without explicit provisions in district plans (and unitary plans) requiring developments to provide open space and children play facilities, it can be very hard to get developers to do this willingly. As we look to increase our density, this will become more and more of an issue. Often we just expect councils/ratepayers to fund this sort of thing by purchasing land and then trying to fit all sorts of amenities onto it to meet all sorts of needs. It’s a similar issue to pipes and roads. Who should pay for this sort of infrastructure?

    1. That is why developers pay development levies. The government has other ideas though and wants to move this cost onto the wider ratepayer base by removing development levies.

      1. And at the same time planning on banning rate rises above inflation. All part of the plan to reduce and restrict their role in creating a city people want to actually live in. At the end of the day it is cities like Melbourne tha attract new Zealand’s mobile youth because we fail to provide an urban landscape you actually want to spend any time in.

  4. Re the two ACG schools – ACG Senior College only takes Year 11-13 students, and ACG New Zealand International College, although a registered secondary school, is actually an entity for delivering the University of Auckland Certificate in Foundation Studies programme for international students. So in reality, apart from Kadimah, there are no schools in the city for Year 1-10 students; and no state schools of any kind.

  5. I wouldn’t forget that despite its popularity the one in Wynyard was only ever a temporary use of the space, and is planned to be replaced with several large office and commercial blocks.

    1. Yup, although no doubt there’ll be a playground in the headland park they’ll be building at Wynyard Quarter, and hopefully they’ll be keeping some of the things people love about the current one. I reckon a headland park and a linear park along Daldy St (connecting through to Victoria Park) is a small price to pay for losing the current playground.

  6. Albert Park, the Domain, Queens Wharf all spring to mind as places children’s areas could be built, or why not in Aotea Square – or even better close queens street to traffic and build some In the massve areas of tarsal suddenly available.

    1. Yes, imagine Queen Street with a children’s playground, what a different space that would be.

      Do the retailers still maintain that losing traffic down there would really damage their business if it wa sreplaced with public amenities like that? If so, they really need to understand their businesses more.

      1. Emily Place is another great little spot that would be amazing as a small intercity plaza with playground. It’s a real lost opportunity at present.

    2. Aotea Square would be an amazing place for a playground, especially that gass part inbetween the town hall and the Aotea Square. I used to spend so many hours playing on the fountain in the square. That and catching pigeons were about the only things to do for a kid.

      1. Definitely agree, was wandering through there yesterday and had the same though as I saw a dozen guys having a serious game of touch in and around a pack of skatboarders. If adults and teens can play there, why not kids?

        One of the three grassed rectangles to the south could accommodate a kick ass playground, and the adjacent paved rectangle at the very southern edge could take some basketball hoops or whatever. None of that would affect the square’s ability to hold large events, but it would bring in more people and life day to day.

        On a plus note, I see the dreadful playhouse pub has been closed and looks to be replaced with four or five smaller bars or eateries. Will be great if they all have plenty of tables spilling out onto the square, it would really activate that side with the sound and spectacle of people enjoying themselves.

  7. And apartment dwellers have their pick of the litter in Freemans Bay (my hood), with Western Park, the playground behind the Freemans Bay Community Centre. Not to mention numerous pocket parks like this one corner of Ireland and England Sts. Perfect little spot for kiddies big and small.

    1. They’re all quite a hike if you live on the eastern side of Queens Street. Better and safer cycling links would make them a lot more accessible though.

  8. Albert Park would be could for a playground. Plus I’m a big fan of swings and even in my twenties would happily while away an hour’s lunch break on them.

    Maybe the council could “gift” one of the sites acquired for the CRL to the government on the condition that they build a years 0-13 school on it?

  9. Although it’s not the CBD there is a great opportunity to develop the Nosh/Liquor King site at 254 Ponsonby Road into a city park. It’s already an open space (mostly) and allows for beautiful view shafts to the West. The Ponsonby Road Masterplan (DPRM) unfortunately promotes 3 (of the 4) options that involve high density intensification builds on greater or lesser parts of this site.

