I’m going to make a bold statement here. Parks are universally enjoyed.
I’ve racked my brain and I honestly can’t think of any group or demographic who doesn’t get something positive out of visiting a park. Except maybe agorophobics.
The Victorians invested huge amounts of time, money and effort into developing public parks for everyone to use, as is described in this except from a Greenspace report :
The Victorians invented and shaped the concept of public parks and in turn influenced the creation of parks in North America and Europe. Recognising the need for places to relax, unwind, and to exercise, the top landscape designers of the day, like Joseph Paxton and John Claudius Loudon, were commissioned to lay out these new parks.
The promoters and champions of the first public parks also saw them as a means to boost the local economy and civic pride by making towns and cities attractive places to work and live. These parks were conceived as special places where all sections of society could enter free of charge and mix freely.
And parks still meet that brief – they are still ‘special places where all sections of society can enter free of charge’. They are still places for people to relax, unwind and exercise. And, with a little bit of focus and perspicuity from local leaders, they can indeed enhance the local economy and civic pride.
I saw this really interesting diagram, produced by Liverpool City Council, who seem to have a very positive perspective on public parks :-
I love this diagram, because it illustrates clearly how forward-thinking Councils are taking a big picture perspective on community investment, and moving away from the silo mentality. Liverpool City Council revel in the success of their parks and green-spaces. They have calculated that their parks are used by 90% of the population – some 28 million visits per year. As you can see from the diagram, they recognise that parks and green-spaces impact on so many significant Council functions, and that an investment in parks adds value to so many other strategic target areas.
The myriad benefits of parks could be explored at length, but, for the purposes of this short blog, I’m going to focus on a couple of key areas from the diagram, as they relate to our own local situation in West Dunbartonshire.
West Dunbartonshire has been hosting the Scottish Pipe Bands championships in Posties Park since 2000, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to the area each year, and injecting much-needed economic benefit to the town. Provost Douglas McAllister describes this, the biggest free pipe band competition in the world, as the Council’s “most popular event” and his predecessor, Dennis Agnew is on record as declaring it “essential to this area in terms of economic income”.
Fortunately, Ian Embleton, the Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) is a huge fan of the current venue, stating, “We love coming to Dumbarton – it is a great venue and we are delighted with the facilities we have at Posties Park.”
Visitors from all over the world come to Dumbarton for this event, and their focus extends beyond the competition taking place on Posties. Levengrove Park is transformed into a fun-fair for the day, with stalls and activities for all the family to enjoy. Kilties can be seen in the High Street and in pubs and restaurants throughout the area. And, for one weekend only, Dumbarton castle is photographed more often than Lady GaGa.
And yet, despite this roaring success of an event, which puts Dumbarton on the map and brings essential economic benefit to the area, West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) seem content to entertain the notion of bulldozing the venue to build a school, and thus reneging on their commitment to the RSPBA. Executive Director for Education Terry Lanagan, at the recent schools consultation meeting, justified this by saying that there are many other local authorities chasing the RSPBA business and there is no guarantee that it would stay in Dumbarton anyway. The unchallenged acceptance of this staggering dearth of ambition highlights exactly how the cards are stacked in West Dunbartonshire Council, with the objectives of the Director of Education taking precedence over culture and heritage, economic benefit and tourism.
Health / People and Communities :
A recent report by West Dunbartonshire Community Health and Care Partnership highlighted some sobering facts about the health of our citizens, with the area being ‘significantly worse’ than the Scottish average in 36 out of 58 health measures. Children’s health is also below par, with 14 out of 38 measures flagging behind the national average.
The links between poor health outcomes and poverty and deprivation are well established, and with almost a quarter of our households in West Dunbartonshire reliant on state benefits as their source of income, it’s perhaps not surprising that our health is less than robust.
But what, might you ask, does this have to do with parks and green-spaces?
Well, I’d like to flag up a few key points in relation to children’s health, taken from the recent National Children’s Bureau report, ‘Greater Expectations‘ :-
- Children living in deprived areas are much more likely to be obese than those living in affluent areas.
- Children living in the most deprived areas are much less likely to have access to green-space and places to play, and to live in environments with better air quality.
These two facts are not unrelated, and the report goes on to say that access to good local environments, such as parks and green spaces, is a far greater challenge for children today, compared with children growing up in the late 1960s. The reasoning for this can be found in the Greenspace report mentioned earlier :
Throughout the history of our public parks, local authorities have played an important role and have strived to provide high quality parks services. But, in the last 30 years, many parks have become neglected and suffered a worrying loss of original features, such as bandstands, fountains and boating lakes. Rather than being seen as places of pride, they increasingly became eyesores as problems such as maintenance and funding led to a gradual decline. Throughout this period many historic parks became endangered as they were perceived as being old-fashioned and not relevant to today’s society. As a result, they became targets for redevelopment and unsympathetic re-design.
Consider also findings from a recent Joseph Rowantree Foundation study which show that a third of families with young children in Scotland can’t afford one week’s annual holiday away from home. This throws into sharp relief how vital these local green amenities, near to but separate from the urban environment of our towns and cities, can be to socially and economically deprived families and children.
In short, as local authorities bulldoze our valuable green-spaces to make way for other developments, they effectively diminish the access to leisure, recreation and sport facilities for our poorest children.
It’s all very well to say that our Council is supporting the development of first-class sports facilities within our district’s schools, and for our Director of Education to give a full-throated sermon on how anything less than two sports pitches per school would be “vastly inferior” to the accepted standards. But regardless of how many pitches our schools are furnished with, the vast majority of our children will only enjoy two hours access to these facilities per week. And those children from financially disadvantaged homes – potentially a quarter of our households – are unlikely to have additional access to clubs and leisure centres. Affordability issues may prevent them from going on family trips to country parks and beaches, to enjoy outdoor activities and fresh air. If we take away the local community green zones, where families can enjoy complete equity of access to facilities, then we simply reduce the chances for these children to be active and sporty, and, in turn, we contribute to a ticking time-bomb of future physical and mental health problems.
Liverpool City Council seem to understand this concept. How disappointing then, that West Dunbartonshire Council can’t seem to see beyond their noses and grasp what the area stands to lose if Posties Park is given over to re-development. As this picture shows, getting on for half of our valuable green space (highlighted) will be lost to a concrete structure and it’s paths, roads and car-parks :
So, although I’m fundamentally opposed to Council junkets, I think that there’s a strong argument for sending our Labour Administration on a trip to Liverpool to meet their Labour colleagues there, and to gain some perspective on how investing in parks and green-spaces brings benefits which cut across the full spectrum of council function. In the meantime, perhaps you can encourage your local councillor to read the Liverpool report here. And please ask them to do so before January 8th, when they have to vote on whether or not to destroy Posties Park forever.