Row over ‘pay to play’ park

2013-10-09 00:00

THE issue of children paying to play and families paying R250 to braai using their own braai stands in a public park has sparked a public row.

Residents accuse the Growing Parks organisation, which has leased the Old Hatcheries park in Chase Valley from the municipality and revamped it, of using council land to create an exclusive playground for the rich.

The charges that have residents hot under the collar are:

• R250 to braai, whether the existing braai stands at Growing Parks are used, or whether residents bring their own;

• R20 per child to use the jumping castle;

• R40 per child to use the water slide; and

• R250 per table for holding a child’s birthday party at the park.

There is now an investigation under way at the municipality into how Growing Parks was allowed to take over the Hatcheries more than a year ago, without council or senior management approval.

While the investigation is under way, council has sought to regulate the relationship and on September 25, gave approval for Growing Parks to lease the neglected park at a nominal rent until June 2016. The lease agreement will spell out terms and conditions under which the park is let to Growing Parks, which has carried out an extensive revamp of the park.

In the application to council for a lease, the initiative was presented as a philanthropic move with no mention of user charges. The application said that Growing Parks, a non-profit organisation, assists municipalities to revamp public parks through landscaping, improving existing facilities and cultivating much needed facilities.

On the issue of how it was going to sustain the operation, Growing Parks said it would fundraise and source donations from donor organisations.

Farhana Vally, who runs Growing Parks, said she introduced the braai charges because the demand for braai stands had increased, posing a safety threat to children and the park. She argued that the charge was aimed at being a deterrent to limit the number of those braaiing in the park.

On the issue of the other charges, she said all the facilities in the park were free except the jumping castle and the slippery slide, which are operated using electricity.

She said her organisation covered the expense of security workers, maintenance and had installed an array of play equipment, including the largest jungle gym in KZN. She added that the funds raised contributed to the security and upkeep of the park.

Many of the disgruntled mothers don’t mind paying, but say the rates should be reasonable. They also want to know how the charges were arrived at.

On the Growing Parks Facebook page, Jane Ducasse Derengi asks, “Where does the R250 braaing fee come from? Is it a set tariff from council? If not, I do understand that the project has to be funded in some way, but R250 is just a ridiculous fee.”

Derengi said that if her family visited the park and wanted to braai she would have to pay R250, R20 per child to use the jumping castle and another R40 per child to use the slippery slide. Their visit would amount to more than R370.

Another expressed concern about the plight of poorer children from other areas who could enter the park for free and play on some of the equipment. They would have to watch other children play on the jumping castle and slippery slide.

Msunduzi’s deputy municipal manager for community services, Nomonde Gwabini, said the municipality knew nothing about user charges at Growing Parks. She said council had only just approved the granting of the lease to the organisation and as this was a new arrangement, they were carrying out benchmarking exercises to find out what the standards were in such agreements.

She said this was being sorted out by council’s legal division who were currently drawing up the lease. Gwabini said now that they know that there are charges involved this will have to be considered in the drawing up of the agreement.

See Farhana Vally’s full response at www.witness.co.za.

Growing Parks founder Farhana Vally answers her critics

VALLY was asked for a breakdown of the costs incurred and how these expenses are met and also asked to give a breakdown of the income received and the sources thereof.

Vally did not answer the questions specifically, but issued two statements explaining the concept of the park and the reason for the charges.

Vally said the idea of having a park that caters primarily for children was the main motivation for Growing Parks.

“We have utilised a dangerous and neglected park to create 11 full-time jobs,” she said. “It costs R60 to watch a 3D movie. Therefore [an] outing to the cinema for a family of four is R240 for two hours of entertainment excluding food. People that braai are usually larger groups and they spend the entire day in the park. R250 for a day’s outing for 10+ people is very reasonable.”

In a 2011 interview with The Witness, Vally said that she was just a mother with an enthusiasm for rearing kids who love to play.

Vally who trained as an occupational therapist was also a masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal at the time. She came up with the idea of Growing Parks after taking her own children to the city parks and realising that they were not safe with broken bottles and other sharp objects lying around and broken play equipment.

She made a proposal to provide children with a well-equipped area where they could play and set about making her vision a reality.

Growing Parks and the role of Msunduzi Municipality

WHEN Farhana Vally first set about putting her vision for a safe creative space for children to play, she set her sights on Settlers Park near Grey’s Hospital.

The project soon ran into trouble when some trees were chopped down at the park, causing an outcry among residents in the area. The municipality said at the time that council had not given permission for Growing Parks to use Settlers Park and that there was a process that had to be followed to get council approval

Growing Parks moved to the Hatcheries and got the support of the chairperson of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) Stuart Knight and the councillor for the area, Dave Ryder, in its application for a council lease.

Ryder noted that Growing Parks has made significant improvements to the Hatcheries Park and that the venue was a safe place for families.

Full response from Farhana Vally: 

The Growing Parks concept is a simple one. Clean safe open space equipped with developmentally stimulating play equipment to give children a better quality of life. 

 

Surely Parks Department should tend to the open space. On reflection I realize that Alexander Park was immaculately tended to on 23 September 2013. On 24 September 2013 people using Alexandra Park destroyed it. What does the way that we use parks say about us as a society? Do we just expect someone else to clean up after us and we will therefore mess and destroy every environment. There are little boundaries in this open space at Growing Parks. There are no walls to contain us. There are no glittering material enticements to distract us. In this open space we are free hear our thoughts without the noise of a radio or television to detract us. Here, in this open space we are free to become our authentic self. How we behave in this open, uninhibited space reflects our true person. Peaceful calm people enjoy the open space as relaxing, clean space. Yet the same open space will become dangerous and threatening if habituated by deeply destructive individuals. So why then has there been so much controversy over a park? It is merely a park after all. Is the controversy really over the park or is it over how this particular park has come to reflect ourselves, to us. Are we pained to see the destructive effect of our self-righteous entitlement? 

