First World Urban Parks Legacy Award – Brian O’Neill Recognition well deserved


Brian O’Neill was recently awarded (posthumamously) the first World Urban Parks Legacy Award in recognition of the impact he had in shaping the modern concepts around parks and especially urban parks.

World Urban Park Announcement:

“Brian O’Neill is the 2017 recipient of the new World Urban Parks Legacy Award recognising past leaders impacting parks and park management. Brian, now deceased, was the former US National Parks Service General Superintendent of the 80,000 acre Golden Gate National Parks in the heart of the San Francisco Bay area. He was instrumental in the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, major projects including making Alcatraz a major tourist destination, but was outstanding in engaging the public, volunteers and funding, and influenced a number of park agencies around the world. The award was conferred at the Greater and Greener International Forum day on 2 August hosted by City Parks Alliance and World Urban Parks.”

The decision to recognise Brian as the first recipient of this award, is not just in recognition of Brian as the individual but his family and twin brother, the people of San Francisco and the staff associated with the Golden Gate National Parks and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.


Never Enough Funds

This is the final article of reflection in this series on “leadership” in park management. The first article reflected on “leadership” as a lifelong responsibility and not just a moment of time.


The Leadership retort – “we can’t do this as we don’t have enough funds”

How often have you heard that reflection about why an organisation can’t make things happen, and even the simplest things. Can you ever imagine a Steve Jobs or a Richard Branson saying that?

In fact, Apple focuses on the product and what we need and the rest becomes history, as they say.

So why do organisations get stuck in that “mode”, can’t move forward because we aren’t funded to do this or that?

Do they convince themselves that what they are doing is already World’s best practice?

Do they convince themselves that all the funds have got to hit the ground?

Do they convince themselves that they are just not allowed to do anything – in Government this would be called policy paralysis?

Early in 2016 I spoke at a UK Park Leaders Roundtable hosted by Hort Week and Parks Alliance (UK) in London – effectively on this issue “Never Enough Funds”.  The topic they asked me to address was “Future funding of Parks – what can the UK learn from others?”

So Is there a silver bullet to “Never Enough Funds”?

Clearly for the last 10 to 15 years the park sector has endlessly pursued the funding conundrum without a sense of closure or clarity. Around the world all park organisations are caught in this nexus.

However, you don’t have to go far to find the evidence of the alternative funding models or even maybe the right solution?

There are so many examples, such as:

  • the original concepts from CABESpace and GreenSpace to the recent NESTA Rethink Parks in the UK.

I can cite (and talk in detail of) a range of alternative (and successful) models from:

•   Golden Gate (USA)

•   Central Park (USA)

•   The Lee Valley model (UK)

•   Lottery Approaches – Netherlands Postcode to your own Heritage Lottery (Netherlands), to

•   Cornwall Park Trust (NZ)

Around the world, we have tried all models from central government through to philanthropic to private models. It is interesting to note that the possible funding choices are linked very strongly to the Governance model chosen and the circumstances or context in their society, that sets “boundaries’ or limits?….but even more interestingly the Leadership that is associated with the so called successful models.

And I can speak at length on all of them and have documented these models in other articles. It is interesting to note that some of these models may have faltered or are faltering and it is mainly due to leadership (and understanding)

The “Never Enough Funds”Conversation

So why around the world do we constantly have this conversation? From the IUCN to World Urban Parks.

In a very Economic rationalist view clearly, no one really wishes to buy the “park” product be it the government, the community or individuals.  When your product is still left on the shelf. What do you do? Is the product out of date?

But we believe, we have a “great” product – and that maybe the case. In fact, we (all around the world) have taken the route to prove this – “The Value of Parks” syndrome – very rational and scientific approaches have been taken to prove the case – even with verification by the Big four Accounting companies. If we have produced the case for the value of parks, and I don’t doubt for a moment that we have, why are we still debating the ‘funding” dilemma:

•    Have we not prosecuted the case well?

•    Why has no one been willing to “buy” the product?

•    Have we not reached into government?

•    Leveraged our relationships?

•    Sought individuals of influence?

We can debate this endlessly the “Value of Parks” – and in fact that’s what the sector has been doing for decades. And I am not about to enter into this debate and am willing to accept it is a job well done in explaining the value of parks and I accept that it is still important.

I know this well, having guided the Australian & NZ Park sector (from Protected Areas to Urban Parks) to develop and prosecute the “Value of Parks” argument, even to the point of crafting a completely different mind set – Healthy Parks Healthy People, but where are they now? And why is the “Never Enough Funds” conversation continuing?

Funding Models what are they really?

The funding “models” we so desperately seek to understand, mimic, co-opt and implement, are they not just a plain rationale analysis of what they are, if it was life would be simple and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,…for example some of these models are as simple as this:

  • the Parks Victoria model in its day is just simply a “rating” based funding model,
  • Golden Gate is simply a philanthropic and partnership model
  • Central Park is just simply a philanthropic model
  • Cornwall Park is just simply an endowment model
  • The lottery model is well just selling dreams

and yes when others try to emulate them they are usually far from successful.

What are we missing in this analysis?

So, if you re-look at some of these models:

•    The Parks Victoria model was successful from the 1970’s to late 2000’s due to the vision of a Premier of Victoria to create the “Garden State” and hence why Melbourne has one of the best and most extensive parks system.

