Why Parks for Life?
Urban parks, green spaces and places have been where people from all societies and cultures have congregated to celebrate, mourn, reflect, connect and enjoy the achievements of their cultures and communities – Urban Parks for generations have enriched our lives.
Urban Parks educate, protect, are venues for recreation, are means by which we connect with nature and connect with our neighbours and communities in modern and urbanised society. They replenish our air and water; they protect or provide safe havens in cities from natural events. They define what a civil society is, they define what a liveable city is.
We who are the peak park bodies who represent the key park management agencies that are custodians of hundreds of thousands of hectares of urban parkland for tens of millions of people have come together to build and nurture a network of committed individuals to progress and improve the management of and relevance of urban parks. The emergence of the key park industry bodies in the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand during the past decade reflects the growing professionalism and commitment of the management agencies and their leaders to the parks agenda. The peak bodies of City Parks Alliance and National Recreation and Park Association (USA), GreenSpace (UK) and Parks Forum and New Zealand Recreation Association (Australia & New Zealand) represent all the leading management agencies in their regions. And the International Federation of Park and Recreation Administration, also a founding member of Parks for Life, comprises a network of respected individual parks leaders from dozens of countries.
Urban Parks are a significant component of the broader park management construct. The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a body that employs over one thousand staff and has global responsibility for many conservation programs including the World Commission for Protected Areas (WCPA). The WCPA brings together management agencies and individuals who are responsible for the management of protected areas (National Parks). No body exists with similar form and reach that can truly represent and reflect the interests of urban park managers. However many of the world’s leading park management agencies have a dual responsibility for managing protected areas and urban spaces, such as Parks Victoria (Australia) and Parks Canada (Canada).
At an international level a range of bodies exist such as International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (IFPRA), World Leisure and extensive number of local/municipal government groups, none of which have the reach, breadth or focus similar to the IUCN. The World Leisure Organisation is well established to represent broader leisure interests, the numerous local government associations provide for integrate social and economic services, with only IFPRA having a focus on urban parks. However IFPRA doesn’t have the comparative organisational infrastructure or international or national influence when compared to the urban parks sister international peak body – the IUCN.
In North America, the UK and Australasia there are strong parallels in the way that urban parks have become viewed by politicians and decision-makers, however:
- The rationale for establishing public parks has become lost over time
- The perceived values and benefits of parks have also changed with changes in societal values
- Too often parks are seen as ‘nice to have’ but not essential – non-competitive (when compared to education, health and social welfare) when funding allocations are considered or are only appreciated and receive a community response or support when under threat
- Yet parks contribute to personal and community wellbeing in ways that are not often ‘front of mind’
- Parks enable community connectedness, build social capacity, provide tourism and other economic benefits, contribute to conservation agendas, and offer educational opportunities
Over recent years a realisation of the health and wellbeing values of parks has been re-discovered in those countries and incorporated into promotional campaigns (supported by credible health research) directed at current issues such as obesity and mental health. These arise from the many common issues such as declining levels of physical activity, increasingly urbanised societies, declining social connectedness, high levels of family breakdown and aging populations, for which parks can provide counteracting benefits