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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