Does the concept of Park Run require us to change the way we design and regenerate parks, open spaces and green routes? Articles in the media highlighted a conflict between having free healthy activities for all verses the Councils pressures to provide quality open spaces. Should councils charge for Park Run events and charge for parking in otherwise free locations? For those who are not familiar with Park Run, it’s a 5k race for anyone to join in where you are timed and only compete against yourself unless you decide otherwise. It’s about personal challenges and goals. It appeals to the young and old alike and canines are welcome. You just need a pair of trainers, a few extra layers in the winter and the desire to give it a go. It’s sociable, its free, its outdoors, its healthy, it’s a regular event and it seems you are never far away from a venue. So what’s the issue? Park Runs in some areas may have become a victim of their own success and the sustainability of some events is unclear. Whist you are running against yourself you may be joined by hundreds of people not including the supporters and volunteers. What started as one race with 13 people back in 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington is now a worldwide event which has been known to encourage even the most dedicated of couch potatoes to get moving. It must be the most successful uptake of people exercising since Zumba classes or when the country had Olympic fever. Park Run is an amazing concept and well attended events often occupy to capacity some parks for a few hours on a Saturday and for some locations Sunday mornings for junior runs. I’m sure most will agree that there should be access to ‘tax free’ exercise for all, So why have same councils considered charging for these events to be run which will no doubt make it less attractive option for many? The unprecedented increase in the use of these spaces is not sustainable in some locations. Events and have taken over some parks damaging footpaths not built to sustain the wear of hundreds of people and shorting the intended life span of the path, grass areas churned up as paths are too narrow to accommodate the numbers people at any one time, Overflowing car parks with cars parked on grass verges and under trees which is essentially causing thousands of pounds of damage. Some of the venues just can’t cope and the damage the grounds can be extensive and at some point may no longer be suitable for the runs. Repairs will be inevitably be required so arguably isn’t an event free of financial obligations, not really. Some local authorities are already incorporating parking charges at event locations that where once free. If the councils don’t charge who pays for it….the NHS, Sponsors and private donations. Budgets for maintaining parks and open spaces are at an all-time low as they are not classes as statutory service such as refuse collection that the council have to provide. Yet in contrast there is an increased need to get people outdoors, to be sociable, to get active to reconnect with nature. The health benefits of access to quality spaces is well documented and the message seems be getting through to people. The problem appears to be the funding.
- Are councils right to consider collecting revenue to supplement diminished maintenance budgets and to pay for the repairs caused by the events?
- Should Councils accept the increase in use of these parks?
- Should parks and open spaces be a Statuary responsibility due to the health benefits these spaces can offer everyone?
- As designers how can we and should we try and accommodate the trends, the changes in society and the way we utilise these spaces? Can we make predictions about the future uses of open spaces that set them up to be sustainable?
- Do we still use these spaces in the same as we did in the 1900’s and if we do is that because it’s all the designs allow for? Is it time to break with the traditional concept of parks?