In an age of data and statistics it is perhaps timely that we remind ourselves sometimes that some of the most important things in life are, at best, a challenge or, at worst, impossible to measure. Love is just one good example and, interestingly, given the title of this piece, parks are yet another.
Public parks are such a seemingly simple concept and yet are such amazingly complex places in so many ways. As a manager in local government I’m only too aware of how difficult it is to organise their maintenance, with so many different plants all needing different levels of attention, buildings and infrastructure to care for, and of course the weather thrown into the mix just to make sure that no plans can ever run to schedule.
But, of course, as complex as it can be planning the maintenance of a park this isn’t what parks are about at all. Indeed rather paradoxically perhaps, at its heart parks management isn’t even about the park itself.
If we spare thought for the time when the first parks came into being, it wasn’t because people wanted a park, in fact they didn’t even know what a park was, it was because a need was identified in the communities emerging through the period we now know as the industrial revolution. That need was one of public health, the need to provide somewhere for the working masses to escape the pressures of the working day, to take clean air, to relax, to engage in recreation, and to meet with others. High quality parks met those needs so successfully that very quickly public parks not only etched their way into the history and culture of the nation, but also into the hearts of the people who used them.
The fundamental values that parks were developed to meet in the Victorian era remain basic requirements of a civilised society, and are just as important in today’s modern highly developed and built up cities as ever they were in the Victorian era. And so it is that parks aren’t really about plants and flowers, as beautiful as they can be, but they are about the people in our local communities, and the needs of those communities; be that for recreation, leisure, relaxation or environmental education.
So the next time you are wondering what to do with a spare hour, please give some thought to visiting your local park. Whether already returned to its Victorian splendour, scheduled for restoration, or simply a wonderful natural environment in its own right, these are places of history, wonder, relaxation and learning that provide a social community experience that simply cannot be equalled anywhere else. Now try measuring all that – there really is a challenge!