Can we rekindle a people’s vision for our parks?

Thoughts on – Plans to build a school and Music Therapy Centre, in Ruchill park.

First off, I doubt whether it was an idea dreamt up by the school or the care centre to situate their institutions in a public park. It is more likely that these ideas are being pushed by Glasgow Parks Department and Glasgow City Council, as part of the ongoing plan to privatise public green space. If this is not the case how come most of what they are doing in our parks fits a business strategy rather than a public one? The fact that council park developments are moving towards more publicly acceptable installations such as schools, only exacerbates the problem of public understanding of the longer term impact of losing green space to concrete.

Other things we need to remember before we start. One is the flagrant disregard for public opinion and the arrogance of Glasgow city council pushing these deals mentioned below through. The city council work for us. We employ and entrust them to conduct proper stewardship of public assets. The scale of abuse of these powers of control, particularly over the last 6 years is incredible. If certain councillors were punters from Govan, they would be in jail for some of the things they are up to. Why does it seem as if they get our blessing for robbing folk in Govan, Maryhill, Ruchill, Dalmarnock and every other place of their Common Good land, schools, community centre’s, services and proper jobs, to casualisation? Local people are finding out about many these building plans, not from the community council or any kind of proper consultation, but from the newspapers. Glasgow City Council consult newspapers more than they do the public. They do not need to find consensus in the public anymore, they just have to make the biggest noise so no one else can be heard – till it is to late. Building in our parks is all about money and land – not about what is being built at present, that can be a school or a anything else – this is not the point.

The important point is – Once the dangerous animal “developer” is let loose in our park lands it will be very difficult, if not impossible to get it back out again. Schools in the park will be the least of our problems. When prime public land is up for grabs, the same developer feeding frenzy as is happening all over the city will be allowed in the doors of our parks.

We need to keep this in mind when we ask. Is a Glasgow park the best place to put buildings of any description – particularly in those parks that are surrounded by an abundance of derelict land begging for community development? Should it not be the duty of Glasgow City Council to protect the most valuable and treasured land in our city (parks) for the benefit of “all” of of our citizens? I think most councillors who take the time to look are aware of the long term impact of the councils “commercial business project” for our parks. For whatever reasons good or bad apart from a few committed councillors, there is hardly a murmur of dissent coming from the city chambers about the fate of our parks or our cities Common Good, or Common heritage – as these public assets move speedily towards the control of business interests.

But. We shouldn’t waste much time trying to convince the master planners at GCC that putting specialised buildings, or any other kind, in our parks doesn’t serve the best public interest? – They already know this. It is the public who are kept in the dark and left out of the debate for very good reasons, and it is the public who need to be informed. (See: The New Bohemia)

No truer words from Bridget
After an eloquent speech on the merits of transferring the control of Glasgow’s Common Good into the hands of “Culture and Sport”. I questioned Bridget MacConnell on squaring this idea with plans to build nightclubs, private business projects and such like in our parks. She answered my question with a very useful and truthful piece of information. She said “I cant do anything about that – that’s up to activists. My job is to balance the budget.” (A line used to screen a multitude of sins)

“That’s up to activists”. Activist, meaning those who exercise their democratic rights – that’s you and me and everybody else – ordinary people with an opinion on how they want to live their lives. We activists will still be here long after council chiefs and their budget balancing ideas come and go. We need to be in it for our communities long term, because we can’t up and run when our budgets don’t balance – we need to live with the consequences of these decisions – it is therefore important that we become part of the decision making process and become aware of the long term impact of these building proposals being planned for our “public” space.

Therapy is an apt topic when we speak about parks. The therapy centre proposed for Ruchill park has a reputation of doing great work – “Through music, the charity transforms the lives of children and adults affected by illness, disability, trauma or isolation.” – and they should be commended for this.

But the same could be said about our famous Glasgow parks. The park is one of the original therapy centre’s where young and old can escape from the trauma of city life. The park offers an autonomous space where we are allowed to let our imagination run free, unimpeded by noisy city life, the car and the isolation created by the over dependence of television. If we are concerned with the holistic health of our communities we need to work in partnership with each other in order to create as diverse a choice and use of the facilities available to us. Our ideas also need to be guided by a long term vision in order that we do not make mistakes that are difficult or near impossible to rectify.

