Making parks fun-free zones

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 1996, 12:00am

It is nice to know that at this fruitful time of the year, those nice people down at the Zoological and Botanical Gardens have the interests of nesting birds at heart.

Last week's news that a notice banning music in the gardens was for the benefit of broody birds really warmed the cockles.

Cynics may find it difficult to appreciate the tricky taste of birds in these matters. We must assume they are undisturbed by the usual roar of traffic, banging of pile drivers, rattle of drills and other sounds which occasionally intrude into the tranquility of the gardens.

These noises are there most of the time and the birds are used to them.

I presume the Urban Council ornithologists have also established that birds have no objections to Victoria Park being used for City Forums, flower fairs, go-kart races, political meetings and such.

On the other hand, the sound of people singing is a different matter. It is really heard only on fine Sundays. This comes as an unpleasant shock, no doubt.

It was reassuring to be told (or at least it was reassuring if you believed it) that the new ban had nothing to do with the fact that most of the people who did their singing and dancing in the gardens happened to be Filipinos.

I can believe it, actually, because my experience of Urbco parks is that those in charge of them have distinctly ambiguous ideas about enjoyment of any kind, by anyone.

They have nothing against Filipinos or foreigners, but serious misgivings about fun.

In other countries, municipal parks are usually subject to a standard set of by-laws, a tatty copy of which is found by the main entrance.

These cover such things as littering, violent games, firearms and some general phrase about preserving the tranquility of the park and not disturbing other users.

This is not the way things work in Hong Kong, where amusements are banned piecemeal, as park users discover them.

The only sign which appears on newly-constructed parks is the one banning dogs. This usually takes the form of a symbolic sign - a dog with a line through it - presumably preferred on the basis that dogs cannot read.

Other activities get a sign only if people think of them. A little-used park may be left with nothing but its symbolic dog.

Busier facilities in places with a lot of children will gradually accumulate signs warning with varying degrees of graphic ingenuity against roller-skating, skate-boarding, radio-controlled cars, hot air balloons, the flying of kites or model aeroplanes, music, the playing of ball games, running (!), eating, drinking, air guns and so it goes on.

I suppose the council has the authority to impose these regulations, though it does not bother to cite it.

Somebody is evidently devoting a great deal of thought to this. Near my home is a small and quite simple park - trees, paths, seats and a public toilet. At one end of it is a small paved area, fitted with two basketball hoops.

This is about as basic as a basketball court can get, but it is surrounded by a wire fence - no doubt for the protection of the nesting birds.

Local schools use the court quite a lot for gym classes. The rest of the time it gets occasional visits from local kids, of whom my son is one.

The park has only the basic dog sign. There is only one sign for two entrances, so unscrupulous dog walkers can simply enter by the other gate. The basketball place used to have no signs at all.

A few weeks ago this deficiency was remedied. There is now a sign forbidding the playing of football on the basketball court.

This is embarrassing. The only person I have ever seen playing football there is . . . well, us, actually. We did not seem to be disturbing the nesting birds, or for that matter the singing Filipinos. Other users of the basketball pitch were not disturbed because there were none.

Still, we shall obviously have to foot balls elsewhere. Or we can change our game, and see how long it takes to produce prohibitory notices for hockey, tennis, lacrosse, bicycle polo, croquet, clock golf, touch rugby, shuffle board and free-style wrestling.

Given sufficient provocation the council will probably produce a notice banning all games altogether, which will look amusing on a basketball court.

Alternatively, perhaps their relevant committee could abandon the piecemeal provision of nervous notices and come up with some simple provision for all parks. Something along the lines of anything which you can legally do in your back garden, you can do in a park.

Except dogs, of course.