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Stricter rules, tighter budgets, mean fewer playgrounds

Many local governments, faced by the need to to cut budgets, are closing older public playgrounds rather than bring them up to increasingly demanding safety standards.

Image: Yle / Anne Savin

There were much bigger shovels than usual digging in some sandboxes in Hämeenkyrö this week, as this municipality 35 kilometres northwest of Tampere started doing away with more than one-third of its public playgrounds. One of them, close by the local vocational college, was dismantled on Thursday.

The local government looked at its budget and decided that six of its 15 public playgrounds had to go. One factor was the expense of improvements needed to bring them up to the latest safety standards.

"The regulations are strict and getting stricter all the time," says Antti Myllymaa of the local department of public works.

No toxins, no thorns

Safety regulations are aimed at preventing children from being injured, for example, when taking a fall. There are restrictions on what play equipment can be installed, and a mandate for the use of sand in some areas to soften the tumbles most children sooner or later take on a playground.

In addition, wood treated with toxic chemicals is banned, as are any plants than might pose a danger. That includes the red rose bush that grew in one corner of the playground close to the vocational college in Hämeenkyrö - the thorns are counted as a hazard to children.

Safe is not cheap

The municipality of Kangasala, like Hämeenkyrö located in the Pirkanmaa region, is also eliminating five of its 40 public playgrounds this year and will close another ten by the end of the decade. Those most used have the best chance of being upgraded and kept open.

According to municipal landscaper Jari Järvinen, none of those being now closed meet safety standards.

"Some of the playground equipment is homemade, and the distances between them is too short," Järvinen points out.

Kangasala, as well, is looking for budget savings by dismantling some of its public playgrounds. Jari Järvinen says that the construction alone of a basic, safe playground these days costs 20,000 to 30,000 euros.