Parks Are Public: That Means Everyone

Great Britain

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Two years ago new control orders were introduced in the UK aimed at removing ‘anti-social disorder’ from public spaces. Under the so-called ‘Busybodies Charter’ dogs have been banned from at least 2,205 public places along with cycling, gatherings, fitness trainers and other groups using the open spaces. And this week, councils are trying to swipe chunks off the city’s oldest allotments.

I’ve visited quite a few parks around the world and can say the the gentlest, most peaceful ones I’ve strolled in have been in the Arab world and in Japan, the rowdiest and most wonderfully joyous are in Latin countries and the most beautiful – and miserable – are in England.

English parks are monitored by cash-hungry councils and the unofficial biddy brigade who have forgotten what it’s like to be young. This issue came up again and again as I was researched the next Bryant & May hardback, ‘Wild Chamber’. How should we best care for parkland?

Children who sing, dance, jump, climb, skate or cycle in parks are treated shockingly. If you live in a tiny flat and have a child, you should be able to throw a birthday party in a park. Grass is for walking on – it grows back. Flowers are not for picking and there should be quiet contemplative areas set aside for those who want peace. It’s not rocket science.

Why do we have such a strange attitude to parks? The enclosure Acts started in the 12th century, and enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common. They have been protected ever since, either by the Crown or government, and thence councils.

Which is where the problem comes in. Councils operate differently to each other. Several have attempted to push through outrageous legislation involving parks, including charging companies for having good office views of greenery and provided areas for private business functions. Yet they’ll happily remove sunlight by approving the building of office extensions that overlook greenery.

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I would open parks wide. We’re already banned from riding airwheels and other pollution-free devices in the UK. If park laws were less draconian we’d encourage more fresh air and exercise. Instead councils continue to grant endless liquor licenses that create anti-social areas.

That’s the back-story to the new novel. Of course, I try not to let such points get in the way of a good story.

Where will we go in post-Brexit times, when the need to raise cash becomes paramount? That’s for the Peculiar Crimes Unit spin-off I’m planning for…well, let’s not discuss that quite yet!

15 comments on “Parks Are Public: That Means Everyone”

  1. Lynchie says:

    Coincidentally, the campaign group 38 Degrees has an online petition calling on the government to make protecting parks a legal requirement. I think the petition’s being handed in today, so, if you’re interested, check this link to the parks campaign page:

    https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/template-petition-clone-db4049d9-5815-49c3-832a-aad722deb5b6?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweet&utm_campaign=21_10_2016_parks-weekend-twitter&bucket=twitter-tweet-21_10_2016_parks-weekend-twitter

  2. Ness says:

    I went to Postman’s Park a few weeks ago and it was the most unwelcoming and unloved I’d ever seen it. All the flower beds ripped up and left as plain earth and a host (a cancer?) of smokers standing around puffing away. I think this park could do with one sign “No smoking”. They won’t get a plaque for saving my lungs but I would certainly appreciate it. I don’t care if you skate, walk on the grass or picnic but do it smoke free. Just call me a busybody.

  3. Tony Walker says:

    I too love Postman’s Park, and visit it almost every time I’m in London. Unlike Ness, however, I’ve never seen a “host” of smokers there. A few people smoking (and paying lots of extra tax for the privilege of doing so) and relaxing there, and causing no problem to anyone’s lungs but their own (including mine). Any harm caused to Ness’ lungs is probably caused by traffic pollution.

  4. Brooke says:

    You hit a sore point! Our city is built around “squares,” parks that are a block long. Skate boarding, loud music, homeless lying full length on benches… all allowed. And the parks are cigar smoke lounges for men who live in the million dollar flats around the parks, and the poor. But guess what … grass doesn’t grow back on its own, broken benches don’t repair themselves, and cigar butts and other trash don’t conveniently hop into the disposal. Open public use requires someone to pay upkeep and maintenance. Our cash-strapped municipalities don’t have funds for this since they gave tax breaks to the developers. Although I contribute to various friends-of-the-park groups, I don’t enjoy the open parks anymore…

  5. admin says:

    My local park in Barcelona has struck a clever balance; the homeless sleep there but must be gone early, and everything is washed. Parties, cycles, Segways, alcohol, food, tightropes and yes, bongo drums are all allowed but somehow everyone respects each other’s space. It is the place where I feel happiest in the world.
    I like Regent’s Park, but I love Parc de la Cuitadella.

