Jim Mitchell Playground. Photos by Conal Thomas.

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If you live in Dublin City Council’s Central Area, congratulations. You have the highest scoring playgrounds. Resident in its South Central Area? Tough luck. Yours are the worst.

Each year, Dublin’s public playgrounds undergo an annual safety audit, during which each of them is scored.

In 2015 and 2016, 54 playgrounds were inspected and rated out of 10. The lowest score was 2, the highest was 10.

The Central Area got a mean score of 7.1 in 2015 and 8.6 in 2016 for its 10 playgrounds. The South Central Area got 5.2 in 2015 and 5.7 in 2016.

Map by Simon Auffret

Highs and Lows

There was improvement across the board between 2015 and 2016.

In 2015, the South East Area’s 10 playgrounds were given an overall average mean score of 6.8. In 2016, this improved to 8.4.

The North Central Area’s 11 playgrounds were given an overall average mean score of 6 in 2015, while in 2016, this was bumped up to 7.

In 2015, the North West Area’s 10 playgrounds were given an overall average mean score of 5.5 and in 2016, this jumped to 6.

The audits are used by the council’s Parks and Landspaces Services Division to work out which playgrounds need some work, and what needs to be done.

What, Where?

There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between better-off areas and better playgrounds, or vice versa.

The five consistently highest-rated playgrounds are at Father Collins Park, Ringsend Park, Merrion Square Park, Sheriff Street, and Mount Bernard Park.

The five consistently lowest-rated playgrounds are at Fairview Park, Coultry Green, Coultry Park, Jim Mitchell Park, and Kylemore Park.

The Sheriff Street playground is in an area that scores -5 on the deprivation index – which runs from 20 for high-income areas to -20 for low-income areas – but scored well both years, with a rating of 9 in 2015 and 10 in 2016.

Fairview playground, which is in an area that rates 5 on the deprivation index, scored poorly over the two years, earning ratings of 2.3 in 2015 and 3.4 in 2016.

The Jim Mitchell playground. 

But three of the lowest-rated playgrounds – Coultry Green, Coultry Park and Kylemore Park – are within areas which measure -15 on the deprivation index.

Three of the highest-rated playgrounds lean the other way: Ringsend Park playground is in an area rated -5 on the deprivation index, while Mount Bernard Park is in an area rated 10, and Merrion Square Park is in an area rated 20.

There are differences between playgrounds that are next door to each other. In Fairview Park, one playground was given a rating of 7.1 in 2016, while the park’s second playground was only given 3.4.

What the Audit Does

The annual audits of the 54 public playgrounds are carried out by independent inspectors Play Services Ireland.

The methodology it uses looks at the safety of each piece of equipment, it’s not about how fun the playground is, or how many slides and swings there are.

It goes like this: in each playground, every piece of equipment is inspected. An overall quality score from 1 to 10 of the equipment is then given.

This score is then divided by the number of individual items within the playground to determine an overall mean score.

Jim Mitchell Park playground in Inchicore in the South Central Area has scored the poorest in 2015 and 2016, with a consistently low rating of 2.

On a recent Sunday and Monday afternoon, there were few parents with children around. The playground’s equipment is mostly covered in graffiti. The playground’s surface is uneven, patchy and waterlogged.

The April audit recommends that two missing handles be replaced, worn shackles and links be swapped out for new ones, and loose bolts be tightened. In addition, there were missing climbing bars and 18 square metres of  “wet pour” surface material   needed repair.

By comparison, the playground in Mount Bernard Park in Phibsborough (in the Central Area) has been awarded a rating of 10 two years in a row. There were no recommended actions in its April audit.

But there is only a solitary slide in Mount Bernard Park playground, compared to Jim Mitchell’s numerous pieces of play equipment.

Mount Bernard playground.

The South Central Question

That the South Central Area of the city has the current lowest mean score does play into the impression, though, that this part of the city is underserved when it comes to recreation.

“I think it’s very indicative in terms of how the council behaves towards South Central in the area of community and amenity,” says Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, pointing also to the lack of green space.

“I think there’s a long legacy of the city council of essentially neglecting that soft aspect of the community in South Central,” she said.

People Before Profit Alliance Councillor Tina MacVeigh also points to a lack of green space – a complaint that has been voiced before in the debates over how to use a vacant site on Bridgefoot Street, and the struggle for sports pitches.

“Our area is the most deficient in the state in relation to the ratio between the number of residents and green space,” she says. “That’s going to have a knock-on effect on the play areas as well.”

But with numerous issues at work within the Dublin 8 area, perhaps playgrounds are of least concern.

“I think there are so many other things that need to be done that when you look at budgets and things like that there’s probably a limited budget for these kinds of amenities,” MacVeigh said. “There’s a question of needs and priorities in our area.”

Improvements should be on the way for the South Central Area’s playgrounds, though. According to a spokesperson from the Dublin City Council Press Office, the council uses these audits to direct funds to improving facilities that need it most.

Jim Mitchell Park playground, the lowest scoring of the 54 playgrounds over two years, is due a revamp. “This playground is planned to be completely refurbished before the end of 2016,” said the spokesperson.

“It will be expanded in size as part of the improvements, with the addition of a range of new play pieces. The new design will celebrate Inchicore’s railway heritage, with a new train play unit and railway track graphics.”

The Convent Lawns playground in Ballyfermot, in agreement with local residents, is due to be removed soon, as there is already a decent playground in the nearby Markievicz Park. The low score for this playground brought down the overall average mark for the South Central area, said the press office spokesperson.

And before the end of 2016, both the Cherry Orchard playground, which was rated 4.7 in 2016, and the Bluebell playground, which was rated 5.9, will get facelifts, the spokesperson said.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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1 Comment

  1. the issue often is not about the state of the playground but but many parents report not feeling safe : drug dealing and use, alcohol, crime and ‘anti social’ (sic) behaviour, intimidation etc. Parks have no attendants and on beat community Gardai few and far between.
    note that Stephens Green has attendants but not DCC? Priorities?

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