Interview: LFGN and the National Park City campaign

Reporting on a recent interview with the LFGN chairman, Dave Morris, and how the LFGN is involved in the National Park City:

“N: Okay so just to begin with really, would you be able to tell me a bit more about London Friends of Green Spaces and your role within the organisation?
Dave: Okay so I’m chair of the London Friends of Green Spaces Network, that’s two words green spaces, um ..and um basically there’s about 700 local friends of parks groups for all types of green spaces not just parks, but that’s the easiest way of categorising them. Um, and er of local residents that champion their local green space, get involved, run activities, raise money, help with maintenance, campaign when necessary to protect them and so on. And we came together about 10 years ago when we could see that the under-funding of public services was becoming a crisis. And er that’s the way it has gone. So we’re operating in that kind of … political environment if you like. [We’re] trying to stand up for an essential public service with falling budgets; so okay we meet every … three months we have a general meeting for friends groups at City Hall, with usually anything between 15 and 30 groups coming and we just talk about issues affecting green spaces whether it’s sports, health, cycling, walks, biodiversity, management plans, so on and we share experiences across London. Erm … and support each other. And we also get involved with policy development er and coordination at the London wide level with other organisations. And increasingly we’re playing a more strategic role erm and one of those London wide initiatives that as soon as we heard about it we were enthusiastic about was the idea as it was then to become a London National Park City. Er so we very quickly got involved with that campaign in a supportive way. Yep.
N: Alright that’s really great thanks. And just leads me on to kind of wondering how you’ve been involved with the movement. So you mentioned your support, but what does that kind of entail?
Dave: Okay so one of our active members of the London-wide network has been attending kind of campaign, National Park City campaign meetings and reporting back to the network. I myself am on the advisory board and, I think we have, I think we’ve had an important contribution to date. So first of all making sure that public green space are, and their needs, are central to the National Park City campaign. We’re working within the campaign to argue that the London National Park City isn’t just promotional or promotional goal, t’s also about two things. Firstly, I we want are part of a movement not just kind of a lobbying body (we see ourselves as a movement, just like the way friends groups are one kind of grassroots movement) And secondly we always felt that becoming the London National Park City was something that ought to have teeth, not just being a kind of about activities and promotion but also be about policies to protect green spaces (as for most people in the London National Park City that has always been their conception, but there’s been times that you know its had to, well, be clarified). Particularly at this time when green spaces are extremely vulnerable because of the chronic under-funding of public services. And the most significant thing about green, public green spaces in that regard is that they’re non-statutory service, even though they’re absolutely essential to all age groups and all interests in local communities. So, raising the profile of green space across London is an opportunity also to ensure that policies, protective policies such as in the London Plan (that’s the document that guides development in London) are fully protective of our green space, and indeed ensuring that additional green space is created and so on. So I think those were our specific contributions, if you like, to the process.
N: That was really comprehensive thank you. So, just in your view personally, how do you interpret the idea of the national park city? how does it resonate with you?
Dave: Well it basically means to me that, that the public green space (in particular the public green space not just any green space) is an essential and central part of any neighbourhood – if we are to live in a city that’s worth living in. So raising the profile of green space in that way, means that we have to think as a city, and as a society, about how we’re going to ensure that green spaces are properly managed and financed, to get the most out of the incredible, unique benefits that they provide.
N: Yeah yeah. Actually that really brings me on nicely to my next question: In a lot of the literature on the National Park City it kind of talks about the value in being the social, economic and environmental benefits of green spaces. And what do you see as being the primary benefit of declaring London a National Park City?
Dave: Well I’m sort of repeating myself really. Obviously it’s raising the profile and importance of green space, and all the benefits that such green space bring to everybody.
N: Great. I found it really interesting how the National Park City is kind of looking to create this shared identity for Londoners, around like the green city, and the National Park City. Does that resonate with you as something you think is achievable?
Dave: I don’t see why it shouldn’t be achievable. Shared identity? I mean people have a number of identities across London, depending on where they live, what they do, the class they’re part of, their ethnicity, gender, there’s all sorts of sub-culture they’re a part of. And things that enable people to identify with each other across the whole range of distinct identities are very important. And I think that parks are probably unique, public green spaces are unique, in attracting all ages, all interests, all sections of communities at different times and therefore it helps to build social cohesion and a common identity if you like as people either living in an area of people with common interests. But we could all point to the importance of a local public green space.
N: Okay that’s great. And just sort of a final question. Obviously as a network, as the chair you work a lot on the policy, on the kind of London wide scale. Do you think that kind of amenity groups and things, do you think that people see the benefits of parks as serving their local community erm or as providing benefits to the city as a whole?
Dave: I think that it’s kind of like the closer that something is to where you live, for most people, that’s you know elevated importance. And certainly for green spaces, it’s you know like a local shop, you know it’s essential because of its closeness – and it’s the same with a local green space. People will travel further to a particularly significant green space, but the nearest green space, whatever its character is very important. So I’ve got two young children and they just love going to the local park. They’re not that bothered about whether some absolutely staggering place like the Olympic Park (or similar that’s had massive investment), but they just love going to the local green space and playing on the swings or whatever. Often when promoting public green space, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just promoting the most significant largest sites, when for most people, what we really need to get to grips with is how to make local green spaces, you know even just green verges and little play areas close to homes, as attractive and beneficial as possible. And if the London National Park City helps to elevate their importance then it will have done a really good job. “

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