Joanna Burke and Sabrina Wright were born and reared in the Ross Road flats and remember messing in the playground below. Removed in 1991, the spot where the playground once was is now an empty space, weeds and cracked pavement.
Burke, who has two children who are bored senseless at weekends, and Wright want the playground back. “We just want a simple thing for the kids because there’s nothing,” says Burke. “There’s nothing in the community for us.”
Burke and Wright say they’ve been asking the council for nearly two years for something to be put in for local children at the complex, which sits midway between City Hall and Christ Church. There’s room for it, in a disused lot at the side of the flats, and other local parents with roughly 60 children have backed the call.
But they say that council officials have said no. Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent last week asking why that might be. Playgrounds fall under several departments so it may take a week or so, according to the press office.
A Debate Over Priorities
One of the reasons residents are annoyed now is that just down the road the council has plans to redesign and open up the long-locked Peace Park opposite Christ Church Cathedral.
It’s left them wondering: why that, not this?
Last week, councillors at the South East Area Committee meeting saw an early stage proposal for the Peace Park that included a viewing terrace, a possible kiosk, and a route to walk around. There was some debate over the design and who it was meant to serve.
It’s an “architect’s delight, something drawn up in an architect’s practice that will look awful several year later,” said Labour councillor Dermot Lacey.
Independent councillor Ruairi McGinley described the extent of antisocial behaviour at the park prior to closure as “extremely severe”, and said that he couldn’t seeing it becoming a playground for locals.
“We need to remember that there’s something more than a million tourists coming into this immediate vicinity,” he said. “Christ Church is directly across the road, you know, so I don’t see this as being some sort of local neighbourhood open space, I think that’s a bit of a misnomer.”
Several councillors, including independent Mannix Flynn and Sinn Fein’s Chris Andrews, voiced concerns over the local residents’ desire for a playground, which the redesign does not cater for.
“It’s frustrating for residents not to be able to access funding for a play area yet funding can be found for a park that was closed previously because authorities couldn’t manage it,” said Andrews, who has worked with residents to try to resolve the issue.
As local resident Burke tells it, one objection from council officials has been that the proposed plot for the playground isn’t overlooked by flats.
She says that’s not true. Over the road, a block of flats rises over the site, she points out. (The council has yet to respond to questions about the site.)
Burke says residents also want to help keep it in good nick. “We agreed to maintain it, we agreed to lock it up, the guards in Kevin Street have agreed to help us out with that as well,” says Burke. “So if the city council are thinking of antisocial behaviour, I don’t think that would be very likely because we do have two really good community guards that help us in the area.”
According to a spokesperson for Bord Failte, which is fronting the money for the Peace Park, the proposed revamp is going to cost €200,000 in total from a fund that’s meant to spruce up areas along the Dubline route.
From council money, residents of Ross Road have been granted some for bedding and plants.“They’re going to give us €15,000 to put flowers into it,” says Burke. “Why would you waste €15,000 on putting plants and flowers in it when there’s nothing going to be there for the kids?”
As I sit with Burke and Wright, a caged parrot yelps in the corner. A neighbour arrives homes and ascends the staircase.
Over The River
Ross Road residents are not the only ones in the city crying out for a playground though. Twenty minutes away, across the Liffey, residents of Constitution Hill flats have campaigned for a playground for even longer.
In late March, the residents of Constitution Hill flats made headlines when their protest to “fix our flats” kicked off.
Railed in on all sides, there’s barely a patch of grass to be seen within the complex. The adjoining Luas extension works were supposed to be carried out alongside the regeneration of the flats, but it’s taken a while for that to start.
Like the residents of Ross Road, each day they gaze upon on a disused site that was a playground until 10 years ago when it was locked up. Louise Brown lives in the first block of flats, nearest the construction site, and says the children here are restless.
“There’s nothing for them to do,” says Brown. “They’re climbing in the building site because they’ve nothing to do, they’re throwing balls over so they can climb over and get them and play with all the stones and the sand.”
Painted on a shed overlooking one the entrances is a small football pitch. This and a cramped playschool in two of the flats below is what’s on offer for playtime.
The recent protest finally got the council to take notice, she says. The council play officer will now work with the residents to design a playground for the children within the complex, but Brown is concerned it won’t be quick enough.
“If we do design a playground now, they’ll want to put it in the renovation,” says Brown. “I think that’s why they’re holding back.” (Again, we’re waiting for a council response about this.)
Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon has worked closely with the residents to try to get what he considers the bare minimum for the 52 children living in the complex.
“The residents in Constitutional Hill have been left behind over the last two decades,” he says. “There are very few throughout the city that would live in the conditions that those residents are living in.”
As yet, though, there are no time frames, and no definite assurances that funding is there.
Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe is hopeful the funding can be found for the playground.
“I don’t believe that funding has been provided at this stage by either the council or the Luas team,” says Cuffe. “Hopefully we can find savings elsewhere that will allow the council to move the project along on a reasonable time frame.”
Descending the stairs of the Constitution Hill flats, the construction can be heard as the nearby Dublin Bus terminus hums with activity.
A Legacy in Progress
Back in Ross Road, I’m shown drawings by children who live in the flats. One of them, Daniel has just turned 12 and lives next door to Burke and her kids.
It’s what he’d like to see in a playground and it’s not complicated: swings, a slide, possibly a tire swing, and monkey bars.
Burke and Wright say they’ll continue their campaign for a local playground and make sure to be seen and heard.
“I think they thought when we first initially had the meetings they were thinking they’d see how this pans out and see if we still go,” says Wright. “But yeah we still go and we are still going to be going.”
Says Burke: “They can constantly keep on saying no whether it takes five years, 10 years. Our kids might not benefit from it but maybe our grandkids down the line might and we can always look back and say we stood our ground and we fought for it.”