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Creating a cool city for kids

Catherine Carter

A cool city isn’t just for young urban hipsters, crafters and musos. A cool city needs places where everyone – young and old – can feel at home.

Canberra is changing – and as it does, we need to think about more than café culture and hole-in-the-wall bars, designer boutiques and artists’ hang outs. We also need places where our youngest Canberrans can feel inspired and energised. Currently, our city centre isn’t much of an attraction.

Our picturesque carousel in Petrie Plaza is as charming as it was when we purchased it in 1974, and I suspect every child growing up in the nation’s capital has debated which horse or elephant to choose.

But beyond the merry-go-round, where are the places for children to frolic? We have just one playground in Canberra’s CBD: Glebe Park on the very eastern fringe of the city – away from cafes, shops and life.

So, instead, imagine what City Walk would look like with a kids’ adventure playground stretching from Ainslie Place right up to the carousel? Or, how about in the centre of Garema Place?

Urban playgrounds are popping up in cities around the world – and there are great examples in Australia. Darling Quarter in Sydney has a wonderland for the young and young-at-heart, with water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides and a flying fox. The kids aren’t squeezed into some dusty corner or the city – the playground has pride of place outside the new Commonwealth Bank building, and squeals of delight can be heard by everyone from bank executives and exercise junkies, to tourists, shoppers and cafe hoppers.



Another great example is Muddy’s Playground along the Cairns esplanade. Kids are captivated by the water play areas, flying fox, sound chimes, track ride, rope bridges, slides, play houses, storytelling areas, see-saw, trick track and puzzle games. Again, it doesn’t take a half-hour drive, and it isn’t in some windswept corner of the city – it’s right there in the middle of the action.


We could take our cues from some of the brilliant inner-city playgrounds in other parts of the world. Inspired by the stories of Peter Pan, the Diana Memorial Playground in London features a giant pirate ship surrounded by a beach, a sensory trail, teepees, and various toys and play sculptures.


In Tokyo’s Tyre Park, children play with big tyres in the shape of robots and dragons, as well as with tyre swings, bridges, tunnels, mountains and slides. Around 3,000 old tyres were used to establish the playground.


A park doesn’t need to be permanent either. In Lima, Peru, ‘Ghost Train Park’ was created from an abandoned electric train station. Swings and climbing frames were made from old tyres, and grafitti art transformed a stretch of elevated train overpass into a temporary fun park. Eventually, the train station project sputtered back to life – but in the meantime, a dead zone was revived.

And during the Vivid festival in Sydney, Archikidz, a collective of architects, urban designers, engineers and artists committed making cities more child-friendly, is transforming Hyde Park Barracks courtyard into at playground where kids can get their hands dirty. Watch this space!

Canberra’s Art Not Apart festival demonstrated that engaging children isn’t restricted to jumping castles and face painting. Whether it was playing with the giant silver word balloons on the stairs of the Nishi building, making origami, writing poems or fossicking through the trash and treasure at the ‘suitcase rummage’, the festival showed us that kids want to be part of our urban life too – and that we can create cool spaces and places that make them glad they live in the nation’s capital.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia.


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author