Green Space Management – A park life strategy for planning services

19 July 2011

Parks users have a number of requirements and invariably their needs are determined by the time of day they choose to use the park, the time they have available to them for that visit and the people with whom they wish to involve themselves on each visit.

Identifying time zones

For example, at the beginning of the day you will undoubtedly have an early morning rush of dog walkers, commuters who use the park as a shortcut to work and perhaps joggers. This is the first “time zone”.

This will be followed by a more leisurely group of users. This group will probably linger and spend more time in your parks. Next two further groups of users – the afternoon crowd and the evening crowd.

In your own parks there may be other time zones and therefore user groups, all with distinctly different needs. Crucially, providing services for these groups and getting your message across that your parks are part of the community’s healthy lifestyle must be moderated to fit the time the user has to absorb your message and their attention span.

At the same time, your maintenance activities and regime must be timed so that they do not interfere with the use of the park. Too often, users are confronted by mass tractor mowing and made to feel like intruders. The application of a park life strategy will reduce, if not eliminate, this untenable treatment of your customers. 

Many parks services are beginning to develop poster and notice board campaigns to promote the benefits that their service provides. However, a one-size-fits-all message and style will fail the test of the park life strategy.

The key principles of the park life strategy are:

– Identify the time zone of the user for whom you wish to provide services or want to influence.

– Identify the uses that are associated with each time zone group.

– Determine how you can best meet their expectations and maintain the environment around them with minimal disruption to their usage.

– Finally, identify what messages you can reasonably expect to get them to absorb on each visit.

Long-term planning

It is a much easier task to prepare a service for a user whose requirements you know about than for some wide-ranging generalist notion of a user that few people actually match.

This approach will also inform your maintenance activity because you can then ensure that activities such as grass cutting do not clash with your users’ desire to use the park. 

It is clear that your park life should not be the preserve of the daylight hours or just for the members of the community who are able or willing to visit between dawn and dusk. By taking the time zone approach and planning for usage across a longer period of time you begin to increase the number of new users who may visit the park.

Key park life activities include:

– Astronomy, because clear skies and opportunities for uninterrupted observation are readily found in the middle of reasonably-sized parks.

– Night walks and talks for insomniacs and shift workers.

– Theatre group performances that treat nature as the scene changer.

– Solace – making the park a place for contemplation and reflection.

– Nature study of nocturnal creatures.

Many of our parks are underused for much of the time. By identifying the gaps in usage you can gain access to a new group of potential supporters and calculate the value added across a wider range of activities and people, thereby increasing the net worth of the investment that the community makes to your service.

Key outputs from a park life strategy are:

– Better coordination of staff with users of the park – and greater safety for users as a consequence.

– A reduction in major maintenance services interfering with users’ enjoyment of the park.

– A decrease in the damage caused by too many people using the park at one time.

– An increase in the enjoyment of the park user by spreading use over a longer period of time.

Look again at your park life and ask yourself: “How will I defend the service when the next round of budget reductions is sought?” The answer is to position your service at the heart of the community’s wants. And this involves developing a park life strategy.

Extract from Horticulture Week by Sid Sullivan