Could innovation in how we use parks help ensure they remain at the centre of social life?

Published: 28 Sep 2017

Author: Sue Palmer
Could innovation in how we use parks help ensure they remain at the centre of social life?

Sue Palmer, an artist and project manager from Frome, Somerset, has recently published her findings from a six-week research trip in Germany, Canada and the USA where she investigated adventurous and innovative ways other cities and cultures have approached participation in public urban green space, through using the arts, nature and cultivation. Sue’s travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award.

The focus of Sue’s Fellowship was informed by both her work as an artist with a social practice and by her work in the environment sector with urban green space. She had seen how vital parks and urban green spaces are for both people and other species and wanted to find out how other countries are using participation and community involvement to keep these spaces alive, supported and open.

Highlights from Sue’s travels included visiting the Fieldhouse Residency programme in Vancouver, which has seen the Park Board offer former park keeper’s houses as free studio space for artists in return for running participatory activities for park users. Having started a decade ago, there are now over 20 active programmes in public parks across Vancouver, encouraging participation across the arts, culture, food and sport.

Sue was also impressed by The Long Day of Urban Nature in Berlin, a 26-hour event on the longest day of the year, involving a city-wide celebration of wildlife, nature, green infrastructure and gardening, open to all ages. By purchasing a ticket for just a few Euros, one can learn about beekeeping, visit a city farm and enjoy a bat walk or night boat trip. The event highlights all the green spaces in every neighbourhood, revealing a city connected through nature.

Sue was also inspired by how much looser and broader the culture and attitudes she witnessed were in relation to both design and activities in parks, in comparison to the more manicured and orderly green spaces in UK parks, which tend to lack wilder and more vernacular design.

"I'm passionate about our urban green spaces for both people and other species. Parks are under threat in the UK from under funding and we cannot afford to lose them. My Fellowship has taught me that it is key that participation and inclusion are prioritised at the start of a project, with outreach extended beyond the usual networks, and that efforts are made to diversify the stories of heritage and history around parks and green space” -Sue Palmer

As Sue’s findings relate to both parks managers and cultural providers, she will share her research through both environmental and arts networks. In October 2017, she will present her findings at the World Urban Parks European Congress in the UK, and she will write an article for the international website 'The Nature of Cities'.

In her current role, Sue is working on an Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People Project in Sydney Gardens, Bath, a park with a fascinating history in the city centre. Her Fellowship has already influenced the ideas of the project team and Sue hopes it will continue to provide inspiration for the project.

Read Sue’s report here

Notes to Editors

Contact: sue@biggerhouse.co.uk

Read Sue’s blog