Paul. A. Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Public Speaker

Blog

Parks as evolving landscapes

Posted on 28 April, 2016 at 15:10

Interesting times in the world of parks, as always, and lots of views on the park run blog which I posted on Facebook. It certainly raised the profile of parks so clearly nothing like a bit of controversy to raise the ante. 

It led me to think about how parks have evolved over the last 150 years and the introductions, losses, changes, re-introductions there has been in these great landscapes. From the earliest parks such as Sefton Park, Victoria Park, Derby Arboretum and Birkenhead Park, there were no sports facilities in their earliest iterations and they were introduced over time. This was the same with the noble bandstand. Children's play areas (or gymnasiums) at the turn of the century, then cafes, paddling pools, Lidos, sports pavilions were all added. In other words, they have constantly evolved to suit changing times and tastes, and usually within the structure of an existing landscape. Of course in the 60s and 70s we went astray and much rubbish was introduced and fine features lost. Much of this has since been corrected as a result of the lottery. But its a struggle. Why? Getting local communities to buy into change is a challenge itself. This week has enforced my view that while we might see an opportunity to improve, a local community may not get this at all. In Watford, we are introducing a brand new hub building that is a challenge to fit into a very historic landscape. One of the friends I spoke to this week said she still had mixed views about it but had enough faith we had considered this well enough. It a brave decision as it is a modern and contemporary building. On the other hand, at another location, on a redundant playing field, we are looking to introduce a new skate park, BMX facility and cycle hub / cafe. A number of users are distinctly unhappy as they see it as a loss of open space and a place to let dogs run free. To ensure we get it right, its important to look at history and learn from mistakes and to be inspired by successes elsewhere. Parks have evolved and they continue to evolve. Today we have outdoor gyms, skateparks, community hubs, 3G pitches, adventure playgrounds, large scale events and provided they respect the landscape and are done well, then parks need to continue to evolve to ensure their long term survival. Trips to Stoke and Derby this week emphasised this whilst looking at BMX tracks and skate parks in some great parks. 

Park managers need to be innovative, bold, challenging, respectful and above all, ensure we learn from past mistakes but be inspired by what we see around us.... when its done well. 

Alvaston Park BMX Track in Derby

Minet Park Cycle Hub - Hillingdon

Finsbury Park, London

Chiswick Gardens cafe 

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