LI-supported event addresses the future of public parks

Paxton 150 conference at the University of Sheffield

The forthcoming PAXTON 150 conference, which takes place at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape on 11-12 September, will both commemorate Joseph Paxton (1803-65) and evaluate the public parks’ legacy.

Over the past 20 years there has been considerable interest in public parks in Great Britain encouraged by Heritage Lottery Funding, and even talk of a renaissance in public parks. Lottery funding has ensured restoration schemes in large numbers of parks, based on historic research and other survey work.

But as lottery funding is slowing down, say the conference organisers, and council cuts are beginning to bite, public parks are starting to suffer from a lack of management and maintenance.

It is important, they add, to record this legacy of public park restorations, and the purpose of the conference, which is supported by the Landscape Institute, National Trust and Historic England, is to provide a mechanism for the publication of a critical history of public parks. While there have been various efforts to publish material, there is as yet no scholarly work that has emerged from this recent period; there are no popular books.

Paxton was one of the pioneers in public parks, designing the first British one at Birkenhead in 1843, a prototype that was used throughout the world. The marking of 150 years since his death provides an opportune occasion to re-assess the legacy of public parks.

A series of related events is taking place, with the conference in Sheffield being the main public event bringing together national and international specialists. While focusing on Paxton’s heritage the conference will address ‘overarching themes that have wider implications for public parks internationally’: issues such as heritage and modern uses; social requirements and health and safety; historic fabric and the desire to modernise; increasing maintenance costs and reduction of public funding; the privatisation of public space and community engagement.

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