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If Kids Can't Play in Publicly Funded Playgrounds, Where Can They Go?

03/02/2015 02:22 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT
John Lin via Getty Images

I've been trying to untangle the debate about the incident on the playground of the French private school in North Vancouver, B.C. last week.

Two moms and five kids tried to use a playground in their neighbourhood around 4 p.m. The principal asked them to leave because the school grounds are off-limits to the public until 5:30 p.m.

Until 2010, the school was a public one, built using public funds, money that taxpayers contributed in good faith to a government they trusted to take care of public needs. The school is now being leased to a private corporation whose purpose, by definition, is to make a profit.

The playground was built from money fundraised by neighbourhood parents: taxpayers, who are in essence making an extra contribution, beyond taxes, to the public good.

This incident brings up many issues that need airing. It provides an opportunity to talk about what kind of B.C./Canada we taxpayers/citizens/voters want to live in.

Will it be one where virtually all former public spaces and assets are controlled by private corporations, who then impose private property rules that trump any Charter rights?

(Also among all the social media commentary, none were about the fact that the land is actually unceded Coast Salish territory. The whole question of who "owns" the land takes on another dimension when we acknowledge that fact.)

Public schools are some of the last common spaces we have. Increasingly, that which was public has become privatized. What common ground can we now gather on without having to pay a corporation for that right?

Teens will tell you that they are regularly reminded their favourite mall is private property, and the owners have the right to force them to move and not "loiter" if they're not purchasing anything. Corner stores play music that teens find annoying to keep them away. Is it any wonder that they're glued to their screens in their own rooms? Where else would they go?

With public schools on the selling block under our current government, we are on the way to losing spaces where children from diverse backgrounds can meet on common ground. Where else but in a public school can a teen who gets a $30,000 car for her 16th birthday sit next to, and work with, one who only eats three meals a week?

Where else but on a public playground can young children from diverse backgrounds learn to compromise, to get along, to problem solve, to imagine, to create. Learning all the things they will help them to take their place in a community, in a society. Given how important play is to children's developing brains and minds, I find it surprising that playgrounds are not considered a public need in the same category as schools are when it comes to preparing our children for their future.

In all those PartipAction ads on TV these days, there seems to be an assumption that there are unlimited outdoor spaces for children to play, but are there? How many play spaces can children access without buying something, or paying to enter? If children cannot play in a playground that their parents fundraised for, where can they go?

Public spaces that are freely accessible to everyone regardless of socio-economic status are common all over Europe. Cities and towns have great public squares where people gather, where teens are not shooed away, and where children can freely play.

Are common spaces as valued in North America?

If we lose common spaces, we will begin to lose community. If we lose community, what will we be?

Will we be a Kickstarter nation where neither federal nor provincial government provides any public service at all, so that if communities want anything -- a school, a road, a bridge, buses -- taxpayers/citizens/voters will have to fund them through crowdsourcing campaigns?

Our premier seems to prefer that we see ourselves as individual taxpayers exercising individual choices that ignore the common good. Is that the way we want to see ourselves?

Who benefits when we lose our common ground?

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