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British public parks resemble a 1960s nationalized industry. They suffer from:
So what can be done?
Tom Turner (as published in Local Government News 1998)
Park development is an aspect of property development. It differs only in that the land tends to be un-roofed and in public ownership. The same principles apply to making or re-making an urban park as to other types of property development. They are generally listed as:
These principles are put to work when, for example, a supermarket chain obtains land for a new store or re-develops an existing store. Commercial planners analyse supply and demand. For example:
Regrettably, the same level of expertise is not applied to the planning and management of public open space in urban areas. Leisure Services Departments are not good at working with Town and Country Planning Departments. The situation in Britain's parks, in 1999, compares to that of a badly run nationalised industry in 1959. Our parks suffer from under-investment, falling consumer appeal and a management approach which appears rigid and out of touch. Management lacks data. This matters ten times more than a lack of cash. But take heart. In the last 5 years most local authorities have acquired the computer software which supermarkets use for retail planning: GIS.
Currently, the main uses for GIS in local government are map management, holding records of planning applications and the managing public open space maintenance contracts. Since the hardware, the software and the map data have been purchased, there is a great opportunity to used GIS techniques to manage the data required for public parks. Two types of data are necessary: about demand and about supply.
Demand Analysis can be conducted by means of social surveys and Postcode Analysis. Postcode Data is available from market research firms, at a price, or free over the internet from http://www.upmystreet.com. The data is aimed at house buyers but it provides an overview of the socio-economic groups in a park's catchment. Some of the other data which might be used is shown on the Public Open Space Planning Chart (Fig 1). Amongst other indicators, the chart uses BBC Radio stations to characterise cultural groupings. A Radio 4 park, for example, might have demonstration gardens and text panels explaining what can be seen. A Radio 1 park would have ephemeral displays and venues for popular sports.
Supply Analysis requires surveys of existing public open spaces in a municipality. According to a recent report on Public Open Space Planning and Management with GIS, the most important measures are use intensity, maintenance expenditure, scenic quality, nature conservation quality and historic quality. Comparative data should be assembled and entered in the GIS. This will provide management with the information which is necessary for effective decision making (Fig 2). It might be found, for example, that Park A has high use intensity and low scenic quality, while Park B has low use intensity but a high maintenance cost. This could lead to a well founded policy of increasing the nature conservation value of Park B, by shifting from amenity management to habitat creation, and of increasing the scenic quality of Park A by investing in capital works.
Taking an overview of the parks in a locality will facilitate a shift away from monoculture. It is as bad for the urban landscape as it is for the farmed landscape. We need a great diversity in open space types and in management methods. This could produce specialist parks to reflect the nature of late-twentieth century society. We have a surfeit of semi-Victorian parks with playing fields, shrubberies, bandstands, children's play areas, kidney-shaped ponds and drab bedding. Our heritage of Green Parks can be supplemented with Pocket Parks, Nature Parks, Food Parks, Red Parks, Blue Parks, Yellow Parks, White Parks, Age Parks, Political Parks, Ethnic Parks, Flood Parks, Air Conditioning Parks, Museum Parks, Art Parks, Religious Parks and Radios 1 to 5 Parks. But no decisions should be made until the necessary management information has been assembled.
Fig 1 Parks should be diversified. This park planning chart shows a range of options. One set of choices has been ringed, for an urban fringe park.
Fig 2 The cover of Public Open Space Planning and Management with GIS shows a set of diversified parks, interlinked with equally diversified greenways.