Sunday, July 14, 2013

Attractions need attention

Storybook Gardens is an adventure park for young children. My granddaughter loves the place.

Springbank Park has been a place for Londoners to relax on a hot summer day for more than a century. Storybook Gardens has only been around about half as long but both have undergone lots of changes in their lifetimes.

Storybook was originally named for the storybook characters decorating the park. It also had a small, and inadequate by today's standards, zoo. Today all that remains of the zoo are mainly a few farm animals.

Slides are simple but great fun.
Attendance at Storybook has not kept up with the growth of London. Many feel storybook characters and a few goats, donkeys and the like are not much of a draw. They may be right, but if my granddaughter is any indication they may also be wrong. She loves Storybook Gardens.

The city takes a lot of flak for Storybook Gardens. All the criticisms may be not be completely on the mark. There may be more right with the park than many would like to admit. But there is admittedly a lot wrong with park; Stuff that only money and imagination can fix.

This is where it gets interesting. The city planning department is in the middle of the development of the master plan for London and one big piece of the planning picture is a new and improved downtown. A show piece of the new, vibrant core to be is a giant pool with a man-made beach at The Forks of the Thames.

The new water park is patterned after a pool built in Brisbane, Australia, as part of that city's riverfront redevelopment. The city planning department has gone so far as to illustrate their plan with a picture of the Australian pool, a multi-million dollar creation with some very high maintenance costs.

Reportedly the new city urban plan is being put together with a lot of input from city residents. This is a new approach and has been given a new name: ReThink London. Personally, I think ReThink needs a rethink.

Young children love the old carousel in Springbank Park despite its condition.

The city cannot maintain the popular carousel found in Springbank Park at the entrance to Storybook Gardens. How is the city going to maintain a new hugh, expensive pool with a sandy beach that requires the addition of tonnes of new sand every year.

Mirrors are broken or missing, light bulbs are out or gone, many of the merry-go-round horses are in need of a fresh coat of paint and some simple repairs -- many are missing their leather reins. Compared to a giant pool like the one in Brisbane, a carousel should be an easy thing to maintain. If the city cannot keep a merry-go-round presentable, how is the city going to maintain the new pool and beach at The Forks of the Thames?

The reins are missing.
Carousels are relatively safe rides for young children but maintenance is still important. Today I accompanied my granddaughter and her father to the park. While John and Fiona enjoyed the ride, a little girl not far from them got a big surprise: The leather rein she was gripping tightly broke free from her painted steed.

Little Fiona is only three but she knows to check the painted ponies before being lifted into the saddle. Many of the horses are missing their reins, and now I know that some of the remaining reins are not to be trusted. Sad.

I looked at the carousel. Decorative mirrors are missing or broken. As I write this I wonder about the wisdom of not replacing broken glass on a ride for children. Could a chunk of glass come free, fall and strike a child below? And many of the decorative light bulbs on the merry-go-round are missing, leaving open light sockets. Is this even legal?

Note the broken mirror and the missing light bulbs.
Over the past few years the city has spent quite a bit of money upgrading Storybook Gardens and moving it away from its storybook roots. From what I've seen in my visits, the new direction is taking the park in the right direction.

Still, maintenance is an issue. Today, it was very hot and at least one cold drink machine was out of order, a pole that should discharge a gentle, cooling mist refused to work and after buying drinks at a concession we found they were out of straws for my three-year-old granddaughter.

The staff at the park are excellent. I have lots of good stories concerning the young people operating the rides and concessions. The young people care about the little thinks that are oh-so-important to folks visiting the parks. It is too bad that the city doesn't seem to be as wise as their young staff.

Before London unveils a new recreational jewel at The Forks of the Thames, maybe they should be polishing the two jewels that are Springbank Park and Storybook Gardens.

Fiona holds still as she has her face painted by an artist at Storybook Gardens.

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