Focus on Trusts: Urban Parks Management Around the World

Dr Nicola Dempsey

Peter Neal, landscape consultant and Fellow of the Landscape Institute came to the Department to lead two informative sessions on the challenges facing landscape managers today. Peter’s talk took us through the changes over generations in how we manage our parks. He showed how closely some parks still replicate park management practices that Edwardian park keepers in straw boaters were doing to sustain manicured lawns that were not to be walked on (keep off the grass!) and bedding areas.

But in other places, as a result of changes in landscape management practices, parks are very different landscapes. This is timely as one of our current PhD candidates, Jinvo Nam has just published an article about the acceptability and feasibility of community food growing in parks, marking a shift in the ways in which the park is being considered by landscape managers. Jinvo’s research also examined different planting types as well as ways that parks might provide income generation. Peter talked about how the financial pressures on local authorities as a result of this prolonged period of austerity have disproportionately and adversely affected parks as a non-statutory service. Citing the State of UK Public Parks 2016 and 2014 which he co-authored, Peter highlighted how 95% of park managers surveyed expect their revenue budget to be cut over the next three years. The extent of those cuts varies widely, but cities such as Newcastle have seen ‘brutal’ budget cuts: the council’s parks budget has been reduced by 90% since 2010.

Teaching session in conversation with David Cooper, previously Head of Policy & Projects, Sheffield City Council, Parks & Countryside

Peter also led a Department-wide seminar to talk more about the trust model as one response to budget cuts – and one that is being developed by Newcastle City Council and the National Trust. They plan to create a new charitable company which will manage a large proportion of the city’s parks and allotments. While there is a long history of Trusts taking on the green space management in the UK – from the National Trust, regional Wildlife Trusts and local community development trusts – it is a contentious model which requires close examination. A number of students challenged the idea that trusts can work for everyone in society, calling into question how notions of democratically public and freely accessible spaces might be changed when the (publicly accountable) public sector is not managing them.

This all made for an excellent debate, and one that will continue in Sheffield in November. As part of the city’s Festival of Social Science, the Department is co-hosting a free debate on Monday 5th November, 4-6pm in the Millennium Galleries, with Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies at Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield City Council. The debate brings together speakers from the public, private and third sectors to try and answer the question: Who are the best custodians of Sheffield’s parks and green spaces – and how does that happen in practice? It is free to attend but you need to book your seat here. This debate is part of a week-long exhibition It’s Great Outdoors which will be held from Saturday 3rd-Saturday 10th November, marking the launch of the Public Urban Green Space Group (PUGS) which brings together academics, policy-makers, practitioners, community groups and members of the public who are interested in parks and other public green spaces. Hope to see you there!

Nicola Dempsey

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