In celebration of Love Parks Week 2017, Howard Bristol takes a look at the value of public parks, and explores the Trust’s long relationship with them.
This week, as part of Love Parks Week, Keep Britain Tidy have been asking people to think about why they love their local park and share this via social media with the hashtag #LoveParks. The result is a social pinboard which highlights not just the plethora of reasons people visit their local park, but the special place parks hold in the nation’s heart.
Love Parks Week has got the National Trust reflecting on the importance of parks. Whether it’s a patch of turf at the end of the road, a stately Victorian pleasure ground, or a natural woodland or meadow, parks are local spaces that really matter to people. 37 million of us use them regularly, over half of us visit them at least once a month, and they provide millions of us with places to escape, explore, relax, and play.
Yet the value of a city’s parks runs much deeper – they are absolutely fundamental to a place’s social, environmental, and economic prosperity. It’s not just that they are spaces to exercise and find peace, keeping us healthy in body and mind. They’re also a critical part of a city’s green infrastructure, acting as green lungs, slowing the flow of water, and providing crucial homes for wildlife.
Parks make a city: its identity is shaped in part by its array of green spaces. John Ruskin once said that “the measure of any great civilisation is its cities, and a measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and its squares” – and that’s as true today as it was over a century ago.
In fact, parks and urban green spaces take us back to the National Trust’s roots. It was Ruskin’s friends – Octavia Hill, Hardwicke Rawnsley, and Sir Robert Hunter – who established the National Trust in 1895, concerned about the loss of access to green space in cities as these grew rapidly following the industrial revolution. Caring about green space is in the Trust’s DNA, and since those early days, it has been our charitable purpose to conserve such places of historic interest and natural beauty for the nation.
Now, while parks continue to deliver huge benefits to those who use them, these cherished urban green spaces are at more risk than ever. Parks are a non-statutory service, meaning councils have no obligation to provide them, and decreasing council funding has meant park budgets have been slashed by as much as 90% over the past seven years. It’s an unsustainable situation, and it’s starting to show, as maintenance regimes are cut back and some parks become no-go zones.
It follows that, to secure and grow the public benefits parks provide (e.g. around health and wellbeing, flood risk mitigation, and biodiversity), they need to operate on a sustainable footing, and a fresh look at how parks are cared for is needed. That’s why the National Trust is working with a range of different partners to explore long-term sustainable solutions to the funding and management of parks, as part of the Places Where People Live programme. We want a future where parks are well-funded, well-kept, well-used, and well-loved, and where green spaces deliver more for people, wildlife and the environment. Through the Places Where People Live work, we hope to find solutions which – harking back to our origins – prevent the decline of urban green space and which have the potential to transform parks for the better for generations to come.
Howard Bristol is an Assistant Project Manager on the External Partnerships Team, supporting the Trust’s project to explore parks transformation.