Parks: A perk of London life

Unlike many cities, due in many cases to our Victorian forebears, London is blessed with vast tracts of green open spaces; incredibly 20 per cent of the capital’s total area is given over to the public recreation.

For this Guest Post Eve Pearce writes that without the strict management of the London’s parks its green spaces could become an unsafe environment which places other users at risk.

[T]his happened to London’s earliest cabbies, despite being licensed they failed to attract the right sort of passenger, so extreme was it that in 1694 a bevy of females in one cab reportedly behaved so badly in the environs of Hyde Park that the authorities responded by banning hired cabs from the park for the next 230 years.

A perk of London Life
London is the most heavily populated city in the United Kingdom with over seven million people registered as living in the city within the Greater London region. The city is constantly evolving and new records are set in construction each year, an example being the newly constructed tower, The Shard, which offers the highest viewing platform in Europe at two hundred and forty four metres. Thousands of visitors have climbed the tower to take in views of London which extend forty miles, such is the height of the building. Despite the bustle of London as a city, it has some reassuring constants that inspire many inhabitants and visitors. One of those constants is the London cab and another is the Royal Parks which for years have offered Londoners a place to relax, exercise and escape the pressures of city life.

History of Royal Parks
The Royal Parks are actually an agency run by the government Department for Culture, Media and Sport and they manage over five thousand acres of prime parkland in and around the city of London. This space is spread across eight separate parks incorporating scenes that are synonymous with London life. Hyde Park contains Speakers Corner, traditionally associated with free speech and some of the finest political orators in history, whilst Kensington Gardens is the home of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. The parks are a vital lifeline for Londoners who are often housed in accommodation which does not provide a garden yet are still able to enjoy fine horticultural surroundings without venturing far from home. Cab drivers are proud when hearing the comments of the many visitors to London who wish they had such abundant spaces in their own overcrowded neighbourhoods. In many areas of the country, parks are a byword for neglect and under investment but in London the parks are beacons of excellence and a magnet for those who wish to live healthily whilst living in London or enjoy sport, entertainment or a picnic in beautiful surroundings.

London’s Green Spaces
London's parks

Other London Spaces
In addition to the Royal Parks London is blessed with other large open spaces such as Hampstead Heath which is the home to Kenwood House, a stately home renowned for hosting huge outdoor concerts in the summer months. Local areas such as Notting Hill and Kensington have their own green spaces which are managed by local residents but many small spaces are accessible for all visitors during daylight hours. Just as cab drivers are urged to evolve and become greener, those who look after our green spaces are looking at their impact on the environment. Parks are now managed with biodiversity in mind and planting schemes are sustainable.

Park Users
The Royal Parks team are aware of their responsibilities to the diverse group of park users. From commercial dog walkers requiring a license through to keep fit classes, each user is considered by the park managers along with their impact on other park users. It is crucial that all groups are considered because the spaces that provide an escape for so many Londoners are in effect owned and paid for by those individuals. The parks can generate commercial revenue through the hosting of events and provision of catering but they are very much a public resource and a national institution. The commitment of the Royal Parks to permit dog walkers but to demand a licence from commercial dog walkers creates a covenant between that user group and the park managers. Without it the management of the parks could be accused of allowing an unsafe environment which places other users at risk. Cab drivers have a responsibility to their users who expect a safe and comfortable journey and to be delivered to their destination using the most effective route. Cab drivers must ensure that their visitor experience is undiminished by the impact of other visitors and this includes the clearance of litter and ensuring that they are protected in the event of accidents. A group returning from a raucous night out will have a different impact on a cab to an individual seeking a lift to a national museum, and pose different risks, but each user group is treated with respect and monitored to ensure that the experience of one does not impact on the other. Parks may have many different user groups sharing the same space at the same time whilst it is less common for people to share taxis unless a coincidence occurs and a common destination is established.

London Life
A growing population and shrinking land bank for new development means the role of those guarding the green spaces in London is increasingly important. All individuals need a comfortable and attractive environment in which they can relax and develop a side of their personality that may not receive much nurturing in such a busy environment. Like London cabs they are a feature on the London landscape that many could not be without and it is essential that they are preserved for future generations. The historic spaces of London are in safe hands and are well protected against development. They are being made more accessible and relevant to those who use them and this can only be of benefit to future generations who are likely to need the same venues to provide an escape from an increasingly busy city.

4 thoughts on “Parks: A perk of London life”

    1. There are very few honey bees in my garden this year, just a few bumble bees. Not surprising as 25 per cent of hives did not survive last winter.

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  1. There are lots of public green spaces in London apart from royal parks, valuable and appreciated as these may be.

    For a start there are old burial grounds. In the 1850s, burial grounds within the city’s boundaries were closed and most, immediately or eventually, were rehabilitated as public gardens. The usual pattern was to remove all gravestones and stack them against the perimeter walls, leaving one or two of the more imposing or historically interesting tombs in place. The open space was then smoothed and grassed and perhaps trees and shrubs were added for shade and decoration. There may also be tennis courts and children’s play areas. An example is Joseph Grimaldi Park near us in Islington which has all the aforementioned amenities and the great clown’s tomb which remains visible and is now a listed building.

    In some cases, such as the famous Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, originally set up for Nonconformists, the tombs have been left in place and fenced off (making a nice inner-city wildlife reserve), with pathways, open spaces and benches for the public to enjoy the greenery and peaceful atmosphere.

    Nor should we forget London’s many “squares”. In Georgian times, more affluent housing was arranged in square formations with a garden, accessible only to residents, in the middle. While some of these gardens remain private today, the majority have been taken over by local councils and are now public parks and gardens. Many are beautifully planted and maintained and are a joy to visit. Bandstands and antique drinking fountains testify to a past time when wealthy citizens liked to contribute to the community: a lesson for us in a more selfish era.

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