“Community led and community loved”— Public spaces work best when their creation and management is put into the hands of those who use them. Deputy Mayor Shirley Rodrigues, along with our other panellists, reminded us of this at our London Conference session on parks, green spaces and the public realm.
As Londoners settle into the second lockdown of the year, the muscle memory from the first kicks in. We turn again to our local areas. Retreat to the haven of nearby parks and imagine new paths to local discoveries we hadn’t had time to explore before. The video premiere of #ParkPower, shown by Mike Saunders, CEO and Founder of Commonplace, demonstrated how valuable parks have become to Londoners and how our relationship and interaction with outdoor spaces has changed as a result of the pandemic.
Yet how inclusive and accessible are these spaces? As the temperature gets colder and the days shorter, how do we ensure that our parks feel safe for women, young Black men, older Londoners and the like? How do we prevent public places from becoming zones of surveillance, and spaces of policing and exclusion? How do we maintain parks as natural habitats while making them inclusive for people? The questions are manifold and thus require the meaningful inclusion of multiple voices — people who, through their lived experiences, understand the needs of their own community and can raise issues that may otherwise be overlooked by planners, developers and decision makers in local councils.
The concern for the inclusion of communities in planning, is compounded by an awareness of the lack of diversity in the design, planning and green infrastructure industries. Organisations such as PUBLIC PRACTICE and Black Females in Architecture are thus invaluable in demonstrating how a more diverse industry can improve the quality of our built environment.
While the fever of our recent World Cup of London Parks and Green Spaces demonstrated Londoners’ territorial pride in their local parks (Crystal Palace Park holding it down for South East London!), Maria Adebowale-Schwarte, CEO at Foundation for Future London, emphasised that parks should not end at their boundaries. The Peckham Coal Line’s community-led project for example, aims to reconnect Peckham neighbourhoods with a linear park linking Queens Road Peckham and Rye Lane. Parks can therefore exist beyond fixtures to become mobile ecosystems connecting communities with each other.
With London now the world’s first National Park City, there’s an impetus to ensure that green spaces continue to thrive. Yet with space in London under pressure, the creation of more new sites like the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park seem overly ambitious — particularly without the kind of momentous events that preceded it. Sadiq Khan’s Green New Deal however, highlights the importance of retrofitting and embedding green spaces into existing infrastructure. Such policies reinforce the observation by Mark Camley, Executive Director of Park and Venues at London Legacy Development Corporation, that even after a space has been created, it can still be adapted. Indeed, meaningful community collaboration in planning further reminds us that community voices are needed not just in the creation of public spaces, but in their management and in their evolution.
Watch the session
Nikita Quarshie is a Researcher at Centre for London.