OPINION: Lessons learned from a neighbourhood court


THERE are many wonderful things being built in Queenstown at the moment.

Many houses, of course, but also commercial spaces, hotels, tourism facilities and more.

All of it will be here to enjoy for years to come and should be celebrated and admired.

The infrastructure will take a while to catch up but it will happen.







It’s often the grand projects that get the most attention, but sometimes it is the little projects that really make the difference.

I heard a story recently from my neighbourhood about how a local basketball court was built, that tells us a lot about community projects, and how to cooperate and get things done.

In Frankton’s Remarkables Crescent there’s an unassuming half-basketball court positioned slightly awkwardly in the middle of a reserve.

The court’s very plain in design and construction.

There’s no fence around it, no lines on it and no sign telling people the rules of use.

There’s a straight galvanized pole holding a fairly rudimentary backboard on a plain square of grey concrete.

Despite its uninspiring appearance, barely a daylight hour goes past without someone using that court.

It gets used by otherwise bored neighbourhood kids and well-organised groups of young men with sneakers and sweat bands and long black shorts.

By a dad and his son playing a game of horse and by little girls learning to ride pink bikes with streamers on the handles.

It gets used by people of all ages, men and women, morning, day and night.

The court exists because of the efforts of a then-young man named Evan McWhirter and a group of kids who had a dream of having their own court.

In the late ’80s, refugees from Sandfly Bay (now Sunshine Bay) seeking flat land and sunshine descended on the former deer paddocks south of the airport and bought descent-sized sections for the price of a Toyota Corolla.

The number of families meant a big cohort of kids and many of them turned out to be keen basketballers.

Evan and his friends wanted somewhere close by to play.

They approached their parents and told them their idea of putting a court on the reserve.

Their no-doubt sceptical parents directed them to the relevant authorities.

They approached then-councillor Chris Blackford, a seasoned and probably fairly weary policeman, and tried to convince him to get on board.

People of substance know that ideas don’t mean much without work behind them.

Chris told the kids to come back to him with a plan: What are to be the dimensions of the court? How much will it cost? Who is going to pay for it? Who is going to do the work? And, most importantly, were the neighbours OK with it?

This is the point where ideas usually die.

A committee is often formed who lure the idea into a cul-de-sac and quietly strangle it.

But not this one.

The kids wanted a court and they were ready for a challenge.

A plan was drawn up and carefully priced.

Precise dimensions were established and details on where and how the court was to be built were prepared.

Research was done.

Phone calls were made.

Clipboards with consent forms were taken around the neighbourhood for signatures and all the relevant people were convinced it was a good idea.

The neighbourhood had given the kids a mandate.

With their detailed and considered plan in hand the unlikely group made another appointment with Cr Blackford.

He had no option but to get behind the proposal.

Armed with the council go-ahead, the kids mustered the workers.

A couple of builder dads were roped in to do the boxing.

The council came to the party with some concrete and the pole to hold the hoop and  backboard.

The work was done in an orderly and professional manner.

In 1993 the court was ready for its first game and the happy sounds of a basketball bounce have rung out in Remarkables Cres ever since.

For years the same group of kids maintained the court.

They swept it when it got dirty and Evan replaced the net every year at his own cost.

They must have felt an ownership of the court and a deep sense of pride in what they had built.

By all accounts there were no territorial disputes.

The court was for everyone to use and enjoy.

A couple of years later the council decided to put a playground on the same reserve.

A giant wooden structure was erected at considerable expense.

The community wasn’t involved.

Shortly after it had to be pulled down.

The height didn’t meet the health and safety standards and, on top of that, it was barely used.

It didn’t meet the needs of the neighbourhood.

The basketball court, on the other hand, was about as well used as any public facility in Queenstown and continues to be to this day.

I heard that Evan sometimes brings his daughter down for a game of basketball and to check on the court.

I’m sure he has plenty of wisdom to share with her.

Scott Donaldson’s a senior associate at AWS Legal, on the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce and ACT Party boards, president of Queenstown Toastmasters, a Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu blue belt and dog walker to Winston