Speakers from around the world at the UK Public Parks Summit on 25 October provided fascinating insight into best practice around the world.

Millennium Park in Chicago is the US's largest new park. Photo: Patrick Pyszka
Millennium Park in Chicago is the US's largest new park. Photo: Patrick Pyszka

Speakers at the summit, at which £100 million of lottery funding for parks was announced, shared their successes and challenges.

Peter Harnik, director of the  Center for City Park Excellence at the US Trust for Public Land, said that the US parks movement was at its best from the creation of Central Park in 1860 until 1940. The next 50 years saw the  focus shifting to cars, he said.

Harnik outlined the way in which the regeneration of Central Park was linked to New York regaining its confidence, and he explained that the $146 million Millennium Park in Chicago was the largest new park development in the United States.

He identified three possible approaches to the maintenance of parks;

o Philanthropy – as typified by the conservancy movement for Central Park

o Self-interested corporate –  such as the Business Improvement District model used at Bryant Park in New York

o Political organisation – which is, he said, ‘the strategy for the rest of us’.

Harnik stress the importance of basing policy on facts and data collection and warned ‘If you don’t count (your users) you don’t count’ . He contrasted the very low levels of data typically provided by parks departments with the much higher levels routinely provided by transport departments.

He outlined seven arguments for investing in parks:

o Environmental value through clean air

o Environmental value through clean water

o Resident value through direct use

o Resident value through improved public health

o Economic value through tourism leading to tax income and traders’ income

o Hedonic value through adjacent property values and local authority tax receipts

o Social capital.

Jon Pape, director of Parks and Nature for the City of Copenhagen, showed some inspiring case studies, representing the best of Danish practice.

Closer to home, writer and environmentalist Ken Worpole, reflected on the lessons from the publication Park Life which he co-authored in the 1990s, and also talked more personally about his position as chair of the Friends of Clissold Park:   ‘Clissold Park has never been the same twice,’ he said. ‘ It is an ever changing place for reflection.’

Worpole described parks as ‘the focus of local democracy,’ and said, ‘The Olympic spirit is the traditional English park spirit writ large.  It happens every day in parks around Britain. We need expanded investment in Britain’s parks.’ He was cheered by the fact that ‘Local authorities are now using their parks as flagship demonstrations of their work.’

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