PARKS and urban green space

“We all genuinely love parks”. Helen Goulden, Executive Director, Nesta.

Parks are public social green spaces. Most often with trees and plenty of grass. They are places were anyone can go if they can get there. And mostly, you can move in multiple directions and do many different things.

Unlike the countryside where paths and rights of way rule your route of travel, the park offers an expansive opportunity to move. A park has volume, space. And unlike the High Street, it’s not focused on the purchase of things or the role of people primarily as consumers. Possibly the most action taking place in any park is play – play of all kinds, physical, social, imaginary including inter-species play with dogs. Parks contain and enable activity by and for people of all ages, across backgrounds and cultures.

As an artist working with a contextual and social focus to ideas and projects, I have always been interested in public spaces, and places that temporarily become communal and social like a gig or a festival.

Growing up in Somerset, parks were recreation grounds for sport which held no interest for me – I didn’t understand them and was instead focused on fields. In 2009 I moved to South West London where I’ve lived for 7 years. I came to the edge of the city like a needle landing on a 12″ LP, from pastoral Somerset and Devon. I didn’t know it when I arrived – distracted by London town, and not yet familiar with what was immediately around me – that I was living in the immensely green borough of Richmond and Twickenham, with its huge areas of open public green space: parks, commons, woodland, recreation grounds, village greens, orchards. Then I started working part time for an environmental charity, the South West London Environment Network with my job focused on supporting Friends of Parks groups. And that’s when my fascination with parks arrived.

And I have become a park supporter.  This enthusiasm for parks joins areas of interest together: people, popular culture, nature, wildlife, the common and the communal.

The ‘Parks’ section of this blog-website is focused on these open communal civic spaces. Not so much gardens or woods. Some parks will of course be on the cusp between a park and another kind of green space, because a park is a kind of garden, a field, a wood, and often has combinations of these things, and because everything is porous.

But there is a difference between a park and a garden or wood in terms of the main purpose or primary reason for its existence, particularly an urban park, and that is to assist and make space for the cultivation of people.  That is for people to be inside and around nature, to be part of it, exchanging in and with social green space. Plants and animals may have always existed for years in the space, or been partly introduced, or completely imported there by people. The environment and habitat for other species is usually organised to primarily enable human activity and well being, through a complex mix of control and encouragement. Then we have opportunism and growth – movement that means a park is always changing and growing – a social green space.

The Parks and Art page is a collection of examples of social art works and contemporary art projects that have taken place in UK parks. Parks and Art beyond the UK is a collection of examples from around the world.

The WCMT Fellowship page documents my research project as a result of being awarded a 2016 Travel Fellowship to explore innovative participation in public urban green space, through travelling to Berlin and Hamburg in Germany, Vancouver Canada and Portland, USA over the summer and autumn of 2016.

– The Parks links page goes to organisations relevant to this research, and Parks research goes to selected research articles.

 

This film by Ruari Muir, made in his local urban park in South London, captures the unique possibility a public open green space creates for people, for their social, mental and spatial well being. ‘The Park’ was made after Ruari was burnt out by life. He spent a lot of time at his local park trying to put things into perspective, and then, fascinated by watching other people in the park, picked up his camera  …

2 comments

  1. Ruari Muir

    Thanks for posting my film. Looks like a very interesting project that you’re working on. I’m looking at making more short documentaries about London parks so it could be good to keep in touch.

    Follow me @Ruari_M

  2. It’s a great film Ruari!

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