The future prospects of urban parks: The life, times and social order of Victorian public parks as places of social mixing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Social and International Studies

Abstract

This project brings together insights from history, criminology and urban studies to explore the future prospects of city parks as public meeting places, in both the Victorian period and the present day. The aim of the project is to generate a novel understanding of the future social significance and role of public parks and how social groups (might) live together and commingle safely in cosmopolitan cities. It makes connections between the past, the present and the future importance of these public spaces by exploring how they have evolved over time from their origins as spaces of social mixing between diverse groups in Victorian cities. It investigates official and public expectations of what parks might become in terms of their social possibilities and their desired effects aligned with visions of the future, both in the Victorian and contemporary eras. In these ways, the project connects with and advances the AHRC 'Care for the Future' research theme and its central ambition of 'thinking forward through the past'.

The project combines historical analysis with a new contemporary study to explore the experiences and views of people that used and use Victorian parks in terms of their governance, regulation and policing. It therefore engages with the challenges of managing social mixing in public space, including the possibilities for conflict around behaviour, social disorder, and anxieties of otherness in the multi-cultural city. It also explores the outcomes commingling may facilitate in terms of promoting social cohesion and its potential civilising effects.

The project will consider how the public park's original design and rationale remains relevant to the needs of the contemporary city and how it has adapted to changing social conditions. This research will allow us to 'care for the future' of the urban public park, not just by understanding its past and its present, but by translating that understanding into concrete policy proposals for its future governance. The project will provide a reinterpretation and reinvigoration of the vision, governance and sustainability of urban parks in cities of the future. In the context of austerity and local authority spending cuts to non-compulsory public services, including city parks, this is an opportune time to rethink the vision and governance of these public spaces.

The research is based on three Victorian public parks in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Together, these case studies combine a diversity of park types in terms of their social ideals and purposes, the size and social profile of users and stakeholders, and the diversity of experiences of park life from places of grand show and ceremony to informal community parks.

The project contributes new and unique inter-disciplinary insights connecting the arts and humanities with the social sciences. The project findings will feed into public policy debates about the future of cities and engage academic audiences working across disciplines, particularly in social and urban history, law, criminology, sociology, urban policy and cultural studies. The project will engage public audiences through a public exhibition, a free-to-access digital collection of photographs of Victorian parks in Leeds, and via blogs, twitter feeds, and media briefings.

Planned Impact

The principal beneficiaries of the research will be a wide range of organisations that have a role to play in promoting open, tolerant and inclusive public spaces. The research findings will have direct implications for public policies that engage with the role and place of urban parks and public spaces in cities of the future. Through collaboration with Leeds City Council (the Project Partners) the research will engage end users from the outset, feed into the Core Cities Group and inform the Leeds Foresight Future of Cities project which the University of Leeds and Leeds City Council are collaborating with government to establish. Alongside a public policy seminar, these mechanisms will facilitate broader lesson-learning for UK cities. The cross section of park types allows policy considerations to be drawn elsewhere.

Moreover, the effective governance of the public realm remains a national and international concern. The research findings should inform and influence wider debates on public space governance, regulation and policing and how diverse social groups (might) live together and mix socially in cities. The research will identify the conditions under which public parks facilitate and enhance social cohesion and support feelings of safety and security. Consequently, it will inform the work of organisations that promote improvements to public space design and management such as the Commission for the Built Environment (now part of the Design Council). The project will assess how governance and management strategies were (and are) received by park users in the past and the present, and thus provide insights on the basis of which good practice can best be constructed. These insights will inform new thinking about future governance strategies that balance safety and security with openness and tolerance. Hence the findings will be of interest to the Home Office, Government Departments accountable for communities and the environment and local authorities across the country with responsibility for parks. Moreover, the research will generate insights of relevance to a wide variety of organisations which include urban parks within their remit, including the Parks Alliance, comprising a cross-sector group of senior executives, set up in the absence of a national parks body to campaign to 'put public parks at the heart of the drive for healthy, resilient and sustainable communities', English Heritage, the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, Groundwork, Policy Exchange, and Natural England. A brief and accessible summary of the findings will be widely distributed and contain implications for policy and practice.

