Contemporary parks are often considered to be clean, green areas where one can go for a walk, meet others in a neutral place and escape from the confines of urban life. We generally don’t think of parks as being a security problem, land that someone else cleans up, as places of work and certainly not as gross producers of waste.
The notion of a public park can be traced back to two sources: firstly to the 19th century ‘public’ park that brought a ‘sense of nature’ back to heavily polluted industrial cities and secondly to the messy but functional commons for the grazing of animals. Parks are now generally seen as a public asset, managed by a public authority and maintenance often subcontracted to a private businesses who cut grass, shrubs and maintain paths and so forth. The community may have ‘ownership’ of a park as users but not necessarily have much responsibility for the maintenance or care or even how money is spent. Finally parks are not often seen as a place of work, skills building or production – apart from boot camps and the occasional café. Parks are often a financial cost to the state, intended as social value and produce little more than organic matter that at best is mulched or burnt.
With increasing awareness of the value of organic waste, the rise of community co-ownership of public space, reduction of skilled manual labour jobs and cost-cutting in the maintenance of public space, it is time to re-think how public parks are managed. In the UK two interesting movements are worth exploring.
Firstly the city farms in London where a community organisation takes care of the maintenance of certain parts of a park, they support paid and volunteer workers, offer space for people to grow food, for children to engage with rural animals, sometimes with restaurants, child care facilities and so on. Take for example the Hackney City Farm* which not only has a veggie garden, a dozen of so types of farm animals, an organic food shop, a restaurant, a bio-fuel test unit, a childcare, is a centre for education and has a number of paid positions and largely supported by volunteer efforts. In this case, the city farm is a publicly accessible place that is managed by a community run interest group for the benefit of the local community.
The second case study is the future of the National Trust*, a four million member organisation that has traditionally managed large private estates but are now seeing public parks as interesting place to co-manage*.
In a recent Guardian article*, Daniel Raven-Ellison, coordinator the London National Park City campaign states that the costs of funding parks should be shared by anyone interested in contributing to their upkeep. “We need to offer a wider range of services for the community – parkour, BMXing, skateparks, climbing walls – and it doesn’t necessarily matter how they are funded. We also need people to actually go out and use them. If there are more people enjoying parks, it’s harder to destroy them.”
The role of public parks in cities need to be reassessed as more than just a place for leisure and recreation but as places for skills, jobs and production that bind the community together. We’re curious to see how this can be applied elsewhere. Stephan Kampelmann was involved in the very successful FarmParck* in Brussels in 2015. OSMOS is also involved in the future of an “agricultural park” in Rome (Parco Agricolo), a space that has never been public until now.