    Option D is the only one that allows for the full park option.

    Make sure your submission on the DPRM supports Option D! It would be a crime to waste this last open space option.

    1. Couldn’t disagree more Jennifer, I would prefer to see a good mixed use development on that site, with real urban laneways and courtyards but not yet more vapid open space… Ponsonby needs the gaps joined up not more dispersal.

      1. There are already a few, probably, underused parks around Ponsonby. Some improved walking / cycling conditions on these side streets and some wayfinding signs would go a long way. Turn the existing parks into destinations.

      1. emotive words. I would suggest that the council’s not trying to “deprive” people of open space; they’ve just decided that it’s not worth buying this particular piece of private property to develop a park.

        Probably because they could spend that money on other things that provide considerably better value.

        1. The Council already owns the park. It was purchased in 2006 so this is not the issue.
          It’s about the will to develop the site as a park ( core council business I would suggest) as opposed to changing the residential one zoning and building 12.5m high buildings on this last significant open space.
          Not emotive – just what has been printed in the Draft Ponsonby Riad Masterplan.
          Submissions need to be in by tomorrow btw if you’d like to support Option D – the full site park.

    2. Jennifer, that site would be pointless as a Park. Long and thin and at right angles to the main street and alongside the side street and effectively opening onto a side street to the south? Why on earth would you want that as a park? It doesn’t work at all as a park. Good spot for a drop of Nosh though!

      1. Why would you want that as a park? Seriously?
        It’s on Pons Rd, has access from a second side, is ideal for public gatherings, kids playgrounds etc You probably don’t realise that the Waitemata Ward (where this potential park is located) is slated for 110% increase in population. Where the new parks and outdoor areas are coming from is still a “mumble mumble um” part of the Unitary Plan so it’s up to the locals to ensure we get what the place was purchased for in the beginning instead of covering it in buildings. Some of the “Urbanists” on this site can appear insanely right wing from time to time don’t you think?

        1. My interest is improving the quality of urban places, especially public ones, and in some cases that may mean making a new park but mostly what Auckland lacks is good urban quality; I’m really passionate about trees in the built environment but not vapid squares of bland gardening nowhere in particular. Ponsonby Rd especially needs more urbanity not less, in my opinion. Not sure what ‘wing’ that makes me?

        2. No, Patrick wants parks in his backyard, he just acknowledged that some parts of his back yard are better for parks and some for shops. That is realist, not NIMBY

        3. Don’t think that site is the best place for a park, and the city paid a heap (7mil?) for it. Perhaps we can get out of it at a profit, still control what happens on the site and use that money for something better on the strip.

          Say like buying the church over the road, opening it for public use (theatre?) and the grounds as open space overlooking the city, get rid of the car parking and regrettable breeze block additions…. (Hat Tip to Local Board member Tricia Reade)

          But mostly what I think we need is better urban space not just ways to escape it.

  10. Maybe council would consider letting the MED have one of their downtown commuter car park sites at a reasonable price so it could be used for a school. The one on Lorne St overlooks Albert Park, Fanshawe St is pretty close to Victoria Park.

  11. Reading comments about Albert Park, I can’t help think about that little forgotten bit of it that sits between Bowen and Kitchener streets. Maybe they should put a playground in there, and give the whole area a new lease of life. It’s close enough to High St/the Chancery that families out shopping could take their kids there, not to mention the apartments nearby. And I’m sure office workers wouldn’t mind a cool space to hang out in, if it was done properly.

  12. Hi John,

    There are three projects underway to improve playspaces around the city centre.

