Transformative power of parks and horticulture

Worshipful Company of Gardeners event aims to attract horticulture investment.

Expo Floriade Venlo: international horticultural exhibitions seen as a global instrument for urban development
Expo Floriade Venlo: international horticultural exhibitions seen as a global instrument for urban development

The case for the transformative power of parks and horticulture was made at the first Worshipful Company of Gardeners lecture, held at the Royal Geographical Society last week.

The City of London livery company brought together The Royal Parks chairman Loyd Grossman, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) associate director of planning and external policy relations Jeffrey Barg, International Association of Horticultural Producers senior consultant and exhibition organiser Sven Stimac and Daniel Raven-Ellison of the Greater London national park city movement. They spoke on the theme of multiple partnerships in green space management with an eye on convincing guests of other city livery companies to invest in horticulture.

Barg said the PHS's mission to "connect people to horticulture and create beautiful, healthy, sustainable communities" has transformed the city of Philadelphia into a 21st century version of the "green country town" envisioned by founder Willy Penn. It has 21,000 member households worldwide, works with thousands of volunteers and has a budget of $27.8m for 2017. It runs the world's biggest flower show, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, which brings in income.

Other revenue sources are foundations, corporate sponsors, Government agencies and individuals. The PHS also charges for some landscaping and gardening services. The city lost a quarter of its population between 1950 and 2000, leaving it peppered with patches of vacant land prone to fly tipping and antisocial behaviour. The PHS has responded by greening these spaces, either by landscaping them or by creating pop-up gardens each summer.

"We empower people to green local communities. We're all about creating gardens and inspiring individuals to create gardens in their communities," said Barg.

Research has found that homes near a greened vacant lot increased in value by $41,000, gun assaults were "significantly reduced" across the city, people in north Philadelphia had "significantly reduced" levels of stress and people in the west of the city took more exercise when their neighbourhood was greener.

The PHS also sees horticulture as playing a key role in addressing crucial social priorities. It trains prisoners in landscaping and horticulture skills and helps them to find jobs when they are released. Offenders who attend the PHS programme have a 34 per cent re-offending rate, while the Philadelphia city average is 67 per cent.

The first PHS pop-up garden in 2011 was a community facility with raised beds tended by volunteers. "We added food and beer and 35,000 people visited. It turns out that people really like eating food and drinking beer in an outdoor space. These have now become an iconic part of Philadelphia in the summer," said Barg. The idea has been copied by private operators across the city. "It's created a revolution in Philadelphia. People saw what we did and they said we've got to get a piece of that."

Horticultural exhibitions

Stimac, who also managed the Expo Floriade Venlo in the Netherlands in 2012, laid out the business case for international horticultural expos. These have been a driver for the creation of new communities in the Netherlands and Germany for the past 15 years and are now having the same effect in China. The 2019 Beijing expo will stretch over 160ha and expects to draw 20 million visitors in six months before becoming a new city district.

The expo held in Tangshan last year converted 540ha of former coal mining land and drew 5.2 million visitors. The city planted 190,000sq m of roadside greenery and built a theatre, conference centre, roads and highways, a railway station, botanic garden, zoo and sports park, forming the basis of a new community after the expo. In Heilbronn in 2019, a 40ha industrial area will be used for a city exhibition with a EUR144m investment including EUR45m coming from the exhibition and a EUR56m state subsidy.

"International horticultural exhibitions are a global instrument for urban development," said Stimac. "They create greener and more liveable cities, they make it possible to realise long-term planned projects and are a platform for knowledge exchange and celebrating international relations."

Despite it not being possible to legally designate London a national park, guerrilla geographer and explorer Ellison wants it to be named first the national park city and has the backing of London mayor Sadiq Khan as well as elected councillors in 227 wards. Once 436 out of 645 councillors sign up, the capital can call itself a national park city and this would affect behavioural change as well as being a powerful marketing tool for London in a post-Brexit world, Ellison explained.

"Anyone in London can plant a tree, anyone can pull up a paving slab. This is crowdfunded conservation." He said it is important to realise that 47 per cent of London is green, 38 per cent is open space and 2.5 per cent is blue, and there are 14,000 species of wildlife in the capital. "Learning is far more powerful. If every child did the national park city curriculum then they are more likely to go on and make good policies in the future."

Grossman said The Royal Parks are "under assault all the time" and are "extraordinarily rare and extraordinarily precious, and that has to be protected". The Royal Parks' charitable status will liberate them from restrictive Government accountancy rules, allow long-term planning and build up cash reserves, he added, while The Royal Parks will look to the public and philanthropists for more support in the future.

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