Thanks William Goldring - Public Health Dorset

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Thanks William Goldring

Thanks William Goldring

I owe William Goldring. In 1896 Dorchester Borough Council, concerned with providing for ‘the health and recreation’ of an expanding population, commissioned him to design the town’s Borough Gardens. It lies in the heart of Dorchester, half way between where I live and work. So, because of their foresight and William Goldring’s efforts, I can walk through greenery instead of dodging cars on the way to work. I can sit on a bench during my lunch breaks and avoid the scourge of emails, and (thankfully!) my children have somewhere to burn off energy at the weekend. Parks helped keep people healthy in 1896 and, while how we use them has changed, they’re still doing the job in 2018. William Goldring clearly had a talent for future proofing.

As more and more of us live in towns and cities, access to greenspaces like my local park is more important than ever. They give us space to relax and be active, to combat climate change, help manage flooding and air pollution. And, as we see 47% of urban species declining in number, they provide a precious space for wildlife on our doorstep.

Despite all the positive benefits of accessible greenspaces they face a familiar challenge. Already, according to APSE (Association for Public Sector Excellence) the people responsible for maintaining the UK’s 27,000 public parks face shrinking budgets and expect to see that continue. And 95% of those surveyed by APSE said they thought reduction in funding for greenspace would impact on the health of the people who use them.

So how will we find space (and money) for green and natural spaces in the increasingly crowded towns and cities of the future?
The answer is that we can’t afford not to. Cities where we can enjoy greenspace on our doorstep will be healthier and more prosperous. Why? Well for one thing they’ll avoid the after-work Friday night dash for the countryside that blights our roads today. More people spending time in the city enjoying parks and gardens means more spending with local businesses, fewer cars on the roads and less air pollution.

Dense urban development doesn’t leave much space to create the Borough Gardens of the 21st Century. So, part of the answer lies in urban greening: encouraging the building of greenspaces into new and existing developments. Already cities like Madrid, dealing with the reality of increasingly hazardous summer temperatures, are greening existing built infrastructure to provide natural cooling in the summer.

And as our cities change, opportunities to create the parks and greenspaces of the future will materialise. Driverless cars will transform how we travel, blowing the ‘norm’ of car ownership out of the water, and leave plenty of tarmacked parking space that could be repurposed as greenspace. Who wants acres of tarmac where there could be parks, gardens, woods and water?

As we know much more about how and why greenspaces can contribute to healthy towns and cities, access to good quality greenspaces is even more important today than it was when the Victorians kicked off the park building boom of the 19th Century. Thankfully for me Borough Gardens is still going strong after 122 years. The question is: how will we build green and natural space into the towns and cities of the future?

This futures blog

This blog is about ‘healthy places’ and what our possible ‘futures’ could be given current trends and momentum within society, the economic and political systems, and the environment. We use the plural ‘futures’ intentionally, because our future is not pre-determined (we hope), we can and should work towards the future we want. This blog aims to generate discussion (maybe even some debate) around ‘Healthy places futures’ in the hope that if we all put our minds to it, a collective vision may emerge, which would inform any strategy we might put in place to get us to our preferred future. We’ll be leaning on heavily on futuring tools found on our Shaping Tomorrow hosted website: phd.shapingtomorrow.com

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