Accra’s Efua Sutherland Children’s Park has limited access

The 12-acre green space in central Accra known as Efua Sutherland Children’s Park is one of the city’s largest parks. Situated in the city centre and proximate to the government ministries zone, the national theatre and the city’s largest hotel, one might expect the space to be busy on a typical weekend afternoon.

One of the workers at Efua Sutherland Children’s Park takes a break from the sunshine in one of the park’s immense shaded structures. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

But in fact, on a sunny, comfortable Saturday (and the following Sunday too) it’s actually quite empty. One reason is traffic coming to the area is mostly for business, so the area is bustling during business hours and nearly deserted on weekends. The other reason is that the park isn’t open to the public on a regular basis. Rather, it’s generally only open to the public for planned programs, known as “fanfares,” according to the park’s watchman in charge of supervising the space.

The park is for children and their parents, says Osei Owusu, who has been serving in his post as watchman for the past 12 years. “We’ll allow people to rest [here], but there are people engaged in bad activities so we don’t allow them to enter,” he explains. In the past, there have been experiences where young people come and use the park for inappropriate purposes – sexual activities, even those involving the police, he says. “At times, the police have come to search, because bad boys come and hide their stuff here.”

One of the most recognizable aspects of Efua Sutherland Children’s Park is the brightly colored ferris wheel, privately owned and operated within the park. When in operation, rides cost about 5 Ghana Cedis (US$ 2.49). Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

The city park’s response? Tightening access: People can use the park space, says Owusu, but they have to make their reservations in advance. “You can book space for the programs and can come and use the park…you have to speak with the head office, at the Department of Children’s Welfare,” Owusu says, ready to add contact information for a representative.

“When people come, I have to find out who they are. So when you want to enter, I have to question you before… we don’t allow people to come inside just like that,” he explains. It’s a tightly managed “public” park, a space where entrants are questioned and monitored before they are allowed to enter and use the park, just like two young teenage boys attending a church program down the street who try to enter the park during the program’s downtime. They are refused.

There are some exceptions. “At times, government workers do come and use [the park], but not all the time. But they are allowed,” Owusu says.

Now that he and I have built a rapport, Owusu says I can come more often, but with a few restrictions. “When you come, you can’t stay a long time, especially when workers such as the groundsmen are tending the areas. I can’t allow you to come and relax while there are workers,” he says.  He then provides their hours: From eight in the morning until noon, then from one o’clock. “Only between 12 and 1 p.m. can you come and sit and relax,” he says.

For a full slideshow of photos from Efua Sutherland Children’s Park visit Victoria’s blog African Urbanism.

Based in Accra, Ghana, Victoria Okoye is a community planner, urbanist and communications professional passionate about inserting community dialogue into the planning process. In her writings and research, she explores the dynamics of West African cities, the people in them, and how they negotiate their space. Victoria has masters degrees in Urban Planning and International Affairs from Columbia University, and she has worked in Nigeria and Ghana on local economic development, cultural planning, urban transport-land use and water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as local community development projects. Connect with Victoria on her blog African Urbanism and on Twitter.

 

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0 Responses to “Accra’s Efua Sutherland Children’s Park has limited access”

  1. Jannie

    This must be kept public, why? Parks aren’t usually made just for programs, instead it’s for the people’s productivity especially those who are in a form of family. If they won’t do it, it would be considered useless. Just saying!

    lifedance cebu

    Reply
  2. victoriaokoye

    Hi Jannie, thanks for your question, and sorry for responding late:

    It’s a specific attitude/perspective/vision about how such spaces should be used and who should be using it, from the point of view of those regulating such spaces. It’s this central theme that plays out throughout the city.

    Here’s how I see it: The government’s/watchman’s idea and fear is that if “the public” is allowed to use it freely, it will become (even more) deteriorated, run down and unkempt over time. In addition, they are only really interested in catering to certain types of people that they view as “acceptable” or “safe.” We can contrast this with their action of closing it off — less effort to maintain, and then they don’t have to deal with the unwanted personalities.

    So rather than allow the entire public to use it (which would require more maintance on these stakeholders’ parts), they close it off, and don’t have to worry about maintenance nearly as much. We can see this play out in so many different facets in the city, but particularly in the emphasis on landscaping, inserting statues and political busts in certain areas, like roundabouts, “gardens” and parks, and then closing off these areas with fencing.

    It begs the question of who are these spaces for? What’s their purpose? What are the government’s priorities and vision for “public spaces”? In my observation, these spaces seem to be equated with closed-off art works (imagine a museum, where the artwork is there for you to admire, to observe, but not to touch). They seem to be used more to demonstrate (to the rest of the world, perhaps) that yes, we too are a modern city, we too can have “parks.” But they haven’t bought into the idea of parks as public spaces that people can choose to use. Rather, it’s a public display.

    As you’ve rightly mentioned, it’s a huge loss for the public; people lose out on the opportunity to use great spaces like these.

    I also see this along the lines of the constant tension between the government (who seek to regulate street activity) and the vendor/consumer/community resident (who create the street activity). The rules of the game and the players are not in sync at all; rather than work with the players, the government is constantly trying to assert itself, to shape the space and through it, the actions of the city players. But it much more needs to be a different take, on understanding the vasty dynamics, incentives and disincentives, and working with in line with those.

    At the same time, we have to appreciate the economics of space in Accra. There is a good amount of (and growing) wealth, but many more people are scraping to get by, it’s like every foot of space marks an economic opportunity — for example, the vendors who could set up a kiosk and start selling small items and food, especially in more popular areas with high levels of human traffic. So the government agencies seem to be constantly trying to regulate the space — perhaps with the fear that, if they allow the public in, that’s human traffic that will serve as a magnet to draw informal commercial activity, which will draw more customers (human traffic), which will draw more vendors, which will draw more customers…

    So your idea of “useless” or unused space is perhaps, their idea of effectively keeping the order. 

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