'Visible' Staff are Key to Safer Parks, says CABE

Every urban park in England should have dedicated staff present during daylight hours to encourage people back into green spaces that have in the past been under-used and blighted by graffiti, vandalism and fear of crime, says a report published in September by CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment).

The Park KeeperThe report - Parks Need Parkforce - argues that a return to the days of on-site staff is essential to maintain and accelerate the remarkable revival seen in many neighbourhood parks over the last 10 years. The report, which draws on English Heritage's newly published document The Park Keeper, raises concerns that the millions of pounds of capital investment made in recent years could be wasted if people don't feel comfortable using understaffed parks, which are allowed to fall into decline again. Recent research showed that two-thirds of mothers would never allow their children to play in parks unsupervised. Nine out of ten women said that 'regular foot patrols by police, community wardens, or park attendants' would allay their fear of using parks.

A Critical Time

Launching the Parkforce campaign, Julia Thrift, Director of CABE Space says: "This is a critical time. In the last decade, great improvements have been achieved in parks. These changes must now be made irreversible, We urgently need a new 'parkforce' to ensure our parks are maintained as vibrant parts of our urban communities. We want a return to old-fashioned public service values delivered by a new multi-skilled, 21st century workforce. Some 33 million people use parks every year - it would be unthinkable to have a swimming-pool without an attendant or a library without a librarian - why should our parks be any different?"

Virtuous Circle

CABE's research shows that, while the rôle of the 'parkforce' may vary from place to place, the benefits to communities are the same everywhere. When staff are introduced to parks, it creates a virtuous circle of improvement: better maintained parks are perceived to be safer - so more people use them, making them feel even more safe and encouraging greater use.

The report calls on local authorities to work out the needs of each park in their area and consult with residents on an action plan. Councils are encouraged to identify new funding streams for parks and existing staff that could join the 'parkforce', by joining-up different teams, such as neighbourhood wardens and community support officers. The 'parkforce' should also be made visible and accessible by means of clearly identifiable uniforms and the placing of signs in the parks with telephone numbers so that staff can be contacted whenever users need them.

New York Experience

As part of the Parkforce campaign, CABE hosted a week-long visit at the end of October by Sara Hobel, New York's director of Urban Park Ranger Services, and Sarah Aucoin, UPRS Head Ranger, to share their experience of working in New York's most famous parks, and to explain how the introduction of the Urban Park Ranger force in 1979 helped turn many of them from run-down, derelict spaces into some of the best parks in the world.

Parks Need Parkforce can be downloaded from the CABE website at http://www.cabe.org.uk/news/press/showPRelease.asp?id=740

The Park Keeper can be downloaded from www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/Park.pdf

The Park Keeper - Essential Reading ANOTHER publication not to miss is The Park Keeper (2005) written by David Lambert (The Parks Agency) for English Heritage. This is a brief but fascinating history of park-keeping, which highlights the important part the park keeper can play in promoting parks as safe public open spaces. The need for such a history arose out of previous reports on public parks [such as GreenSpace's Public Park Assessment (2001) and the government's Urban Green Spaces Taskforce's final report, Green Spaces, Better Places (2002)], which identified a skills shortage in public parks. This publication is also part of an initiative by heritage agencies to tackle crime, vandalism, litter and other issues in parks and green spaces. It can be obtained free of charge from English Heritage Customer Services Department on 0870 333 1181.