We would be hard pushed to find folk who would think it a bad idea to build a Ruchill Music Therapy, Play & Respite Care centre. But that is not really the issue. The issue here is: In a public park? To understand why this is not a good idea it has to be put in the context of Glasgow City Councils vision for our parks – which given the evidence over the last five years is to privatise them, or at least make them available for business enterprises. This is not controversial – it is policy. A few recent ideas that were council driven. Go Ape – The idea to build an £45 a time adventure playground in Pollock Park. Stopped (Common Good). Another idea to build a nightclub in the Botanic Gardens was stopped (Common Good). And another a while back to turn football pitches in Victoria park into 600 + car-park spaces – Described by the council as a “win win situation”? This was also stopped by community pressure (Zero tolerance. No cars in our park). Privately run cafe’s have been given leases to use what were once park toilets to trade from (Kelvingrove) and there are many more of these kind of ideas in the pipe-line. Those at the city chambers pushing for the commercialisation of our parks know fine well, it is more difficult to fight a campaign against a school than it is a nightclub in the park. These installations are being used to pave (literally) the way for more – less benign commercial business projects for our parks.

The therapeutic service our parks present to us, is a “preventive therapy” – that is a treatment that is intended to prevent a medical condition from occurring in the first place. In their history, Glasgow parks have created respite from the ravages of the industrial revolution and today serve the same purpose in creating respite from the ravages of motorways, traffic, gentrification of local green space, consumerism, school, (kids may think) and many other ills bought on by business encroaching on every part of our public space.

Our government tell us – In the coming years we will be expected to pay even more taxes and suffer loss of employment, loss of public assets, cuts to services for the folly’s and rash business deals – seemingly carried out for the public benefit? Glasgow parks are the jewel in our crown and their autonomous nature, sense of ownership and pride represent a social, cultural, mental and physical safety net, we lose at our peril – especially in these days where we seem to be losing so much of the public estate and our resources to finance bad debt that was not of the public’s making.

But you were consulted?
Around 6 years ago. “seemingly” the public were consulted about the idea of business being allowed to profit of of our parks. Only the obsessed would have found the consultation document, so don’t blame yourself if you didn’t see it. Do you ever remember being consulted in such a major shift of council policy, concerning our parks and our Common Good? Here is a snippet of what is happening – There is a link below to the consultation document.

The results of the consultation were interpreted like this:
“The council is expected to approve a master plan for the city’s 74 parks which will allow private companies to provide a range of facilities. ” Scotsman Sept 21, 2004.

And from the same article: “Aileen Colleran, the convener of the parks and facilities committee, gave an assurance that none of the city’s parks and open spaces would be sold off to private companies such as housing developers.”

But an example of what is happened is this:
In 2010. “Richmond Park (a city park) is being transformed as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme for neighbouring Oatlands. A total of 1318 homes will be built as part of a £160m plan for the formerly rundown community.” And also. “A high quality family pub/restaurant is proposed overlooking the model boat pond in Richmond Park.” Houses, pubs in the park? So in six years following from the above assurances, about a fifth of Richmond park has had houses built on it. The plans for licensed premises overlooking the boat pond – will be built on the spot the boat club takes up. The club, a well loved feature of the “boat pond” will be moved some place else?

In protecting our parks we need to separate the business from the Common Good and Common heritage – and the ideas from the emotional blackmail. We need to think of schools, therapy centre’s, in our parks the same way we would think of private run bars, restaurants, 600 place car-parks, night-clubs, £45 a time adventure playgrounds, renting park-space for exclusive £50 a head new year parties next to residential housing (Kelvingrove stopped) and all the other exclusive and strange ideas Glasgow City Council have come up with for our city parks. They are purely to make money. (Glasgow parks department employ business managers for this very purpose.) To do what? – Spend profits on social inclusion? To put back into the Common Good fund? I don’t think so. One thing that is never talked about are profits and where they end up.

