Neil Jones, Landscape Architect, highlights one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s public open spaces.
The annual ‘Love Parks Week’ organised by Keep Britain Tidy kicks off today and runs through to 23rd July, with this year’s campaign encouraging everyone to take to social media to tell the world just why they love their local parks and green open space. With the ever increasing pressure placed on urban open space from rising populations and the decline in the up-keep and political support for Britain’s public parks, the need to appreciate and champion our green spaces has never been more important.
There are approximately 27,000 public parks and green spaces in the UK, ranging in size from principal parks to small pocket and neighbourhood parks. Such parks provide a vast range of leisure, health and wellbeing and community benefits in addition to the many environmental benefits they offer; including cooling urban environments, cleaning the air, reducing surface water runoff and hosting diverse ecosystems in towns and cities.
Public parks therefore play a significant role in the communities in which they serve, and use of these spaces remains high. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) ‘State of UK Public Parks 2016’ report highlighted that 2.6 billion visits to parks and green spaces take place every year, with more than 57% of the UK population visiting a park at least once a month. This paints a positive picture. However in a worrying contrast the same report found that 92% of park managers reported budget cuts in the last 3 years with 95% expecting further reductions in the next 3 years.
The continuing decline in resources and financial support by authorities for public parks and green spaces is disheartening with many describing the situation as reaching a crisis point. Much work therefore needs to be done to rethink how parks are run and can be supported by other means. The recent Nesta ‘Rethinking Parks’ is the first step in testing in new models to run our parks to address the budget cuts.
As landscape architects, we believe we can shoulder some of this responsibility.
Alongside the planning, designing and creating of new public open spaces sits the need to be increasingly aware of how parks are to be managed in the future, whether it be through private investment or public funding, so as not to present a potential maintenance burden for managers.
A collaborative approach is becoming increasingly important throughout the design and planning process to understand the resources, skill level and funding available to maintain public open spaces. By working with local communities and other interested parties we encourage a sense of ownership and civic pride to deliver sustainable parks that foster innovative management techniques.