Barber on ... lessons for parks from abroad

My ideas about a better way of doing things first sprang up on an exchange trip to Hannover in Germany.

The twinning of Hannover and Bristol was the first post-war partnership and I still find the humanitarianism breathtaking. The first delegations in 1946 were looking at the piles of rubble each had made of the other's city.

There was a very strong feeling on both sides that nothing like it should ever happen again. One way was to impose a system of local governance that made it impossible for would-be dictators to gain the upper hand. Hannover had a system imposed on it by the occupying forces, with checks that ensured the will of the majority always won out. It is so good that it makes me half wish the army would do something similar here.

Before I went to Lyon - France's second city - I was strongly in favour of unitary authorities. But when I found Lyon had seven tiers, including a national Government, I realised it could work so much better. Lyon City Council was never weighed down by utilitarian services like street cleaning. Its functions were education and culture.

This was seen as complete in itself, containing just about everything that the people of Lyon needed or wanted, including all their public parks. The Parc de la Tete d'Or has a free zoo as well as a botanic garden, both seen as public realm. Altogether, around 600 citizens serve on Lyon's councils. It all feels much more participatory than in the UK and civic pride is everywhere.

In the USA, citizens' activists are very active indeed. I talked to people involved in restoring parks and green spaces in Boston. The city's Greenspace Alliance was a strong force for good and pressed its case hard with the elected mayor.

City mayors in America have considerable power and Boston's Ray Flynn had caught the activists' mood, not least by bringing his office onto Boston Common. Now the Boston Greenspace Alliance is a partner in delivering park programmes and has reduced its lobbying. After all, it won, didn't it?

- Alan Barber is a parks consultant.


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