Why do we need to keep this in mind before we let the Glasgow City Council do what they want in our parks?

Our parks actually work – and for hundreds of years. We do not need to make them dysfunctional by placing in them things that go against the very nature of a park and what they were put here for in the first place and who they should serve – namely the poorest in the city.

It is conveniently forgotten that Glasgow has some of the worst areas of poverty in the whole of Europe. Our parks become important places to the poorest in our communities, which makes it important that they do not become the new cafe scene that most of us can’t afford, nor places of exclusive interests, formal education included.
“The World Health Organization published a report in 2008, revealing that the difference in life expectancy between a child born in the wealthier south or west of Glasgow, and one born in a poor area in the east, was 28 years. The report found that some areas of Glasgow had the lowest life expectancy in Europe: 54 for men and 75 for women. Its recommendations included universal access to clean water, food, housing, healthcare and energy; also improvements in education, lifestyle, town planning and working conditions. It should have caused a storm, but it hardly caused a ripple.” See: Glasgow’s Two Nations

Our parks have become a battleground between business interests and the Common Good (two nations). Our present administration, given the evidence, seems to be on the side of business.

It is a lot easier to muster sympathy in stopping the idea of a night club in a park. (not easy just easier) but touchy feely ideas like schools, therapy centre’s, cafe’s placed in our parks are more difficult ideas to attack – because we like them.

If building schools in parks are for the benefit of our children and the councils theme of closing and selling local schools then relocating them in the local park is allowed to continue. What happens next? Can all of our kids have a school in the park?

Is it not strange – choosing a park to build an industrial building in an area (Ruchill) with the biggest amount of derelict land in the whole of Glasgow? Would it not be a better ideas to redevelop some of the derelict land and create even more green space around a new school that would fit seemingly one of the city councils remits of creating green space – rather than taking it away? Or is the school in the park to attract clients for the luxury flats that the derelict land and the old hospital will be used for?

What happens when the school in the park needs to expand when the surrounding area is developed? Who decides how big a school should be in a park, how many cars should it accommodate – What about the impact of cars and pollution on the park? Has this been even thought of? Why is there no public money available to pay independent public representation of the impact these schemes will have on the community infrastructure. Why do the developers have all the lawyers and those representing the public’s opinion non?

There appears to be no long term vision of what should happen in our parks. (apart from business exploitation.) We are constantly dealing with council representatives who work on four year time scale projects for the duration that they are in power. Then the public need to restart the battle with “the next intake” who will most probably, sell and allocate more space to more developers before leaving office.

Does anyone remember voting for a councillor on the remit that the Common Good would be removed from council control? Or that money from sales and rent from Common Good assets should go into council coffers, not back into the Common Good fund for the benefit of the public?
We need to ask. Why do Glasgow city council persistently deny us of a proper assessment of our common good? (which parks are a big part) Why are people kept in ignorance that these assets even exist. Could it be because – Common Good knowledge, stopped Go Ape, in Pollok Park? and the planned nightclub in the Botanic gardens? – and the same knowledge is helping communities around the country to reclaim their Common Good assets?

The Common Good fund is 500 years old in Scotland – has assets worth millions of pounds There is laws to protect the funds assets, to ensure that they are used for the benefit of the public – Why do those who wish to lead us, not want to talk about the Common Good. Is it because the Common Good is democratic and has structures in place that could help folk decide what they want in their communities and parks, not just what the council decide we need?

So who is deciding? The same council led ideas that tried to put 600 + car park spaces onto Victoria Park football pitches and pushed for a nightclub in the Botanic Gardens, is part of the same council led idea vying to put schools in our parks (Administrations change but the same ideas remain). Putting schools in parks is not for the benefit of children being educated in a nice environment. (although it may be for some children for a period of time.) Will we have “private schools” in the park to? Will fences be erected around park facilities for the use of schools? (Kelvingrove) It is also worth remembering the running of schools is moving closer towards a privatised model – just like our parks. But where does the public stop and the private begin? This is not being made clear in any of these parks “business initiatives” nor in any vision for our schools for that matter – we only hear after the decisions are made.

