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Southbank Boulevard reaches an end, but new playground splits opinion

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Brendan Rees

The long-awaited $44 million transformation of Southbank Boulevard has been completed, but it was the final piece of the project – a “risky” playground – that got people talking.

The park, which consists of “nature inspired” play equipment including climbable bluestone boulders perched on dollies, fake pavers, and a slide that gives the illusion of it being held down by a rope, was launched on November 7 at the corner of Southbank Boulevard and Kavanagh St. 

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp assured the park was safe and designed by installation artist Mike Hewson to be an “imaginative playground” so it could build resilience within children – a different approach she said “we should embrace”.

“Risk play parks are proven to enhance children’s development and offer an alternative to the simple plastic playgrounds seen elsewhere,” she said. 

“All the play pieces, including the trolleys and boulders, are firmly fixed into the ground. Rigorous testing has been undertaken in consultation with child safety experts to ensure the playground is safe for everyone.”

While the park’s opening was embraced by many, it did however draw mixed feelings from the community that the playground created a “false confidence”, and the overall design was different to what the council initially promised.

“It is a relief that the Southbank Boulevard project has finally been completed years late and after years of residents living in a construction site,” Southbank3006 residents’ group president David Hamilton said.

 

But he added while the playground had brought smiles to children’s faces, the aesthetics were unappealing and “dominated by so many large rocks crammed into a small space”, which consisted of twisted metal protruding from the rocks.

 

“Despite this, the fact that this playground has been so well received by children highlights that Southbank is bereft of outdoor activities and spaces for children and families.” 

“With the basketball court soon to be removed from the Boyd Community Park, it is essential that the council and the state government move swiftly to construct the Kings Way undercroft, as the council has planned and is ready to construct.”

Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said the new play space was “never about the greenery, but a functional children’s park, which I think it has achieved”, but he noted the playground’s design was “never discussed in community consultation”.

Mr Penna also highlighted that the Southbank Boulevard project, in fact, wasn’t finished, with stage six of the works still yet to be delivered between City Rd and Southbank Promenade.

But Southbank News understands that funding and building stage six hinges on the completion of the STH BNK By Beulah dual skyscraper at the corner of Southbank Blvd and City Rd, which is due to be finished in 2028.

The new linear park along Dodds St, between Southbank Boulevard and Grant St, which was also included in the original transformation concept, is now being undertaken as a separate project in conjunction with the council’s public art program for Southbank. 

Southbank News understands works are expected to begin on Dodds St this financial year. 

 

The Southbank Boulevard project has become one of the City of Melbourne’s most expensive in its history since it was approved in 2017 and has been plagued by delays.

 

Overall, it has seen 400 trees planted and 22,000 square metres of new public open space delivered, which Cr Capp said had been a “long time in the making”, and thanked businesses and residents for their patience. •

 

Photography by Ajay Viswanath.

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