    – The first is a major overhaul of Myers Park. There are three parts to this project which include enhanced access, safer environment and playing in our backyard. The aim is to turn this playground into Auckland’s premier Playground. Works commence on this next year. You can find out more about this upgrade on my blog:

    – The second is in Newmarket. As you may be aware, Newmarket has one of the highest concentration of school age children in New Zealand. With over 4,000 children going to school within 1km of the Newmarket Viaduct. The Auckland Council and NZTA along with some pushing from the Waitemata Local Board is to turn the unused land under the Newmarket Viaduct, surplus to requirements, into a Skateboard Park and basketball hoops. You can find out more on my blog:

    – The third and most recent announcement is the upgrade of the Costley Reserve Playground in Freeman’s Bay. This was just approved this week at the last meeting of the board. Once again you can read about this across three blogs on my website:

    With a growing population of about 28,000 people living in Auckland CBD, in the ring roads, there is going to be higher demand for playspaces for young families and teens in the inner-city. It has been phenomenal to see this demographic change over the last three to five years to see more families living in the inner-city, which I know is adding to the pressures of wriggle and rhyme at the Auckland Central Library along with story time. There will be a higher demand to deliver more playspaces around the city centre and up and around Eden Terrace too. At the lowest common denominator, if a city is safe, fun and exciting for children we are heading in the right direction for everyone else.

    As your elected representative for the area I can pass this on to our Park’s Team.

    Great comments, thanks for the feedback.

    Rob Thomas
    Waitemata Local Board

    1. Thanks for the info, Rob, and interesting to hear that there are more families visiting the central library too. As Bbc points out, though, only one of those parks are in the CBD. There are heaps of public spaces in the central city, which is neat, but many of them don’t make much effort to engage with kids. I’m sure most users of those public spaces wouldn’t begrudge it if one or two playgrounds were added around the place. I do realise that none of this will happen overnight! Cheers.

  13. In terms of green spaces, the entire waterfront in it’s current format has to be the biggest failure of all. One of the reasons it’s so bland and cold when the sun isn’t out is because its concrete, concrete, concrete. Not a strip of grass from Queens Wharf in the east until Silo Park in the west.

  14. On the side of you may have missed some
    -Grafton has Outhwaite Park. (corner of Park Road and Carlton Gore road)
    -Starship hospital has a play area in a public space.

    On the bad side I do not know of any CBD restaurants that have play areas. (Not uncommon in some larger café/children restaurants)

  15. Since my son was born 6 years ago, I’ve had some time to reflect on playgrounds, how children use them and how adults see playgrounds as essential. My take on this need for adults to create these play areas for children is that we have taken the old, natural habitats of children away from them – streets, footpaths, trees etc so we now feel the need to create these ‘safe’ play areas instead. Why wouldn’t we instead focus on returning streets to the people? Allow safe cycling, walking, playing and hanging out in the urban environment. Why do McDonalds have caged playgrounds? Because they are normally surrounded by hundreds of car parks.

    As a 43 year old, I remember playing on the streets in the 70’s. Cars stopped and waited for us to get what ever ball or toys off the road before carrying on. I’m sure that 40 years before that, children would have played on streets around Ponsonby, Parnell etc before the mass influx of the automobile. Our adult need to recreate this is due to our selfish need to allow motorised traffic to dictate the built environment to the detriment of all others.

    “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people”
    Enrique Penalosa

    Let us not just provide them with the occasional park but rebuild the city so the entire city is a playground.

  16. stephen- you are taking this wayyy too far. All Bryce was saying was that kids used to rule the streets. My friends and I did- skate board and go kart races down public streets, when it rained- boat races in the gutter. I hope kids still do that today.

    1. Jeepers. What did Stephen have to say? Obviously Matt didn’t approve :-). My guess was it was about me harping on about dialling back the auto centric infrastructure.

      1. Yes Bryce you are a dangerous Communist and must be stopped. You obviously havent been heeding the very well informed and well thought out advice of David Wilmott. You are threatening to bring the end to Western Civilisation!

      2. Some bizarre story about seeing someone’s brothers run over in 1973. Apparently because of this any move to encourage making the road safe enough to play on is insensitive. Would have though the opposite would be the case. If you subscribe to the comments you get all these words of wisdom straight to your inbox.