As far as our parks go, schools in parks are technically just another lever to open more avenues of business interests taking control of parkland. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Some of these projects are deemed justifiable because certain parks are “not used enough”?

Parks even for those who do not go into them often – offer peace of mind by the fact that they are there. Looking at a park and admiring the vistas even for the elderly who can’t run around in them brings piece of mind. As soon as concrete is formed in a park it is inevitably followed by tarmac and then by the car. Once the “car” takes hold in our green space it will not be controlled it will make the use of legs redundant and proliferate like hog weed on the Kelvin. A park is about the only open air car-less place our kids can run free. It is the countryside in the city and the retinal experience (looking) of the park is as important as any other, especially for those without the ability to make physical use of them.

I do not have any ax to grind concerning schools or therapy centre’s but only to make it clear that these projects in our parks are detrimental to the wider value the park has to offer in the future. A future when the city is jammed with traffic housing and shopping complexes and none of us can get to the countryside due to the gridlock conditions expansive motorways bring. (the math has already been done) We can’t wait till then to realise the only thing we should put in our parks is people. The folk who are pushing for the commercialisation of our parks are doing it undemocratically, have no interest in the long term vision of the parks for ordinary peoples use – but only in the duration of their short term administration period and sharp denial of our Common Good and Common heritage. Our parks are much to valuable for this and their value will increase incrementally with the spiraling mental health problems we are seeing in our communities as their assets are squeezed out of existence along with their jobs to pay off debt that is the fault of banks and business. Our attitude to development (buildings) in our parks should be zero tolerance for the benefit of the Common Good and Common heritage. But remember Bridget’s words, their job is to balance the budget – our job and ours only, is to make sure it balances in our favour not the rich business partners out to make big bucks selling our parks back to us – the same way they did our housing.

Maybe a useful thing could be to liberate a part of the abundance of derelict land in Ruchill to open a centre dealing with “political behavioural therapy” which could help to teach folk in the so called “depressed” areas about the real socioeconomic origins – of their despair. Or maybe we don’t need to build anything – just expand the use of the present community centre’s and schools that the council are over keen to close down in their rush to sell off buildings, land and local schools, and at the same time turning our dear green space into developing lots for gentrifiers – to the detriment of the car-less and those who need our parks most – ordinary people.

Rekindling the peoples vision for our parks?
What we need in the city is a coalition or association of groups representing Glasgow parks – to discuss the history of how the parks got here – what is there function – and how they can be best run to suit the public, as they are “public parks”. We also need a consultation process that is “visible” to the public and in a language that cannot be construed to mean the opposite of what it says and a proper accountability process that is also open and visible to the public. If we do not demand these kind of things – a vision will be created for us and it will be one where our wallet will need to be in our pocket any time we venture towards the park with the kids.

To conclude
We employ councillors to manage our parks for the health and well being of the population of the city not to turn them into real-estate. The so called consultations, when the exist, for park “developments” consist of bullies from the council and parks department telling the public what they are getting – in the pretense of listening to what the public want. The utter disregard for sensible discussion for what communities need for their local parks and the lack of imagination in the thoughtless generic structures that seem to be the councils answer for every problem encountered. A complaint about needing a few wardens in the park and some dog-dirt control is met by another (council) ‘opportunity” to – Build, ring fence, CCTV, contract out, cut down, take away, redevelop. All to keep a variety of out-sourced – partners, consultants, architects, builders and service suppliers in profit. Sure it creates jobs, but undermines park employees jobs and takes away labour and money that would be better suited and more needed in other parts of the community – like the above mentioned brown field sites?

As for councillors who do not do what they are told to do, or say they will do, we can get rid of them – we have done it many times in the past (without a pay-off) and it is easy enough to do again. Just keep remembering Bridget’s words – It is up to us.

City parks to invite private companies to join in shake-up

Regeneration of Oatlands

3 Poverty, Philanthropy and Charity – Glasgow’s Two Nations

Common Good Awareness Project

Common Good Watch

Nordoff Robbins – Ruchill Music Therapy Centre

The New Bohemia