My Park Rules: the reality cheque for green and open space

(Image: ASPECT Studios)

Reality TV shows have meted out plenty of atrocious makeovers to everything from bathrooms to wardrobes, but now Australia’s landscape architects have cleverly upcycled the cheesy genre to help instigate major improvements to school and community playgrounds and parks across Australia.

In a national competition known as ‘My Park Rules’, a novel collaboration between the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA)and urban greening advocates 202020 Vision will see schools, community groups and councils make bids for an opportunity to transform a local park badly in need of an upgrade.

The national competition is part of a wider push to attract more attention and community pressure to create better urban parks and play spaces as development and population pressures increasingly put a premium on public open space.

A frequent criticism of poor developments and urban renewal projects is that public parks and green spaces often come as an underfunded afterthought to major projects, and then go on to create serious social, environmental and health problems down the track.

One answer to that challenge is to foster direct community input and participation in creating and improving play and green spaces by engaging users in the design process and getting the community to think critically about available options.

Under the My Park Rules competition, entries will be assessed by an eminent panel of urban experts and academics including Committee for Sydney chair Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO, environmental scientist Josh Byrne, Aspect Studios director Sacha Coles, Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney Tonia Gray and ‘place making’ advocate Kylie Legge.

“Encouraging school children to use their creativity and passion to imagine a better place is as fun and exciting as it is empowering,” Mrs Turnbull said.

It teaches kids that they have the ability to imagine, shape and create their own futures”.

The chief executive of AILA, Shahana McKenzie, said the project and competition was about much more than just giving a winning school or group a prize for coming up with the best entry.

“It’s about getting schools and communities in Australia to rally together and seriously consider the importance of well-designed outdoor spaces for their wellbeing, today and in the future,” Ms McKenzie said.

It’s also about getting government, councils and developers to stump-up better ideas and more money rather than going for the cheapest, quickest and easiest option and investment levels in outdoor space in Australia is still sorely lacking according to the competition’s organisers.

AILA and 202020 estimate that even though Australian children spend about 20 per cent of their time at school outdoors, spending on outdoor spaces doesn’t even come close to that.

And while landscaping, quality play equipment and design isn’t always cheap, the two groups are arguing that wider positive outcomes for the community needed to be factored into the cost benefit equation when it comes to spending.

That’s because giving children access to a natural environment fosters better mental and emotional, promotes exercise and physical activity and can have a positive effect on their behaviour.

Phillip Spratt, the president of Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACCSO), which is also backing the My Park Rules competition, argues that well designed spaces foster inclusivity across both education and the wider community.

“Well-designed green spaces in schools are a vital resource – giving kids a real connection to the environment they live in and the community that supports their learning,” Mr Spratt said.

“My Park Rules is a great opportunity for a school and its community to work together and create a lasting legacy for their school.”

To find out more or put in in an entry, head to

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