Specialised public open space enriches urban landscape design

The ‘urban squatters’ skateboard park on the South bank in London is one of my favourite examples of a highly specialised, and unofficial, public open space. Benighted planners have as unimaginative an approach to POS as they do to education. It is ONE SIZE FITS ALL – a national curriculum and a national provision of ‘public open space’. The historic standard was ‘7 acres of open space/1000 people’, to go with a national diet of one glass of milk, four slices of bread, meat and two veg, with a fish on a Friday. Cooks have liberated us from wartime diets but wartime POS provision continues. ‘You can have any POS you want, so long as it is green’. But, as the video shows, London’s young, dynamic, agile and multi-ethnic youngsters have other ideas, other tastes, other skills and a harlequin love of coloured space. My conclusion is that the age of Generalised POS is over. The age of Specialised POS has begun. The above example cost the authorities nothing to make and costs them nothing to maintain. It is therefore more SUSTAINABLE than a stupid patch of neglected grass.
Notes (1) other examples of specialised POS welcome (2) I’m not sure but I think the urban space in the video is a consequence of the architecture professions onetime love of pilotis.

6 thoughts on “Specialised public open space enriches urban landscape design

  1. fiona_peach

    great topic but i disagree with your planner comment – if you skim through local planning documents they differ quite widely, there isn’t this one size fits all diktat you imagine. yes there is national policy guidance, but local authorities are allowed to interpret it as they see fit. Cabe Space (sadly now to be axed) also encourages a plural approach to creating urban space. there are loads of case studies, all different, lots created with the involvement of local communities in design and creation, on their website.

    there are several skate parks provided my municipal arrangements across the country.

    as are there kids playgrounds.

    and community gardens, growing spaces, city farms…

    i grew up in a city in the midlands where local planning had almost excised green space in favour of concrete paving. that made for a pretty forlorn environment too.

    planning has been on a localism trajectory for a long time – it will be sped up by the localism bill where communities (and the Big Society) will have more say over how local places are shaped. i hope you get what you’re looking for. i just disagree with the idea we’re living in a stalinist state that doesn’t already supply any of these things.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I take your point about community initiatives and have seen a number of them. But I still think traditional parks departments are very traditionally minded. They favour the classic park uses (walking dogs, soccer, rose gardens etc) and, so far as I know, do not encourage/support the adventurous open space uses.
    You are right that I was once a member of the RTPI but I saw the error of my ways and resigned after about one year! But you are wrong about me thinking we live in a Stalinst state.
    Here is a paragraph from an essay on Political Parks as a component of diversified parks (sorry you have to scroll down to reach the text in each section):
    Governments are run by parties. In The Politics of Park Design, Galen Cranz demonstrated the inseparability of parks from politics (Cranz, 1982). Only one government can run a country, but parks can be managed to suit all the political colours. A Capitalist Park would be privately owned and managed. We could expect a high standard of order, and high prices for the attractions. A Socialist Park would have everything run by the people for the people. A Social Democrat Park would have public facilities in public ownership but would use the market economy to run cafes, beer gardens, carousels, rides and other attractions. A Green Party Park would be planned with ecological objectives to conserve the world’s resources. In a Cooperative Park, people would work cooperatively for the greatest good of the greatest number. The results could provide an interesting commentary on political systems.


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