  6. Jeanette says:

    Sad to read. My local park was Finsbury Park and Clissold Park. I had a magical childhood playing in these parks. During the weekends and school holidays would spend the whole day playing there. Mum and Dad would not see us until we were hungry. I still have grit in my knee from coming off the Witches Hat, and the euphoria of when the railmen checking the London Kings Cross line would throw hundreds of balls down into the playground that we had lost playing two balls and rhyming against the wall. Anything mysterious we found in our park dens would become an adventure, a glove turned into a hand of a murdered person. No wonder I like murder mysteries!!!

  7. Jeanette says:

    Ness I think the reason for the bare flower bed is that they are preparing for winter flowering ie pansies and primroses. It shall bloom again soon 🙂

  8. Davem says:

    Wonderful post. Agree with it all.

  9. Vivienne says:

    I find it sad that parks are often empty, even in school holidays. But still, lots of places have really good stuff for children: intricate climbing things puzzle games and such. My local green has children being given sport lessons as there’s not enough playground space, groups of fitness trainers trying not to be too puffed, older chaps on the benches- officially no alcohol I think but if it’s not too many cans of Special Brew, a blind eye is turned. It just needs people to get out there and enjoy – without bothering others so no more laws are needed.

  10. Charles says:

    “I try not to let such points get in the way of a good story.”

    And I’m glad. Tosh like that doesn’t belong in a story unless it makes the story better. If it doesn’t fit—cut it out.

    My favourite parks are the empty ones with lots of trees, bushes, and general greenery, and plenty of benches. I don’t have a problem with most activities, with two exceptions: smoking, and music (I don’t mind the lone buskers, but if you’re blasting your stereo set, get out!).

    In Toronto they are proposing a long, narrow rail deck park to be built over the railway corridor downtown, because there’s a lack of parkland and nowhere else to build it. It has my vote, except for the cost, which is apparently several billions dollars. Is it worth it when the subways are crammed and everything else is lacking? Hard to say.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    We were walking in the park behind the York museum – near the monastery ruins when I realised there was a Tai Chi class happening. They were doing a heart strengthening exercise I hadn’t met before so I sat on a bench and tried to follow the breathing pattern. The leader came over and the next thing I knew I was following him in the traditional set. Lovely morning, quiet exercise and friendly people. That was followed by a tour through the latest “horde” discovery in the museum. Parks forever. We had strict laws against the public consumption of alcohol all the time I was growing up but things are loosening up, provided there isn’t obnoxious behaviour or littering of containers.

  12. Adam says:

    Slightly off-topic, but as a keen runner I think that parkrun is a brilliant concept – completely free, 5k run every Saturday, held in many parks across the country. They are very inclusive and friendly, and you can run, jog or walk the course as you wish. My two nearest runs attract c300 and 700 people a week. A fantastic way to get/keep fit, or help out (entirely run by volunteers). That’s why the small, narrow-minded Stoke Gifford parish council make my blood boil, when they wished to charge attendees…http://www.parkrun.org.uk/littlestoke/news/2016/03/30/a-statement-on-behalf-of-little-stoke-parkrun-and-parkrun-uk/

  13. Vivienne says:

    Another thing that annoys me are the signs saying No Ball Games Allowed. I believe these are unenforceable, but reflect intolerance and are a reason why we are no good at football and cricket. Do you think these prohibitions exist in Brazil? I live on a corner and made it clear to local children that they could use our wall for tennis or football – we sometimes had soot loosened from the chimney but no broken windows – Victorian sashes do not fit too well so they have some flexibility when hit.

  14. John Griffin says:

    Local park here has had all sorts of regulations imposed (no ball games except in one area, no picnics etc), making life after the demolition of all Yoof Services in the county another step more intolerable. The ‘yoof’ hung around the shopping centres and Morrison’s car park (the latter for the social druggies)…..then progress hit and the epitome of chic (MaccyDs)was built. The non-druggies still have nowhere, but MaccyDs car park is now very popular and convenient for those ‘munchy’ moments. The place stinks of dope, but at least the far corner of the Leisure Centre car park is safer at night.
    What is amazing is that the council still spins it all as ‘more efficient’.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    How could I wonder about whether there’s an E on horde or not when the word I wanted was “hoard” which has no E at all?

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