The decline in parks, playgrounds and green spaces appears to be going into freefall. Many of you will have seen this article in the Daily Mail last weekend highlighting the plight of thousands of parks falling into disrepair or being sold off by councils.
We fully support the Mail’s campaign calling on the government to halt the decline before it’s too late. Our very own Nowhere To Play campaign highlighted the alarming decline in playgrounds across England, a situation we are currently re-examining, though it seems highly likely that our research will show yet again the continued neglect of parks and playgrounds.
The issue is often presented as a case of government and local authorities having to make some very stark choices in difficult times. The argument goes that cash-strapped councils, faced with growing homelessness for instance, have no other option other than to re-direct their limited funds and resources into new housing.
But this is only half the truth – a simplified reading of a more complex situation. First, there is growing evidence that authorities aren’t making black and white choices like this at all, choosing instead to invest their shrinking funds into projects that many certainly wouldn’t consider a priority.
Second, as regards the (undeniable) need for new homes to alleviate the housing crisis, authorities are failing to exploit other, more imaginative solutions. Thousands of houses across the UK lie empty, for example, many uninhabited for years and falling into disrepair. Calls for councils to take steps to bring these properties back into use go largely ignored, with LAs preferring to sell off our valuable parklands and playgrounds and build new homes on them.
And this willingness on the part of local government – to sacrifice these spaces, probably forever – is based on the false belief that parks are somehow a luxury we can’t afford. All recent research points to the exact opposite – that parks, playgrounds and green spaces are absolutely vital to our physical and mental health and are pivotal in creating and uniting communities.
To casually rid society of playgrounds and parks is misguided, to say the least, as we attempt to tackle the obesity crisis, growing mental ill-health and fragmented communities. Our green spaces, free to all, represent one of the best and most simple opportunities we have to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
At the moment we’re working on some research which we hope will further strengthen the call to halt the decline. Unless we succeed in this, I’m in no doubt that we will all end up paying far more than we bargained for, and for generations to come.