In Leeds, the findings will contribute to the public's knowledge about a key aspect of their social and cultural heritage via a public exhibition and digital photographic collection. Hence it will help address the problem identified by a recent English Heritage survey which found a lack of public knowledge about 'park history in general and even fewer considered themselves well informed about the history of their own local park' (Layton-Jones 2014 p.13). The local insights will benefit directly the key agencies tasked with implementing the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy for Leeds (in particular the local authority and the police) and the Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum. They will also support wider initiatives by the Council such as the Leeds bid for the European Capital of Culture 2023. The wider public, beyond Leeds, will benefit through the project's potential for policy changes that improve well-being and quality of life and by improved awareness via blogs, twitter feeds and media engagement of the historical experiences of parks and their social role in communities.

Publications


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/N001788/1 01/11/2015 31/07/2016 £195,703
AH/N001788/2 Transfer AH/N001788/1 01/08/2016 30/11/2017 £123,238
 
Description Submission to the Communities and Local Government Committee's Public Inquiry on Parks
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communities-and-loc...
 
Description Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £13,536 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K503836/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 01/2017 
End 07/2017
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation Groundwork
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation Heritage Lottery Fund
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation Historic England
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation London Metropolitan University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation University of Bradford
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation University of East London
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation University of Leicester
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Advisory Network 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. We make intellectual contributions by sharing our research and co-coordinating discussion with and between the members of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The advisory network largely operates in a 'virtual' capacity, through email updates and 6 monthly newsletters. Our advisors offer intellectual inputs according to their expertise in the field,and help shape our important programme of research. They advise us on how our research connects with and advances wider debates. In addition, partners are invited to key project dissemination events.
Impact Development of successful Impact Acceleration Account bid with selected members of the Advisory Network, leading to a forthcoming conference responding to the Select Committee inquiry on public parks.
Start Year 2016
 
Description IAA Bid Partnership 
Organisation Groundwork
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The project team, led by Dr Anna Barker, will forge a new network of researchers and relevant organisations to foster a research-informed debate about urban park futures. This network will come together to respond to the findings and conclusions of the 2016-2017 Select Committee Inquiry through a national conference, to help shape the ensuing public debate, and to explore new lines of national and international research relating to the social role of urban parks and their future regulation and management.
Collaborator Contribution Three organisations have agreed to work with the project team to exploit opportunities presented by the Commons Inquiry to engender a national, research-informed policy debate about the future of public parks. All three are new partners to the University, and each has provided a letter of support showing clear commitment and in-kind contribution to this project, and interest in the further development of the project and partnership. Historic England champions and protects historic environments, manages the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, and have been instrumental in setting national priorities for research on urban parks as part of their 'heritage at risk' programme. The Parks Alliance has a successful record of local, national and international campaigning as the voice of UK parks, representing the people and organisations that create, invest in and use these public spaces. Groundwork is a community charity with expertise in creating sustainable futures and building stronger communities by improving green space.
Impact Project partner meeting (January 2017)
Start Year 2017
 
Description IAA Bid Partnership 
Organisation Historic England
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project team, led by Dr Anna Barker, will forge a new network of researchers and relevant organisations to foster a research-informed debate about urban park futures. This network will come together to respond to the findings and conclusions of the 2016-2017 Select Committee Inquiry through a national conference, to help shape the ensuing public debate, and to explore new lines of national and international research relating to the social role of urban parks and their future regulation and management.
Collaborator Contribution Three organisations have agreed to work with the project team to exploit opportunities presented by the Commons Inquiry to engender a national, research-informed policy debate about the future of public parks. All three are new partners to the University, and each has provided a letter of support showing clear commitment and in-kind contribution to this project, and interest in the further development of the project and partnership. Historic England champions and protects historic environments, manages the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, and have been instrumental in setting national priorities for research on urban parks as part of their 'heritage at risk' programme. The Parks Alliance has a successful record of local, national and international campaigning as the voice of UK parks, representing the people and organisations that create, invest in and use these public spaces. Groundwork is a community charity with expertise in creating sustainable futures and building stronger communities by improving green space.
Impact Project partner meeting (January 2017)
Start Year 2017
 