  17. I live in the CBD with an active son and we play in the city in the following places: Tepid Baths in winter (Although. like a lot of indoor pools in the city, the family pool is off limits 8.30am-12.30pm on weekends unless you pay for lessons) Pt Erin Pool and Parnell Pools in the summer. We can spend half a day at the Parnell Pools. The family pool there is large, heated and has a graduated depth so it suits kids perfectly. It is a huge asset to the city and is just a 10 minute bike ride or 20 minute walk from the CBD. It would be good if this pool could be covered in winter to allow it to be used. It opens at Labour Weekend and closes at Easter. When it closes at the end of the season I always feel that it is warm enough to remain open for longer. Now that these pools are free for under 16 year old’s there is even more incentive for us to use them more. We climb trees in Emily Place Reserve. There are 5 or 6 large Pohutukawa trees that are fantastic for climbing. We climb trees and the cannons in Albert Park. We see lots of kids using these for climbing and playing. The cannon are refreshingly dangerous – hard steel, slippery surface and concrete base. It is interesting during the Chinese Lantern Festival to watch dozens of children playing on the trees and the cannons and the poor old security guards trying to get them to stop because of the electricity generators hidden in or behind the trees. The generators are there to power the amusement equipment that the children climbing the trees are shunning in favour of an activity that doesn’t cost their parents $4 for 5 minutes of play. We go to the playground at Wynyard Quarter, Myers Park, Victoria Park and Gladstone Park. The Gladstone Park one has the best equipment; several slides, swings, interesting climbing equipment. It is the least used of these four playgrounds, probably because it is well hidden from the street. We can bike there in about 10 minutes, needing to cross only 5 roads. Myers Park playground is good with some interesting climbing structures and swings. It had a slide but this was removed about six months ago. We bike there on a safe route through Albert Park, on the Shared space in front of the library, across Aotea Square and then we encounter the most dangerous part of the route, car park outside the Silo Theatre. This blocks the entrance to Myers Park. There is no designated pedestrian or cycle path through the car park and I can’t understand why we don’t use it to connect Aotea Square with Myers Park. The park is a very pleasant place to play but it is blocked off from its busiest end by a car park that is right next to a much larger carpark, under Aotea Square. My son likes climbing equipment at playgrounds and I think the Space Net’s that are at playgrounds such as Pt Chevalier and JF Kennedy Memorial Park in Castor Bay are really good use of space. Some of the more artistic equipment I have seen (like some of the equipment at Wynyard Quarter and Victoria Park) tend to get ignored by kids who seem to want basic climbing, sliding and swinging activities. Queen’s Wharf was welcoming for a while when it was first opened up now it seems to be busy with cars and fences. It would be good to see some shipping container swimming pools and climbing walls put in there over summer. My son is social and he likes to be where other kids are playing. It would be good to have a covered space in the city for kids to run around in on days when it is raining. The Maritime Museum fills in an hour. We go to the library a lot and the Art Gallery occasionally and I think many families drag their kids to these places when the kid would rather be in a place where they are allowed to run around and make some noise. Maybe a large space under cover where kids can play ball sports, learn a martial art, paint some pictures, hang out with kids their age without being told to keep quiet. It really is easy to find places to play in the city and the abundance of events (Diwali, Lantern Festival, buskers festival, Christmas in the Park, Pick & Mix at the Edge) provides more experiences that are easy to get to than if we lived in most suburbs.

    1. Great to hear from you Eduardo, and sounds like both you and your son have a lot of fun around the city! Good suggestions and I agree that there are heaps of family-friendly events in town, those are always good fun.

  18. If there is to be a new Railway Station at Parnell with a route linking through to the Domain surely that would be an ideal location for a playground – there appears to be nothing in Parnell. Failing that Fraser Park was a Public School and as it’s sloping site is unsuitable as a playing field it wouldalso make a perfectly good location for a playground.

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