interview by KATRINA DAVIES
|WE'RE doing a lot of great things, but we need
to bang the drum about it- says James McCulloch, a Superintendent for the
Corporation of London. With responsibility for a mix of 150 small parks,
churchyards and gardens within the City's square mile, as well as the 77
acres of West Ham Park, McCulloch certainly has his work cut out for him.
"Most people think the City is just tall buildings" says James, "but it holds a wealth of interesting urban spaces, most of which are sites of great historic interest." With a very small resident population of just 7000, the City's open spaces suffer from the pressure of its daytime population, which swells, Monday to Friday, to more than 300,000.
The challenge for McCulloch is to get people involved with these spaces and find out what they want. "Up until now we've been maintaining the City's open spaces, and doing it well. But we'd like to know what City workers think and get them engaged in the process," he says.
But the lunchtime crowd are hard to engage with. McCulloch is setting up a user survey this summer, stopping lunchtime city workers in the street, but he feels this needs to go further. Traditionally public consultation is done at evening meetings but the City spaces do not have ordinary local users, so we are looking for more accessible ways to engage our users," he adds. An "e-forum" where City workers can contribute ideas from their desks is one idea on the cards.
Promotion is also a priority for West Ham Park. A Victorian park in Newham, East London, West Ham is often far from top of people's minds. "When the Evening Standard sets out a 'Places to Go this Weekend' supplement, Mile End Park and Thames Barrier Park are always on the list, but never West Ham. That's something we need to change", he says.
A sign of West Ham's lack of public awareness is that it has only been listed in the past two months as a Grade II site. This has encouraged McCulloch to look at the possibility of Heritage Lottery Fund support for further restoration of the park's former Victorian glory and he will be working with park staff to capture ideas for possible projects later in the year.
A lack of resources is not necessarily a problem for McCulloch. He feels the Corporation provides an appropriate level of resources" and the Corporation's urban spaces are "better resourced than most local authorities".
However, with so many potential projects in such a variety of sites, he is also conscious of the need to be realistic about what can be achieved in any given year. "I am extremely fortunate to be supported by a talented and dedicated team in all areas of Parks & Gardens. My challenge this year is to harness their ideas and enthusiasm and agree a realistic and achievable programme for the coming years", concludes McCulloch.
THE Corporation of London maintains over 10,000 acres of public open spaces in and around London. The origins of the corporation's commitment to open spaces date back to the 1870s when, in response to its rapid disappearance, they embarked on an ambitious programme to safeguard what remained. Since the 1980s, the open space owned by the corporation has increased by 42% and now includes some 150 small parks and gardens within the square mile. But the Corporation's responsibilities lie well beyond the City and includes some of London's favourite spots, including Hampstead Heath, Highgate Woods and Epping Forest.