OPINION: It is a mark of how serious the bullying and abuse is at the margins of the Invercargill skateboard park that the Burgesses, mum and three young children, were prepared to stand before the imposing array of a full city council meeting on Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns.
Taylor Hogan, 13, stepbrothers Cobin, 13, and Aiden Burgess, 8, and their mother Kiri Burgess would have had many parents cheering them on as they spoke of the physical and verbal abuse, stone-throwing and other problems they have been encountering. Skateboards and scooters are fun for hundreds of Invercargill kids, but many are banned by their parents from using the park's jumps and ramps unless the parents are able to go with them, because of the potential for bullying from "passersby".
A large part of the problem is the setting. The skate park is set well back from Elles Rd, in a hollow below the railway embankment alongside a pathway that is far enough away from the road to be a collection area for less innocent activities - Southland Times staff photographers regularly stop by to get action shots of some of the more adventurous kids at play and report they often encounter other groups hanging around in the nearby trees, drinking.
The facilities are poor, too, as the Burgesses told councillors. Only one rubbish bin, no drinking water and no toilet and they've been told by staff at the nearest rest rooms, in the council-run Splash Palace swimming complex across the road, that those facilities are off limits to skaties.
The contrast with other skate parks is stark. Invercargill parents point to the Arrowtown skating facility as their ideal. It is a bright, open park in the centre of the village where families can keep a parental eye on their offspring while picnicking in the sun. The kids are safe and, as kids do, they like to show their moves to sometimes quite large audiences of passersby.
Some of these kids are really good on their skateboards and scooters, good enough to win over Invercargill Grey Power head Geoff Piercy, who told the Times in an interview this month the kids deserved more support from the city's fathers. Mr Piercy won't see 80 again and has never been on a skateboard in his life but he hasn't forgotten what it's like to be young and have fun things to do.
"We are always saying 'those darn skateboarders, they're a nuisance around town', but . . . "people forget that they were kids themselves", the unlikely skaties champion says.
The city council decided some time ago to proceed with a substantial upgrade to the existing park and has agreed to spend $550,000 on improvements, including a $250,000 grant from the Lotteries Commission, but the estimated cost of the makeover is about $750,000 and the council seems reluctant to commit more ratepayer money.
Mr Piercy, a former city councillor who was for 15 years chairman of the works committee, sees this as a short-sighted approach to catering for the city's youth, particularly since the council is now promoting a child-friendly city. He wants the council to find the rest of the money to do the job "properly", borrowing if necessary because current lending rates were currently low.
The Burgesses, and other parents in the city, want the council to find a new, safer site for the revamped skatepark, possibly on council land on the corner of Tay and Deen streets. Their fears are understandable, but with proper planning the existing site should be able to be made a safe, family-friendly environment that will have kids and their parents flocking to it.
That will depend though, on the a real commitment by the council.
- The Southland Times
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