Nowhere to play

  How to get children in the Cayman islands moving and where the responsibility lies to do this, has been the subject of continuous debate for many months now.
   There is no doubt that there are plenty structured activities for children to be involved in but these cost money and demand commitment from parents who must ferry the children back and fore. What Cayman seems to lack are recreation spaces within communities where children can just go and play.
   It is something which does bother parents. Susan Wilson is a mother of two boys aged 10 and 15 and she says that from her own experience with her children, there are simply not enough places for them to go, especially as they grow older.
   “We live in West Bay and we have Scholars Park, but that is more geared for younger children. We do have two playing fields  but because there are three large football clubs, each with lots of teams, the fields tend to be in use 24/7,” she says.
   Wilson adds that her older boy in particular is football mad and just wants to go and kick a ball around with friends but there is nowhere to do that.
   Paul Reynolds has two children, aged seven and four, “There seems to be tons of clubs but not many just green spaces,” he says.
   There are 19 play parks throughout the Island but they vary in what they have to offer and whether they actually attract children into them.
   Reynolds, like Wilson, feels that the parks are mostly for younger children. “The one I live near has terrible grass clumps in it and it is just too treacherous. I actually never see any children in it,” he says.
   He says his own children mostly play in their own garden.
   MLA Alden McLaughlin notes that in the area where he lives, even though it is quiet, kids also tend to play in their own back yards.
   ”When I was a minister, one of the initiatives was to have more open spaces,” he says. Hurricane Ivan impacted plans to put large multiuse public areas into place.
   He thinks even though there should be more open areas, a shift in culture has affected how kids play nowadays. “When I was young, we made our own activities. There was a smaller population and you could roam all over the place with no worries about safety,” he says.
   McLaughlin believes the problems with inactivity are down to TV and computer games. ”I’ve had to fight a battle with my own kids to get them away from these games. I banned them during school term and they were out all over the yard playing,” he says.
   His People’s Progressive Movement colleague Arden McLean also blames computer games for causing kids to be inactive, adding that this adds the further worrying aspect of preventing children from interacting socially.
   But he disagrees that there is a lack of spaces where kids can play, saying most communities have parks and playgrounds. “The parks are there. Whether they are being utilised is another matter.”
   He concedes, however, that certain housing areas might not have been developed with enough open spaces in mind.
   Deanna Lookloy, director of Children and Family Services, thinks this is the case. ”From my observation, there are not sufficient areas dedicated to playgrounds in the various communities and housing developments. I live in Prospect Park, for example, which is a large subdivision but it has no playground for children.”
   Developers are required by law to leave a certain amount of land for public purposes.
   The Planning Department’s Ron Sanderson, assistant director of planning for in the Current Planning Division, explains: “The Development and Planning Regulations allow the Central Planning Authority to require developers of subdivisions to set aside up to 5 per cent of the land in the subdivision as land for public purposes, or as it is known LPP.”
   However,“the regulations do not specify that the Authority can require this land to be improved or developed. Also keep in mind that the LPP remains in private ownership,” he says.
   He also notes that when developers have finished, the LPP has not always been usable land. “In many instances in the past, the LPP turned out to be the leftover remnants in the subdivision which were of little use as park land,” he says.
   Sanderson says that the system is in the process of change. “An amendment to the regulations and law was recently approved (but not yet gazetted) which allows the planning authority to accept cash-in-lieu of the LPP dedication. The concept is that the monies will go into a dedicated fund that can be used in a more effective manner to either improve existing public open spaces or to purchase new park areas.”
   If developers are not creating little pieces of parklands, then they could be missing a trick.
   Kim Lund from Remax says that this is definitely what people are looking for. “Our customers who are families are aware of having green open areas, parks, school playgrounds, public beaches, and even a golf course nearby. They ideally want to have some sort of green area or accessible beach nearby, where their children can play or they can walk their dog. No question, families are aware of this need and it is part of their purchase decision process,” he says.
   Mr. Lund says this lifestyle choice should be considered in new developments. If those developments are next to a beach or golf course, it is not such a big concern, but he says, “However, any developer who would include a green area or public open space, that could serve as a park within their development, will have a big attraction and therefore advantage over other developments, in regards to attracting potential purchasers.”
   Some developers are trying to make it a priority to leave as much green spaces and natural vegetation as they can. Lisa Flowers, director of Orchid Development, says that in the past it was a Cayman tradition to clear land of all vegetation, then import plants.
   When Orchid Village was being developed, the developer incorporated the native plants that were already there, creating a small but interesting oasis. At Savannah Estates, another of the company’s developments, Orchid made a green out front, surrounded by a traditional “slave wall” made by Richard Bodden, one of the last specialists in this art of building without cement.
   Flowers says financially it did not make sense but they wanted to create an area of green and have something special in the Cayman tradition. She thinks that more developers are realising that this is the way forward and not just in housing but in business areas too. The company’s development at Cricket Square includes a garden with umbrellas where office workers can eat at lunchtime.
   For those that are directly involved with children and sports the problem is not a lack of facilities, but rather that the existing ones are over-used.
   Physical education teacher Brendan Touhey says, “The public parks and fields we have do not have the space for groups to play whenever they wish. The track used to be open to the public but got closed down for public use, which was a real shame as it did attract a large number of people, so we now have a great facility that does not serve the general public.”
   However, he observes that compared to other places, children in Cayman are well catered for. “In terms of costs and options, this is one of the most accessible and inexpensive places I have ever seen in terms of what is on offer for young people. We have more facilities within such a small space than many countries have.”
   Touhey also thinks that schools could have more after-school activities with the emphasis on fun rather than competition.
   Ray Singh from the Lions Centre says the problem of access to venues could be solved if schools opened more of their facilities after school.
   But he also believes that there’s plenty of outdoor space for children to play in, all they have to do is make their way to the seaside.
   He says: “What bigger and better playground do you have than the beach? It’s a seven-mile park and you also have the ocean to swim in.”