Spinning too fast on the roundabout, tickling shy grass under the slides, playing hide-and-seek amid curious concrete structures: the childhood memories of Hongkongers are dominated by our playgrounds. They were the first places we ventured into the outside world and met our peers. But it wasn’t always so.
Fan Lok-yi, artist and curator of collaborative platform Make a Difference, has studied the evolution of Hong Kong’s playgrounds. She explains that back when the city was still an economic backwater, many working parents had to leave children unattended, which led to large numbers of kids roaming the street with nothing to do. In her memoirs of 1920s Hong Kong, Barbara Anslow recalls how ‘children belonged nowhere in particular and ranged about everywhere’.
This is why, in 1933, the Hong Kong Playground Association was established to address the social and recreational needs of Hong Kong’s young, introducing the first urban playgrounds with basic swings and slides.
In the swinging ’60s, people started favouring abstract objects in playgrounds, believing this could foster creativity. In 1969, Hong Kong unveiled its first adventure playground in the Shek Lei Estate, an innovative environment with colourful concrete sculptures. Soon enough, features such as tunnel mazes, sand pits and water pools began cropping up in playgrounds throughout the territory.
Sadly for children of the ’80s and ’90s, things took a drab turn as red tape and health and safety fears took over. ‘Ironically, Hong Kong playgrounds got less innovative in later decades, relying more on equipment that offered a prescribed way to play’, explains Fan.
But children (or rather their parents) have revolted. Bored with uninspiring play areas and conservative views, there have been calls for city planners to spice things up with more stimulating environments.
Those calls are increasingly being answered, with new themed playgrounds that tap into children’s creativity and imagination.
Living in such a densely populated city, it’s little wonder that playgrounds dominate our childhood memories. And while the focus may have shifted – from tackling the issue of vagrant street kids, to developing the minds of future generations – as long as there is laughter, a playground will always be a childhood paradise.
Four Playgrounds for Curious Young Minds
Tuen Mun Park, Tuen Mun
This sprawling new playground opened in December 2018 with seven separate zones featuring water and sand pits, spinning plates, trampolines, giant musical instruments, innovative climbing frames, sensory walls and more.
Tung Wui Estate Playground, Wong Tai Sin
Instead of cookie-cutter slides and frames, here you’ll find bizarre climbing facilities, ramps and balance plates for kids to invent their own ways of playing.
King’s Park Recreation Ground, Yau Ma Tei
This playful space-age landscape has a slope dotted with pits like lunar craters and a spaceship-inspired pavilion.
Ping Shek Playground, Ngau Tau Kok
Dubbed ‘Hong Kong’s Jurassic Park’, this dinosaur-themed playground takes children on a prehistoric adventure of life-like bones, fossils and decorative totem poles.