The increasing focus on the UK’s ‘left behind places’ means place based policy is back in vogue – and parks have a key role to play
James Brokenshire has actually made two announcements about Parks recently. At the weekend he announced an additional £13m for a range of parks initiatives in the Daily Mail. However perhaps the more interesting policy was announced the week before – the Integrated Communities Action Plan. The Action Plan contains a range of commitments from government to support community integration including boosting the capacity of local leadership, measures to support new migrants and local people and improving the places where they can meet, mix and share experiences. The last point recognises the long held view that good Parks can play a crucial role in building successful and cohesive communities. They are a key social asset like community centres and libraries that provide public spaces that people, from all different backgrounds, use creating the thousands of small interactions that lead to positive bonds of understanding and mutual respect. In this way Parks play a key role in building social capital- the glue that holds communities together.
Recognition in this way of the role parks can play in supporting successful places and communities is long overdue and credit must go to the original Select Committee Inquiry into Public Parks and the response of the Parks Minister. However what is really interesting is the focus on place and this reflects a steady return to place based policy approaches to tackling inequality and unequal growth. The long awaited consultation on the government’s Share Prosperity Fund (the cash to replace European funding post Brexit) is likely to set out how money will flow to places considered as ‘left behind’. In the civil society sector a number of the large Trusts and Foundations such as the Lloyds Bank Foundation and Lankelly Chase are developing place based programmes whilst the Big Lottery Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund are becoming more place focussed. In the private sector the CEO of Marks and Spencer is leading a Place Leadership team (including BP and Barclays) at Business In the Community who are seeking to work in partnership with local charities and the public sector, to take a long-term and place based approach to tackling deep rooted inequalities.
But what does this mean for parks in the places that need investment? Well parks and green spaces always featured significantly in pre 2010 place based approaches be it Single Regeneration Budget or New Deal for Communities programmes or Neighbourhood Renewal projects. And that’s because they helped deliver the quality of life and well-being outcomes these programme sought. The new world of place based working is likely to be more complex and require even greater partnership working.
This may play out differently in different places. One interesting example is http://civiccommons.us/ in the USA. This $40m three year place based programme part financed by some of Amecica’s largest trusts and foundations is aimed at revitalising and connecting civic assets (parks, libraries and community spaces) in poor areas of major cities. It has four main goals in civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability and value creation. But here’s the interesting bit. For each of these goals the programme will be collecting and using data to illustrate the impact of the investment made. This means for parks specific metrics are used to measure the social, environmental and economic impact including the additional value created by the investment that can be captured for future reinvestment. Such data builds a strong business case for investing in parks.
So there is an important place for parks in the likely future place based approaches to tackling the problems of the UK’s left behind communities. But there is also an important challenge. In these places someone needs to champion parks. There needs to be a new kind of leadership in the parks sector that can navigate the complex place based partnerships and present the business case for parks, a case built on data and evidence that demonstrates the social, economic and environmental returns that can be achieved by investing in good quality parks and green spaces to help revitalise communities. The Parks Alliance is working with The Parks Action Group to address these challenges working across the green space sector and across government.