Twelve Parks of Christmas
Our Rethinking Parks challenge is designed to surface, support and celebrate new business models that will ensure our public parks thrive into the next century.
With cuts of 60% and more for non-statutory local authority funding projected over the next decade, new ways of managing, maintaining and funding our public parks will be needed. We need new ways of generating income and new ways of reducing costs.
In a nod to the festive season, here are twelve inspirations that celebrate existing models and approaches for Rethinking Parks.
A partridge in a pear tree
An unusual combination, and even Christmas carol enthusiasts and historians are unsure of how this collaboration came about. But it works, gastronomically. Bringing together unlikely and unprecedented collaborations creates useful innovation beyond the kitchen too. For example, the Emerald Necklace Maintenance Collaborative in Boston, Massachusetts, where inmates from the local prison are taught park maintenance. It saves the state money and also gives prisoners valuable time outside of prison learning a new skill. Equipment is shared with the Boston and Brookline parks departments. Combinations like this, where the maintenance of a park also serves another useful social function, are likely to be a part of the long term solution for our public parks.
Two turtle doves
Not likely to be seen in winter months across the UK as they migrate south. It’s not only our feathered friends that are little seen in our public parks over winter months. Not surprisingly use of our public parks is highest in summer. But how we might make better longer term use of our parks at all times of year? If I could have a Christmas wish answered, it would be to see coin-operated heated seats installed in our public parks, akin to those installed at Searcy’s Champagne Bar at St Pancras Station. Bubbles optional of course.
Three French hens
A quick look across the Channel and we can see a few innovative parks models that could be adapted for the UK. In Paris, they have diversified Parc de Bercy to include a vineyard, a museum of funfair objects and community gardens where young and old are trained in horticultural techniques. These attractions, together with guided tours, bring in new revenue and help the park thrive.
Four colly birds
Or blackbirds as they are more commonly known. Colly is in fact an alternative word for mine, which leads me to Tuckingmill Valley Park – an innovative partnership across the local authority, residents and voluntary sectors who all contribute to the long term maintenance of the site. One of the aspects that appeals to me most about this approach is that it rethinks a former wasteland into a place of beauty.
Five gold rings
The great outdoors has and will always be a great place to fall in love. Coming from New Zealand it was somewhat of a surprise to me that people can’t get married in the open air in England. Hiring venues and licensing bandstands and other covered structures is one way that some local authorities are finding alternative revenues for their public parks. For example, Sheffield City Council promotes some of their garden structures as ideal places to tie the knot and earn a bit of gold to maintain their own park in the process.
With Christmas coming, it’s not just the geese that are at risk of developing muffin tops. From Victorian times, the relationship between physical health and access to public parks has been well documented and there are increasingly diverse ways to help make exercise more appealing to all ages. My current favourite source of energetic inspiration is the Fitness Zone programme in Los Angeles.
Swans are synonymous with some of the UK's most visited tourist destinations such as St James’ Park and Kensington Gardens. Around a third of visitors to Britain each year visit parks or gardens spending approximately £7.8 Billion. This equates to more people than those that visit museums, historic houses or art galleries. Opportunities abound then for rethinking opportunities to gather revenue, or even transform previously unloved spaces into new tourist destinations. Earlier this year, the Landscape Institute in partnership with the Mayor of London held a competition calling for landscape designers and visionaries to showcase and develop concepts for green infrastructure in London through the New London Landscape project. The winning entry, Pop Down, a sub terrain mushroom farm created deep under the heart of London, may not offer much for swans but deserves a swan song itself.
A fairly obvious solution to sustain our parks includes food. We all need to eat, and if we can sustain our tummies outside it might mean our parks are sustained too. One stand-out example of successful food and refreshment provisions in parks can be found at the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. Mobile Eats hasn’t just provided a good financial contribution to this park, but has contributed to a total food truck revolution.
Nine ladies dancing
For anyone in need of inspiration, I recommended spending some time with Mary Clare, part of the driving force behind Incredible Edible Todmorden, a local food growing campaign. In Mary’s words:
Parks are places for people to do the things they don’t have space to do at home.
Parks are no longer the fashion promenading spectals of the past.
The rich have their open spaces , the country dweller the space to breathe and think, for town folk and those less well off a park is the place for love, for play and contemplation.
The future is not bleak, the future is different.
Its best to use the windscreen and less of the rear view mirror, the past is another country we cannot afford to visit now.
If 9 ladies dancing need a handbag to dance round then a park is the Bag
With a park the interest and contributions can be broad and as wide as any bag in Harvey Nicks.
Whether it’s nature or play, fauna or flora, love or remembrance, a park is the place for folk to gather and pool their skills.
The photographer, the cartographer, sports man , permaculturist , botanist and history buff, all of them can find a role .
Lights, music and dancing , why not ? Let’s look forward not back.
Hanging out at the local park is a rite of passage for teenage boys that spans cultures and decades. Public parks provide free, accessible and safe places for young people to play sports, chat and even seek refuge from the parental pressures perceived at home. More innovative park designs that aim to design for, rather than against, loitering youths include Superkilen Park in Copenhagen.
Eleven pipers piping
Festivals are a core part of British life, and many of us will gather to enjoy New Year’s celebrations in our parks, including for Hogmany in Scotland. I’ve had many a great New Year staring out at the lights and sights of London from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. As our population density continues to increase, the role of our public parks as vital and valued spaces of public congregation and celebration becomes more and more important. Take, for example, the Enchanted Parks festival in Gateshead - a nocturnal celebration of arts, performance and all things winter.
Twelve drummers drumming
Musical concerts in parks are not new, nor is the controversy surrounding them. In the 1600s many gardens were places to see and be seen, where paying members of the public could be entertained by musicians, magicians and even circus performers. This seems quite a world removed from the tranquil spaces of reflection many parks are now today, but perhaps there’s a sweet spot out there for parks – a business model that marries extra income from music events, with peace and relaxation as the norm. For my money, concepts like Live by the Lake, could play well across our public parks too.
If you have a great idea to rethink parks, please do get in touch.