Rethinking Parks

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Arboriculture | 0 comments

Rethinking Parks ?

I have just listened to a rather depressing webinar on The Landscape Institute Web site on Rethinking Parks.  (It may not be available for you to open yet- so watch this space.)

Rethinking parks

It made me ask myself why Parks are so important? Not just for me but why they are essential to the fabric of a healthy and democratic society? Why are horticulturists essential to our Parks and why would a loss of 50% of the Parks’ skilled workforce be a disaster for them?

These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves, not how can we “make parks pay?” alias the American model. Look at their gun crime and rates of violence, their lack of safe outdoor parks spaces and free open environments before we try to follow suit. We have a very long legacy and rich history of beautiful Parks being provided for people, in Britain. Historically, Parks, like libraries, have been a much  valued and much loved resource.  A publicly owned national treasure for children to play in safely, Parks are free of charge at point of admission, but for how much longer?

If this Rethinking Parks initiative is anything to go by, parks will become privatised and our free access to facilities which we have long taken for granted, will be restricted by our ability to pay. Is this right or proper? A network of open spaces for the youth of Britain to go to meet friends and kick a football, in built up areas where otherwise there would be no green space to go to. At best I feel that the Rethinking Parks initiative is just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

Our Parks are for people; to take picnics in, to jog in, to walk in, to play or unwind in, in a safe parkland environment, away from the hustle and bustle of traffic, the mounting pressures of life, and from increasing levels of pollution and traffic noise.

If the Rethinking Parks initiative is correct, then all park buildings will eventually be commandeered for income making enterprises and these won’t be facilities which are open for the public to use- such as Public conveniences, long accepted as part of the role of Parks. Not every Park has a Sainsburys or a Tesco next to it, so where will park users relieve themselves? These are amongst the questions we should be asking.

Parks provide the Green lungs for cities, removing pollutants from the ever polluted air of our towns and cities. The trees growing to maturity under skilled horticultural care, shading and cooling the urban environment on hot summer days, providing a green backdrop, screen and tranquillity. The maintenance of trees and safety checks are made by skilled arboriculturists; we cannot expect volunteers to fill the same gap without compromising public safety.

Above all our Parks are greatly valued and appreciated as Green space and resources. Parks are a huge safety net for  people to go to when they would like to be in Greenspace, to see mature trees and shrubs and flowers. Our Parks are our public green spaces, so should be termed Our parks; what we maintain now is kept in stewardship for our children to play in and and one day for their children.

Who maintains these beautiful green spaces? Who looks after the mature Oak trees and London Plane trees in our Parks? Who prunes the roses and cuts the grass? Answer; a team of skilled horticulturists and arboriculturists.

What is a horticulturist? How do they obtain their skills? Horticulturists attend a college of higher education and then after their degree or national diploma in horticulture, they normally take many years obtaining the skills and experience they require for instance to design borders, prune shrubs properly for flowering or to operate machinery safely.

Horticulturists are trained and the machines and chemicals that they regularly use do require skilled and trained personnel. This is basic health and safety. Just because someone has a garden or a mower doesn’t make this person skilled to maintain a Park. The maintenance and long term management of Parks is a highly specialist area of amenity horticulture and should not be undervalued in this way by asking volunteers to do this work under the guise of “Rethinking Parks”.

Undervaluing horticulture has long been a gripe of mine and the “Rethinking Parks”in this way will do little to boost flagging morale amongst our horticulturists. Some people actually have decided to train as horticulturists as they think it is a well respected and valuable vocation; a worthwhile career. So “initiatives” like Rethinking Parks” strike me as a negative undermining force and will do little to encourage future horticulturists who may be thinking of this subject for their possible career path.

At present, despite the cutbacks, the maintenance of Our Parks is undertaken by a skilled horticultural work force. The horticulturists have training in how and when to prune shrubs, how to prune trees safely, how to cut hedges safely and at the right time of year, in the right way, in the right weather conditions to be safe and not cause harm to Park users or wildlife. How to avoid causing harm to nesting birds, to encourage the species in the hedges, such as birds and to maintain the Parks in an optimum condition. These are things that we value and realise not everyone can do, because the people who do them are trained operatives; horticulturists and groundsmen. So, we don’t all take this for granted. We value this expertise, don’t we? There is a place for volunteers, and horticulture has long used people with learning difficulties, but we need our skilled horticulturists to oversee the tasks that these groups do.

However, it seems moves are afoot to turn the running of the parks over to bands of volunteers with chainsaws. This, we are told is because we have already lost 50 % of the staff of our Parks due to cut backs.  How, we are asked, can we make money out of our parks, on the American model? Well, let’s rack our brains shall we? How do you put a price on a picnic with your child in a beautiful public Park? Why should you have to do this? Well, the reason is, that some may mightily enjoy hacking our Parks to pieces to make profit. Short term gain and long term pain. So, we will need to fight to keep our skilled workforces and to keep our parks alive and open for people.

Volunteers to run our Parks in the same way that horticulturists do? I don’t think so. Selling off or leasing of our Parks, or access to them and their buildings, such as our Public toilets to make money? Highly undesirable, but nonetheless on the cards and up for discussion.

What do you think? You can leave a message here. Thanks for listening!

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