The Landscape Guide

Mile End Park

Mile End Park has more signs than strictly necessary

The expensive turf-roofed ecology pavilion sees little use, because ecology does not need indoor accommodation

The Grand Union Canal, which runs beside Mile End Park, provides a beautiful and useful space

The green bridge over the road sees much less use than the canal towpath which goes under the road.

London Landscape Plans: 1829, 1900, 1929, 1943, 1951, 1969, 1976, 1988, 1990, 1992, 2000, 2004, London landscape architecture

This may be the most expensive park ever made - and one of the least used. Every park planner should visit this park, before lifting a pencil or laying a finger on a keyboard. The park started well, as part of the 1943 plan, at the time of the 2004 plan was an on-going disaster. In story-book terms, this is what happened:

  1. Regent's Park set the standard. It was London's first great nineteenth century park. It was part of the Crown Estate and surrounded by the most palatial houses. Like a gentleman's park it was conceived as a place in which the aristocracy could exercise their carriages on Sunday afternoons. There were no public foot paths in the original design.
  2. A clamour arose for a similar park in London's East End. Victoria Park was built with some footpaths but its main feature was an encircling carriage drive, presumably intended to raise the social tone of a poor part of London.
  3. When Patrick Abercrombie produced his plan for London, in 1943, he still had the idea that motoring was an enjoyable leisure-time pursuit. The main connecting elements in his Open Space Plan were strips of parkway beside the proposed new 'arterial roads'.
  4. One of these connecting strips became the appositely named Mile End Park. The land was assembled over a long period by a process of compulsory purchase and gradually laid out as temporary or permanent greenspace.
  5. By 1990 it was apparent that the park was semi-derelict jumble of underused land. Consultants were appointed and they decided that the park should have a 'green spine' as its main feature. This decision ignored two fundamental points (1) the Grand Union Canal, which runs beside the park, functions as a highly effective route, because people love being beside water (2) the actual park has no need for a spine because its north and south ends are not origins or destinations for pedestrians, cyclists, dogs, cats or parrots.

The most intensively used part of Mile End Park is, unsurprisingly, the land beside the canal. The central spine walk, which cost so much to make, is unattractive to visitors. Nor are the vacant expanses of grass and shrubbery at all well used. It is a great disappointment - and a continuing lesson that:

  • landscape planning should be done landscape planners
  • landscape architecture should be done by landscape architects

Architects, town planners and engineers may well have an interest in landscape architecture and planning, just as I have an interest in cardiology. But we lack the necessary expertise to give a professional service.

Mile End Park Cost/Visit

The land for Mile End Park was compulsorily purchased, at existing use prices. By 2005, the park comprised 90 acres of land. See Mile End Park. Residential land in Tower Hamlets cost approx £6m/acre in 2005 (see LS Planning Consultants website). This gives a cost, in 2005 prices, of £540m. If we ignore the demolition cost for the housing and industry which previously occupied the site and give an estimate of park construction cost of £300/m2, then the construction cost comes out at £100m (since The Green Bridge and Terrace Garden cost £25m, this may well be a conservative estimate). Since I counted 120 people in the park on a hot summer afternoon, let us make the generous assumptions that the average use through the year is 100 visitors/hour for 12 hours/day and that the park can be maintained with a staff of 10 people at a salary + overhead cost of £40,000/year each. If the capital cost (£540m+£100m+£25m= £665m) is amortized over 30 years (£665/30= £22m/year) then the following estimates can be made, in 2005 prices:

Capital cost per year £22m
Maintenance cost per year £400,000

Number of park visits per year

Cost per park visit £51.14

This may be only half the cost of a visit to the Royal Opera, but it still seems rather a lot to exercise a dog.