Description Community Event (Beeston Festival) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held a stall at three community events in Leeds (one for each of our case study parks) to publicize the project, and engage the public in our research, inviting them to submit their photographs of parks and sign up for interviewees. During and immediately after the event, we received interest from and enlisted the assistance of several members of the public in our data collection process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Community Event (REAP Farmers' Market, Leeds) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held a stall at three community events in Leeds (one for each of our case study parks) to publicize the project, and engage the public in our research, inviting them to submit their photographs of parks and sign up for interviewees. During and immediately after the event, we received interest from and enlisted the assistance of several members of the public in our data collection process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Community Event (Unity Day, Leeds) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held a stall at three community events in Leeds (one for each of our case study parks) to publicize the project, and engage the public in our research, inviting them to submit their photographs of parks and sign up for interviewees. During and immediately after the event, we received interest from and enlisted the assistance of several members of the public in our data collection process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description IAA Bid Project Partner Meeting (January 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Four members of our team met with four members of our Advisory Network to begin planning a national conference, as part of our successful Impact Acceleration Account bid. We met at Nene Park, Peterborough, to discuss the format, structure and themes of our conference. We also used this meeting to confirm future engagement with the conference from each of our project partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with Community Group (Feed Leeds) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We met with local community groups to promote our research and engage them in our project. These collaborations involved these groups sharing their expertise in issues relating to their park and wider community. The activity resulted in continued engagement with such groups, and, in many cases, their assistance in sourcing participants for our data collection (interviews). They also helped promote our project more widely to the local community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with Community Group (Friends of Woodhouse Moor) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We met with local community groups to promote our research and engage them in our project. These collaborations involved these groups sharing their expertise in issues relating to their park and wider community. The activity resulted in continued engagement with such groups, and, in many cases, their assistance in sourcing participants for our data collection (interviews). They also helped promote our project more widely to the local community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with community group (Friends of Roundhay Park) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We met with local community groups to promote our research and engage them in our project. These collaborations involved these groups sharing their expertise in issues relating to their park and wider community. The activity resulted in continued engagement with such groups, and, in many cases, their assistance in sourcing participants for our data collection (interviews). They also helped promote our project more widely to the local community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with community group (Hyde Park Source) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We met with local community groups to promote our research and engage them in our project. These collaborations involved these groups sharing their expertise in issues relating to their park and wider community. The activity resulted in continued engagement with such groups, and, in many cases, their assistance in sourcing participants for our data collection (interviews). They also helped promote our project more widely to the local community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with local community group (Friend of Cross Flatts Park) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We met with local community groups to promote our research and engage them in our project. These collaborations involved these groups sharing their expertise in issues relating to their park and wider community. The activity resulted in continued engagement with such groups, and, in many cases, their assistance in sourcing participants for our data collection (interviews). They also helped promote our project more widely to the local community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Newspaper Feature (Yorkshire Post) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Feature and interview to promote the project and our call for photos/interviewees
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://leedsparksproject.wordpress.com/media/#jp-carousel-164
 
Description Newspaper Feature and Interview (Yorkshire Evening Post) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Feature and interview to promote the project and our call for photos/interviewees
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://leedsparksproject.wordpress.com/media/#jp-carousel-163
 
Description Paper presentation to European Association of Urban Historians conference, Helsinki 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of research paper at the European Association of Urban Historians conference. The audience was composed of historians and social scientists interested in urban history, principally from across Europe, but also from other parts of the world. The paper was entitled: 'Space, Experience and Expectation in the Victorian City: Everyday Perceptions of Public Parks in Leeds, c.1850-1914'. Besides presenting to individuals attending the session, the paper was also uploaded to the Conference's paper pre-circulation system.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Postgraduate Seminar (Leeds Beckett University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A seminar class prepared and delivered to postgraduate students, to share initial research and methodologies arising from the first year of our project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to the American Society of Criminology Conference in New Orleans, for which the audience was a mix of international academic researchers from the USA and beyond as well as some policing professionals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Project Twitter Account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our Twitter account was used as a platform to share and engage with research on the state of parks, provide updates on the project, and to appeal to the public for their assistance in donating photographs and volunteering to be interviewed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://twitter.com/leedsparksstudy
 
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our initial website had three primary intended functions. First, to provide a hub for general information and news about the project. Second, to provide information about our public call for photographs and act as a repository for these images to be uploaded digitally. Thirdly, to promote our call for interviewees and provide a means of contact for interested parties. Our site was viewed over 100 times, with most of those who viewed uploading photographs or offering to participate in our interviews. While most of the traffic was from England, we also had visitors from the USA, Canada and Japan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://leedsparksproject.wordpress.com/
 
Description Radio Interview (Bradford Community Radio) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio interview on Bradford Community Radio to promote the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://leedsparksproject.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/radio-interview-bcb-28-october-2015.pdf
 
Description TV Feature (BBC Look North) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact TV feature and interview to promote the project and our call for photographs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78oH0A70pc0