Parks and green space: does everyone feel welcome?

Parks and green space: does everyone feel welcome?
Olympic Park, North. Image courtesy of Bridget Snaith

Public green space can help improve our mental and physical health and increase social cohesion within communities. Throughout the pandemic parks have provided many people with respite from cabin fever, as well as Covid-secure places to meet with family and friends.  But whilst the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance and value of green space for everybody, it’s also emphasised what research was already telling us – that there is unequal access. Barriers experienced due to religion, race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender and LGBTQI+ identity can impact on their enjoyment of public space.

As part of our Learning From Crisis programme, FoL hosted a roundtable discussion exploring how parks and green spaces can be made more inclusive. We were joined by Dr Bridget Snaith, University of East London, who presented a research paper entitled ‘weeds, wildflowers and white privilege.’ The research looked at the way in which the validated tastes of parks in the UK is controlled by white people and the views of black and minority ethnic groups can be ignored. Bridget illustrated the difference in views and aspirations for parks across different ethnic groups and how this played out in the differences between the north and south of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Session video

Research recommendations:

Comparison of average reasons why people visit their local greenspaces, by census categories. Courtesy of Bridget Snaith.
  • Have empathy and value difference, don’t push your own view
  • When consulting with local people consider the make up of your ‘catchment’, there are cultural/sub-cultural norms to find
  • Ensure you hear and value any ‘group’ differences – census categories are not perfect but offer a guide. Allow feedback to be disaggregated, so if there are patterns by religion, age, gender, disability and other protected characteristics
  • Measure a space’s appeal against all equalities criteria.

The panel of industry professionals (below) then shared their insight and lived experiences of equalities issues in parks and took questions from the audience.

  • Dan Cook, Landscape Institute
  • Andrew Harland, LDA Design
  • Mary Karooma-Brooker, RB Greenwich
  • Rowan Longhurst, Engie/Our Parklife
  • Trina Lynskey, Independent children and families consultant
  • Koen Rutten, Town and Country Planning Association
  • Ossie Stuart, Disability consultant
  • Carole Wright, Community gardener

Key observations from the discussion included:

The profession

  • Professionals need to be aware of their privilege, training and influence
  • Not all professionals are ready to have discussions with ethnic minority groups to understand what matters to local people
  • The Landscape Institute recognises that only 5% of members are from diverse backgrounds and is addressing this through apprenticeships, adding diversity and inclusion into core professional requirements, diversifying panels and creating a BAME* practitioner network
  • Engaging young people in parks and green spaces could help to get the next generation interested in joining the profession.

*Future of London recognises that BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) is not a term that is acceptable to everyone. We will follow the evolving debate to use the most appropriate language.

Use of space

  • During Covid people are using parks in more creative ways – moving away from formal sport to leisure; health and wellbeing is even more important
  • There is a perception that ‘hanging out’ in a space is anti-social and not a ‘worthy activity’ (compared with sport for example) and should be discouraged. However time for interaction is extremely important for many, especially young people and street drinkers
  • Green spaces on estates are being targeted for infill development and in other cases spaces are being fenced off for a single activity; anyone living in a built-up area needs space to breathe and enough space is needed to accommodate different uses
  • Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) can be very well maintained but can also be heavily patrolled and frequently exclude people
  • The landscape architecture profession needs to look beyond use of individual spaces to think strategically at how people travel between spaces to ensure access for all to a network of spaces.

Difference

  • Local BAME residents are not using their local green spaces, park managers and others need to understand why
  • BAME people can feel unwelcome in parks and can be treated differently to white people. An example was given on the use of the Criminal justice and public order act which in a number of south London parks seemed to target people of colour over white, middle class users
  • Safety is a huge issue for many groups, Flock Together is an example of a group that organises  BAME group visits to nature spaces
  • Bridget’s research convincingly shows how whiteness shapes the profession and practice, the same could be said for heteronormativity (the normalisation of heterosexuality) which impacts on how LGBTQI+ people access, use and experience parks
  • Putting people into categories is unhelpful. For example the lived experiences of LGBTQI+ people is determined by other identities particularly class and race. Disabled people too are a very diverse group. The views and needs within these groups will be very different and sometimes contradictory. As a profession we need to understand these nuances.

Engaging local people

“The days of rocking up and expecting local people to do placemaking free of charge are over, people should be paid.”
Carole Wright

  • Acknowledge the power dynamics between professionals and the local community. Share power and respect and pay people for their time
  • Push to have enough resource for adequate consultation
  • Co-designing consultation processes with local people is very effective; train residents to help deliver activities e.g. surveys
  • Understand the issues for specific groups especially those who may have/are experiencing discrimination
  • Don’t just consult with people already in the park. go to where you know people congregate. Schools are a great way of engaging with the wider community
  • Collaborative design is an emerging practice which is focused on making sure community voices are heard
  • Diversifying volunteer teams is important and challenging. Even the word volunteer has a stigma. The offer to volunteers needs to be mixed in terms of activities and levels of commitment – welcome transiency and be flexible
  • Children’s play is a great leveller that brings families from all backgrounds together
  • Platform cricket was hugely successful at encouraging Asian families into a park in Deptford, however certain park users were wary of this new activity rather than embracing the change
  • There is opportunity to build on the energy and creativity that LGBTQI+ groups have in making their own space e.g. Trans Pride in Soho Square
  • The social care sector have been consulting with disabled people, learn from them but don’t make the same mistakes.

Event resources

    • Dr Snaith’s research: Bridget’s PhD thesis is available here and slides are available to attendees on request.
    • Community green: Using local spaces to tackle inequality and improve health: research in 2010 by CABE Space investigated the relationship between urban green space, inequality, ethnicity, health and wellbeing. The report can be found here.
    • The Association of Collaborative Design: The ACD is a network of individuals, professionals and organisations that endorse the collaborative process of creating and managing environments with and for people and nature. Find out more here.
    • Resources for co-design and meaningful engagement: The Glass House is a national charity dedicated to connecting people with the design of their places, and connecting design with people. They have a number of resources available here.
    • Diversity in volunteer programmes: recent research into the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White volunteers can be accessed here.
    • Inclusive environments: free training available from Design Council here.
    • The Bristol Approach: a new way of working that puts communities and their needs at the heart of innovation, details here.
    • Planning Aid for London: supporting communities to get involved planning, information here.
    • Landscape Institute: the LI has produced technical guidance on inclusive design which can be accessed here. Sign up to upcoming events here. If you would like to get involved with LI work on diversity, please contact diversity@landscapeinstitute.org.

“I thought it was a really insightful event and a brilliant panel of speakers sharing a variety of perspectives. An important contribution to the diversity in the public realm debate.”
Sarah Rawlings, London Communications Agency

For further information on the Learning From Crisis programme and other upcoming webinars, please visit the programme landing page here.

This event was supported by