By BRIAN RUDMAN
When a toddler comes to grief, many a parent has dissipated the hurt by channelling it elsewhere. He or she directs the blame at the naughty trike from which the kid fell, or at the bad pavement on which the child came to rest.
We carry this coping mechanism with us into adulthood. When five elderly people died recently within a few hours of one another on a highway into Wellington, the road got the blame. So much so that Transit New Zealand had to do a hasty turnaround in policy and offer soothing assurances that road improvements would be considered.
The death of Kylie Jones in a Glen Innes park, while walking home from work a month ago, similarly had Aucklanders struggling for some sort of explanation, or meaning, however tenuous, to hang on to.
When the grieving family called for better lighting for local parks, who was going to question it? Mayor Chris Fletcher called it "a very practical proposal" which the council should consider. Rather enigmatically she added: "I'll certainly be adding my support to the members of the council and community board who will make the decision."
On Friday she has the chance to go one better and be part of the decision-making herself. The city's parks and recreation committee will meet to discuss the whole issue. The gist of the report before members is not exactly encouraging to those seeking more lights.
The first problem is that adding more lighting in the city's more than 750 reserves - 79 are currently lit to some extent - will be expensive. More to the point, while increased lighting might make people feel safer, it will not necessarily ensure their safety. Worse, it could encourage more use of parks "when we know that safety is not a given."
Getting down to dollars and cents, improving the lighting in the 4.45ha Eastview reserve where Kylie Jones died would cost around $56,700 - more if a transformer were required. This would provide eight lights at 50m spacings along the existing path.
Within the Penrose ward, in which the murder occurred, only five of the other 160 neighbourhood reserves are lit. The report suggests another 30 are suitable for lighting, at a cost of $1,971,000. In addition, 11 of 13 sports parks in the ward are lit, but they need $350,000 worth of lighting upgrade work.
Citywide, a further 71 reserves have the potential to be lit or to have additional lighting at a cost of around $6.24 million. This doesn't include $1.19 million of improvements proposed for the Domain, $216,000 for Myers Park and an unknown amount for Albert Park.
The report from parks manager Jim Doidge admits that the city has no policy or plan for lighting within parks. Action plans for the high-use central parks - the Domain, Myers Park and Albert Park - do exist, those for the latter two prepared in response to attacks that took place in those parks earlier this year.
But even if there were money to spare to light up all or more of our parks, this is no guarantee they will then become safer for pedestrians.
The report says that a clear message from overseas research is that "lighting alone is not the best course of action. For example, if a park is well lit at night but is not intended for use at night, or is unsafe (for design or other reasons), then lighting can encourage people to walk through an unsafe space at night." Additionally, lighting just one route encourages use of this route by pedestrians, providing the mugger with an ideal and predictable ambush site.
"There are strong arguments for lighting paths that are well-used. However, lighting should be discouraged on isolated paths or in parks where there is no surveillance of the space from nearby houses or activities that provide passive surveillance."
The recommendation is to do nothing until a park lighting policy is developed. I fear they are right.
By BRIAN RUDMAN