The invisible families of central Auckland

If you walk down the streets of Auckland’s bustling CBD, you’ll see plenty of crowded shops and cafes, but few prams or pushchairs. Many Aucklanders would be surprised to know how many families with young children live in the high rises dotted around the inner city.

In fact, there are currently more than 800 families and 1,000 under-fives living in the inner city - in the last year alone 375 babies were born. Many of these families face multiple challenges with immigration, housing, finances, transport and study, which all add stress to raising children in the city.

Our national partner Plunket approached SKIP about a possible whanau-centred design process after a local Plunket nurse reported visiting a number of recent migrants living in the CBD who had not been outside for weeks as they were afraid for the safety of their babies and young children.

What we did

SKIP and Plunket formed a project team with representatives from The Asian Network (TANI), KINZ (Auckland Kindergarten Association), Auckland Library and YMCA.

The group carried out a series of interviews with isolated parents living in inner city Auckland. From the interviews a number of themes were identified that were common to most inner-city residents with young children.

What we found

The key findings confirmed that many parents in the area were struggling with isolation and disconnection from their community. Most said there were few places that they could take their babies and young children in the city, and there was little opportunity of meeting other parents with children of similar age. Many chose to stay home because of the lack of places to feed and change babies and toddlers, and lack of confidence in speaking English.

“Myers Park has had a quite a lot of incidents lately, so I just don’t feel very safe.” Chinese mum

Only three public places had feeding and changing facilities - Smith & Caughey, Auckland City Library, and The Warehouse (which has now been demolished). Myers Park was the only playground in the CBD with play equipment suitable for under 5s and had no adequate feeding or changing facilities or sun-shade. Most parents felt despite recent upgrades to the play equipment, that the park itself felt unsafe. This was because teenagers and homeless people drinking and sleeping in the area and the grounds were often covered by cigarette butts and bottles. On weekdays office workers would smoke close to the playground, contaminating the environment.

Migrant parents, some of them students, were struggling to find support and connections with people they could trust, with most of their family overseas.

What happened next

After identifying the key themes, in early 2016 the project team held a design (ideation) session with a cross section of inner-city families. More than 150 different ideas were generated, then families voted for the ones they wanted to focus on.

The common theme to all the chosen ideas was having safe, welcoming places to gather with children, and meet other parents. However, families didn’t necessarily want a regular coffee/play group scenario. In the session parents and their children designed models that would encourage families to come together informally - physical communal apartment spaces, with vertical gardens, BBQ’s in parks, safer playgrounds, and comfortable street furniture. They also discussed pop-up spaces (containers) to host inner city activities, as a way to make parenting visible in the CBD and making support visible for parents that are struggling.

Another idea was a parent-led ‘tiki tour’ of the city to allow local parents to connect with each other, share their knowledge about living in the city and try new activities as a group. This could be supported by an online hub such as a Facebook page and be promoted through platforms the parents already visit – such as the library, Plunket, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and universities. Parents strongly felt this initiative would challenge the invisibility of parenting in the inner city and judgment from city workers towards sharing inner city space with young families.

What’s happening now?

An inner city parent meetup group has been established and now has 155 parents who meet on an informal basis whenever they can.

There is also a weekly inner city play group that now involves 35 inner city families. One of the project parents is planning to start an informal parent group in nearby Karangahape Rd.

“The opportunity for parents to shape inner city Auckland to suit the needs of our families would build a sense of community, identify, connection and local pride.” CBD Design Group submission to Waitemata Local Board

These groups have made inner city families more confident about accessing Plunket and other family support services (Plunket enrolments have increased significantly).

Plunket is currently canvassing organisations that can provide pop-up playgrounds, equipment and resources to inner city apartment buildings for families to use.

The design team is also actively lobbying Waitemata Local Board and Auckland City Council to provide feeding and changing facilities in the Ellen Melville Centre refit, and making the Myers Park upgrade work better for young families.

Find out more about the design process