With lockdown easing, what kinds of green space will communities cherish in 2021?

‘And they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their … Parklife’.

As Spring arrives, and groups of six can meet once again outside, now is the time for us to appreciate our green spaces and parks. Over the past two years, Give My View’s survey software has been used for countless community consultations that have not only included new or redeveloped green space and parks as elements within bigger plans, but in some instances, consultations that have been focused on nothing else (eg. for Grosvenor Square in London). These consultations have taken place within cities as well as remote rural areas, and of course within the great suburban ‘in-between’ of postwar Britain. At a macro level, green space is seen as a balm to the hectic stresses of modern life, no more so than during lockdown; new insights have subsequently revealed themselves across these projects, which we will explore in this piece, against a backdrop of a perceived widening chasm between the haves and the have nots, regarding access to green space.

‘Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?’

It’s perhaps unsurprising that activities for children have scored highly in our Give My View green space consultations during these past 12 months, as parents have wrestled with a generation of young people not only unable to go to school for long periods of time but increasingly reliant on screens during their downtime. Thames Talk is overseeing the redevelopment of a huge swathe of Barking Riverside in East London, where 39% of voters have prioritised children’s activities as well as a ‘safe clean environment’ (68%). Almost without exception, we’ve seen an increase in the importance of green space providing a canvas for community activities; perhaps the only exception to this rule has been our consultation for Grosvenor Square, which sits like a green jewel within the busy streets of Mayfair and the West End; in this instance, voters overwhelmingly requested ‘an oasis of calm’; indeed, it’s hard to imagine a post-work kick-about with jumpers for goals being appropriate for this globally famous attraction.

Grosvenor Square aside, it’s our hypothesis that the increase in requests for community activities to play a prominent role in green spaces must have arisen as a direct result of the fractured and at-arms-length nature of our recent interactions with people, characterised more by ‘you’re on mute’ work meetings, than the proverbial stroll in the park. In a recent consultation in Cambridgeshire, which focused on a green public space fringed by sustainable residential, retail and office development, ‘food and beverage pop-ups’ topped the list of the most desired amenities (64%) for the local community; is this evidence of extreme weekly-shop lockdown fatigue, when interesting independent food and drink has been hard to get hold of? It certainly fits with another macro observation of ours, namely that the UK’s communities are rejecting national high street retail brands in favour of local artisanal producers instead.

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‘She sells hearts, she sells meat; oh dad, she’s driving me mad!’

Similarly, the desire for ‘seasonal and farmers markets’ (69% and 71% respectively) is in line with our observation that in the context of a forthcoming summer characterised by £5000 fines for going on overseas holidays, a newly found appreciation for British culture (and cuisine) will rule supreme, hopefully for years to come.

Nature trails and rewilding have also started to make increasing appearances in our consultations, again in line with people’s experience of nature during a lockdown that saw cars and air travel banished en masse for the first time in history; starting last Spring, people began to appreciate the quietness and subsequent return of wildlife to areas previously choked by traffic and pollution. We therefore expect to see this trend continuing as a revolt against carefully manicured gardens and lawns.

‘Crossing the lines that divide us’

Perhaps one of the most intriguing trends we have seen across countless green space consultations, especially in regard to corporate and private residential developments, is the desire for local communities to be granted access to them; this demand for equal access blew up nationally in recent years, when local estate children in London were infamously denied access to a green play space, despite their houses backed directly onto it, conjuring up imagery of notorious ‘poor doors’ and the like in mixed-use residential developments. We applaud the community’s demands for equal access and therefore advise developers to be mindful of developing space that can work and be accessed by everyone – not just those with deep pockets. ‘They should leave the woodland area untouched but (provide) better access from the nature reserve and access to the Village’ is a typical piece of feedback from a recent consultation in Oxford that we see recorded on Give My View.

So in summary, it’s clear that green space and parks, no matter how small or urban, are not only a key part of our psychogeographical heritage and culture, but an essential element of community living that will encourage wildlife and biodiversity to thrive. Perhaps most importantly, green space and parks will continue to provide relief for our mental health and wellbeing needs, allowing people to connect and integrate with others over independent food and drink, in safe and secure environments where children can play and mix with others, despite coming from different backgrounds. And it’s pretty hard to argue with that. 

‘I’d rather go and journey
Where the diamond crescent’s glowing
And run across the valley
Beneath the sacred mountain
And wander through the forest
Where the trees have leaves of prisms
And break the light in colours
That no one knows the names of’

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