Wayne Hemingway (right) shares his thoughts on new old ways of managing parks and open spaces
As with much of our publicly funded services these days, our parks and open spaces are chronically underfunded.
I don’t need to harp on again about the value to our lives in terms of health, social cohesion and happiness and not to say land values, as the past few years have seen a proliferation of research that finally proves this. And whilst it’s important to keep reminding councils and central government about the value of funding open space and parks and the money it can save in health and fitness related areas, nothing is going to change in a hurry in terms of significant increases in central funding.
There is still also an obsession with communities taking control and looking after these spaces but people are under pressure holding down jobs, paying mortgages, making ends meet and the level of community involvement in managing and looking after parks and recreational space has probably plateaued for the time being.
Taking the lead from the Victorians
Wherever I travel I always take my running stuff and seek out town and city parks to run through. The national legacy of urban parks instigated by the Victorians is one of our greatest urban assets. But it often wasn’t central or local government or communities who created or funded these parks but, rather, wealthy local landowners or industrialists often acting, primarily out of self-interest (with a coating of philanthropy) to give them a shiny gloss with the community, local authorities or their workers
An example of this would be one of the earliest public parks, Joseph Paxton’s Birkenhead Park, which was part of a residential development scheme to create an attractive setting for new homes and to recoup the costs through the property sales. Flanked on all sides by handsome houses and wide tree-lined boulevards, Birkenhead Park was the inspiration for New York’s Central Park.
At lunchtime some of us go out from the HemingwayDesign offices for a run or to the outdoor gym in the almost always semi-deserted King Edward VII Park Wembley (it’s a hundred years old in July this year) whilst it’s generally tidy it does feel a tad under loved and lacking in decent seating, interesting planting and has none of the kind of creative touches seen in more central parks or in parks and open spaces in wealthier boroughs. Judging by the hi-visibility vests with ‘Community Payback’ printed on the back, some of the maintenance is clearly done by ‘offenders’ who are being ‘rehabilitated’. Whilst this may have some benefits to society, it doesn’t seem to be resulting in a particularly uplifting finished result in terms of thorough litter collection of creative landscaping!
Potential modern day solutions
On my way back to the office though it isn’t hard to see potential modern day solutions to the ‘self-interest’ model. Over a hill within a few hundred metres, development specialists Quintain have developed The London Designer Outlet, and have created apartments for thousands of people (with more in construction). Surely it would be a selling point for Quintain to promote the park as an extension of the Wembley Park brand that they are investing in so heavily. It should help them attract viewings and buyers.
Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena are two of the nation’s primary sports and leisure venues and hundreds of thousands of people flock to Wembley to attend events. The surrounding residential streets become littered with folk waiting for gates to open, people sit on garden walls or just wander or end up waiting in boring burger bars and kebab shops because there is nowhere to go.
Yet, unsignposted - and a very short diversion from the route from transport hubs and car parks - is King Edward VII Park , somewhere where folk could take their take away and watch a squirrel or two away from the traffic fumes. Surely the Stadium and Arena would benefit in terms of goodwill from having the park as part of their marketing in terms of ‘things to do while you’re here in Wembley’.
The building of large scale student accommodation continues apace in Wembley and some very large hotel chains have and are opening. Surely there is scope for all of these to have a good quality urban green space as part of their ‘sales pitch’ to the public.
So why isn’t ‘self-interest’ corporate funding of parks more prevalent? I suspect part of it is a reticence and fear of linking sponsorship with public amenities. To some this is seen as crass and inappropriate. But there definitely will be ways of ensuring that sponsorship and corporate funding of our green spaces isn’t crass.
Let’s get on and make it happen.
Wayne Hemingway co-founded fashion business, Red or Dead in the 1980s. In 1999, having sold the company, he co-founded HemingwayDesign, which specialises in affordable and social design.