This may seem random, but sorting through old papers, I found a letter I drafted to the Auckland City Council when they declared they would seek suggestions for the use of the Campbell Free Kindergarten building (by Victoria Park). They went with their original, pre-submission plan of a cafe, but I still like my suggestion and the Tim Gill quote; this is the letter I originally wrote (perhaps I also sent this one; I don’t remember):
Re. the use of the Campbell Free Kindergarten in Victoria Park
To Whom It May Concern:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I read with interest today’s article in The Aucklander (29/3/12) inviting our ideas for the use of the Campbell Free Kindergarten next to Victoria Park.
I would like to suggest it be adapted as an interactive Museum of Childhood (there is one in Edinburgh which is fun and interesting and always full of children). Specifically, the building could celebrate Auckland’s many childhoods. It could serve as a place where the changing nature of childhood and the many different cultural approaches to childhood in Auckland can be shared, valued, understood and enjoyed by the wider public. Attach a café and you could achieve the goal of a community oriented space, which is celebratory of children as children, and welcoming of families as families.
Two roles could be assigned to this building if it were used in this way:
1. an interactive museum of childhood as it has been experienced by all Aucklanders over the years; done through oral histories, images, revolving exhibitions, changing displays (old toys (including traditional Maori toys among others), explanations, themes, information and other resources, etc.)
2. A physical ‘home’ for Auckland’s Child and Family Policy, providing:
– visual evidence of Auckland City’s commitment to the welfare of its children
– a forum for the expression and discussion of Auckland concerns, difficulties, ideas and successes relating to childhood (art displays, meetings, a centralised hub of information about ‘what is happening in Auckland City’ that relates to its children and families). This could extend into cyberspace to make better use of the limited area available within/around the building.
– a public space devoted to promoting communal responsibility for all the city’s children (and a symbol of the desire to keep this Policy alive and relevant)
Done right, the space could accommodate both roles. My idea is informed by Tim Gill, a respected researcher in childhood studies. He advocates the adoption of a clear policy goal of creating child-friendly communities (which Auckland City has), but also recommends that this take the form of a space-oriented approach.
Gill writes that the state (in this case, the Auckland City Council) should not take the laissez-faire approach of seeing “children’s well-being as the responsibility of their parents and families, with the state responsible for providing public services in education, health and welfare.” (138). Rather, a space-oriented response to children’s well-being should be adopted: in Gill’s mind, such a response “would place a strong emphasis on easy access to welcoming, accessible parks, squares and public spaces. It would encourage child modes of transport like walking, cycling and public transport over the car. Barriers placed around children’s institutions like the school would be less rigid and more permeable allowing, for example, for school playgrounds to be freely available to use when the school day finished. A space-oriented approach would also give strong support to local voluntary and community activities that give children a degree of autonomy and responsibility, and that bring together children and adults. …Underpinning all this would be a value base that endorses, fosters and makes visible a shared, communal responsibility for children’s well-being, for all children and at all levels of society, from individuals through families, institutions and neighbourhoods to the state as a whole.” (emphasis in bold, mine p.139 Tim Gill (2008) ‘Space-oriented children’s policy: creating child-friendly communities to improve children’s well-being’ Children & Society 22: 136-142)
The building could provide a focus for this work. Certainly, there are currently some shocking statistics surrounding Auckland’s children and a visible symbol of the whole city’s commitment to them is needed. It is not enough to keep the discussions on websites, in council rooms, school offices or newspapers. With Victoria Park at its doorstep, the Campbell Free Kindergarten is an ideal place for the creation of a dynamic monument to Auckland’s childhoods. It would also, I am sure, aid the development of this area as one of tourism.
[Incidentally, the Auckland Museum has a really lovely display of childhood, of the sort that could have been expanded on here]