Growing Parks is a Non-Profit Organization just like Hospice or Community Chest. Yet no complaints that Hospice is doing the Health Departments job or Community Chest is doing The Department of Social Developments job have been made. Growing Parks is first and foremost a community upliftment project that depends on the ethical and moral integrity of those using the park. It is unfortunate that there are those who will take advantage to the detriment of our entire community. Anyone can steal from a mall, for example, but an intact moral integrity stops people from stealing. Growing Parks depends on this intact moral compass to continue to provide a service to the community. Pessimists believe that it will never succeed.

 

The lastest issue is the cost of R250 to use braai stands. People objecting to this state that an entry fee should be charged instead. Farhana Vally explains that children have the right to play. It is human right number 24 and charging children to play is simply wrong. There is no human right to braai. The braai stands are an additional service that Growing Parks has provided to the community. The demand for braai stands have increased 3 times beyond Growing Parks' capacity. This presents a safety hazard to children as adults set up braai stands everywhere including on the playground, parking lot and next to the toddler swings, despite signs at the entrance stating that the fires and heat must be controlled. Most people spend the day braaing in the park with their families and friends, R250 for a day's outing is measly. 

 

Growing Parks provides 24 hour security and a dedicated staff that works shifts. Staff work Sundays and Public holidays to ensure the safety and integrity of the park. Farhana Vally's passion for this project is evident. The impressive play equipment is specially designed to promote child development and the structure of the park cultivates social skills and a sense of wellbeing. The park that Growing Parks offers is not just a park, it is a child orientated haven where children and families can thrive. We each have a role to play in the sustainability of this community upliftment project. 

The idea of having a park that caters primarily for children was the main motivation for Growing Parks. Growing Parks preserves and protects open space for the benefit of the public. It is unfortunate that open space needs to be protected. The braaistands have become a safety hazard. 

People braai-ing have presented a hazard to the children playing. Growing Parks have tried every possible avenue to offer the braaistands for public use for free but a prevailing lack of public co operation, has jeapordized the safety and integrity of the park. We have put up signs at the entrance stating that all fires and heat must be contained in fire areas. We stop people at the entrance and pointed out the signs to them stating that they must read the signs. Staff patrol the park regularly to check on the safety. Despite this people refuse to comply with this simple request. Last year when Growing Parks started nobody braaied in the park because it was dangerous and all the braaistands were in a state of disrepair. Growing Parks covers the expense of the security, workers, maintenance and we have installed an array of play equipment including the largest jungle gym in kzn which improves the tourism appeal of the city. All the non electrical equipment is available to the public at no cost to promote early childhood development and neuromuscular development. This includes the swings, wooden jungle gym, slides, steel jungle gym, trampolines, bicycle track and soccer field. Electrical equipment costs R20 per child per day and use of the electrical equipment is optional. All the funds raised in the park contribute to the security and upkeep of the park. We have utilized a dangerous and neglected park to create 11 full time jobs. 

It costs R60 to watch a 3D movie. Therefore a family outing to the cinema for a family of 4 is R240 for two hours of entertainment excluding food. At Growing Parks we rarely have family of 4 braai-ing. Generally parents will picnic for a few hours with their children or mothers/fathers will read while their children are free to grow. This option is still available for everyone at no cost. People that braai are usually larger groups of people and they spend the entire day in the park. R250 for a day’s outing for 10+ people is very reasonable. We have people from all over Pietermaritzburg and even as far as Richmond visiting the park regularly. During the Mountain Bike World Cup Championship we had people from Germany and Netherlands picnicking in Chase Valley Park with their families. They expressed their positive impression of Pietermaritzburg and marvelled at our natural resource. Growing Parks is the only place in Pietermaritzburg where children are free to be play on developmentally stimulating equipment that was designed by an Occupational Therapist at no charge from sunrise until sunset.

When I first submitted the proposal to council in 2006 I could never have predicted that we would have over 1500 visitors in a single day as we had on Heritage day. The public demand for this concept is overwhelming. The safety of those using the park is our first and foremost priority. Our second priority is to ensure the sustainability of the project. We are privileged that Lotto has supported this high impact project and businesses such as Natal Associated Agency donated the paint used in the park and Baxter Pharmacy donated play equipment for the children to use. Smaller private donations have also been made. 

We could never have anticipated the enormity success of the park or the staggering response by the community. We love watching hundreds of children play across racial, cultural and financial barriers. At Growing Parks we believe it is not right to charge children to play. It is human right number 24. Braai-ing, however is an adult activity that can be used for fundraising efforts especially since it poses a major problem to the safety of children who are playing. There is no human right to braai. People who refuse to comply with the rules put everyone at risk. Should burning coal fall onto the dry grass the entire facility will be burnt to ashes. 

There is no entrance fee. Anyone can enter the park and the children can play freely under adult supervision. That is the main purpose of the park and the motivation for establishing Growing Parks. It’s unfortunate the people who wish to take advantage of the facility inevitable deplete the natural resource. At Growing Parks we want to take this concept to every child in the city, into the community where they live. 

As Madiba says “there can be no greater revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Human Right number 24 is the right to play. There is no human right to braai.

I have every confidence that the municipality does its best for the citizens of Pietermaritzburg. Growing Parks is a committed community organization that is passionate about preserving and protecting parks for children. Growing Parks offers 24 hour security to the park, dedicated staff that work shifts and even work on Sundays and public holidays to improve the safety of parks to offer children a better quality of life. 

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