London has a great heritage of public parks with significant differences in their landscape qualities. The sharpest divide is between
How do we know which parks are well used? Inspection - no comparative figures are collected and published. But no one who has visited the parks can doubt the facts: some parks are very popular and some are scarcely used.
A sensible policy would be to care for the the good parks and re-plan the unpopular parks. But to attract new users, parks will require new uses. This would seem an obvious policy but since 1994 the primary source of funds for capital spending on public parks has been the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which has seen its mission as the 'restoration' of public parks to some imagined former glory. Without a heed or a care for the why or the wherefore, the HLF just pays out money for 'restoration'. It is rather as though public libraries were being 'restored' by stocking the shelves with all the books they held in 1900. The policy is good for historians but irrrelevant to most park users. Nor does the HLF provide maintenance funding to follow its capital funding.
One might think park managers do not know what park users want. This would be a mistake. In the most underused parks one find notices 'No barbecues', 'No swimming', 'No golf practice', 'No Fishing'. 'No dogs'. 'No alcohol'. So the municipal authorities know exactly what users want - and aim to stop them doing it. Why should this be? Here are some of the explanations:
So what should be done? As the London 2004 Open Space Plan requires, borough councils must prepare open space strategies. They should however ignore the recommendation to base their strategies on the outdated GLC hierarchy of park types. Instead, they should:
Open space strategies should take care to distinguish between
When an unhappy gark has been identified, it should be be replanned either as a garden (walled, locked at night, cared for by a permanent staff of trained garden designers) or as a park (managed by landscape managers with skill in habitat management). Two of the best parkland landscapes in London are Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. Both have special ownership and management arrangements but Russia Dock Woodland has shown that municipal councils are equally capable of maintaining high quality habitats.
|The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £2,694,500 to Southwark Park|
|HOMEPAGE - Landscape Architecture London List|
'Potential savages' in Eltham Park
Barbecue by the Thames in West London
A sign in Burgess Park (2006)
Eltham Park in a peak period (3 pm on Saturday 24th June 2006). The only users are beneath the trees in the centre of the photo (see telephoto shot, below)
Beer garden by the Thames in West London