•    Golden Gate – is because of a unique individual in Brian O’Neill

•    Cornwall Park – Sir John Logan Cornwall – a farsighted individual

Clearly leadership is important – but doing the Journey – in many places we keep jumping ship on leadership, therefore understanding the vision/concept.

So is it just a question of leadership? 

And don’t we have that leadership now:

•    what President or Leader of a country has established a legacy park or urban park program?

•    What individual such as a Branson or a Gates have left a ongoing “park” system legacy,

•    What modern legacies are being developed that we should be following.

Different Mindset – A different product

Yes, leadership is important but it is actually what they did and the “trend” that they picked…yes the individual is important and how often do we “push” them aside?

“When did you pick the “Golden Gate” trend? And did you pick it early enough?”

What are the emerging concepts and who are the emerging “thinkers’ – the individuals….. The Skyline, The Urban City National Park…

However it it TIME……..Time to do it differently and in that I will constantly prosecute the case to “Rethink” Parks beyond even NESTA’s program and to back the crazy ones – the ones who think differently. And I am a big fan of programs like “NESTA” that enabling “thinking”.

When Brian O’Neill – the foundation of the Golden Gate model – started his journey back in the 1960’s, the fundamental concept was to connect with people and to empower people…the USA NPS ignored him, initially, as an aberration…they now wish that they had many more…

So, what would you do differently and how would this “fund” parks? So, this brings me back to the conundrum – Park Value(s) = extra funds. We spend a lot of time trying to convince everyone that parks are valuable and thus they should invest in parks.

However, the park product remains on the shelves and no one is buying?

The future or is it signposts from the past

The successful park models “just” went and created the “value” and the money side of the equation sorted itself. The Value that they created was different from the traditional “park” value – think skyline (USA), think the first National Park (over hundred years ago – it wasn’t about funding but belief), think Healthy Parks Healthy People, think Cornwall Park (UK).

It is one of my favourite things about Steve Jobs – was that he wished us to buy something that would change our lives and we did, he didn’t try to sell something to just make money…

Brian O’Neill (of Golden Gate fame) did exactly this “created” value before asking for money..the laneways of Melbourne are another classic…

So, the issue isn’t funding but a vision with leadership that fits the context of a society and a very deep belief. It is also fascinating to note that the successfully models have had a long-term consistence of individuals and not the revolving door seen more regularly in modern society.

So, Rethink, Redesign Parks – there are concepts in the world that are creating new park “values” such as:

  • The Urban National Park City concept – probably the biggest Rethink since the first National Park – visit London
  • Health Centric parks – a slow emerging concept from Japan to address an aging population where parks are the central feature of primary health care.

It is clear we need to:

  • Approach this challenge differently and the future of parks might need even more diverse individuals involved.
  • Understand the models better but more importantly understand who to back locally
  • Support, be passionate and belief in the “concepts” emerging in your own backyard
  • Rewrite the rules – The laneways of Melbourne
  • Pull the park model apart and have no fear – National Park City

The solutions have always been in front of us and in this great world – it only requires being aware and seeing what is possible:

“Instead of being afraid of the challenge and failure, be afraid of avoiding the challenge and doing nothing.”

Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Company

In memory of the great Brian O’Neill 

“nothing was difficult everything was attainable” 

Lost in the Mist – do we lose our focus?


15 years ago I was on a Board for a not for profit that provided environmental education to primary schools. It was a well-known iconic brand, that even the Weekly Times would support with free posters. This was the Gould League.

However slowly through the 80’s and 90’s as the education sector support drifted away and environmental consciousness expanded with the onset of climate change, the organisation started to evolve and broaden out into related “environmental” programs.  Sounds logical?

Part of this was funding (availability) driven both the change in support funding from the education sector and the draw of broader environmental change funding such as sustainability.

So the organisation was constantly battling to maintain its original purpose – primary school environmental education compared to delivering Environmental Sustainability actions such as rainwater conservation.  It wasn’t until a discussion regarding bidding for funding related to just water conservation anywhere and not just at schools, did it become so evident that the organisation might have lost its way.  Heard this before?

Even though the moral high ground of the broader environment agenda would seem right, the organisation a few years after I left the Board (due to this misalignment) went into re-mission – administration.

If and when you get to this point where purpose, brand essences and business logical aren’t aligned, the steps needed to be taken are hard and difficult and in many cases are conflicted as the world has also changed.  When you need to rebuild, you need to understand the fabric – you need to find the fabric.  This might seem simple but rarely is and will take time as it isn’t just an “internal” dilemma – reconnect with the original purpose is also a realignment with the market place and society that is more complex and sophisticated.  And it definitely isn’t just charismatic verbalisation of a concept – it is about making it real.

As stated by Steve Jobs – “focus and simplicity” might be harder than being “Lost in the Mist” and as clearly articulated by the famous management guru – Peter Drucker…


Announcement from World Urban Parks – An opportunity to make a real difference – Join the Advocacy Committees


World Urban Parks was established in 2015 following an extensive strategic review of the directions and performance of Ifpra. WUP was established to ensure that Urban parks, open space and recreation Management and the concept of “urban parks” had a clear global/international voice. The reforms included ensuring that there is strong national and regional alignment between existing bodies and the new international body.

World Urban Parks champions urban park outcomes for city liveability, place-making, conservation and access, and provides strong membership services by connecting, leveraging and supporting diverse memberships across the international urban parks, open space and recreation community and allied sectors.

A key objective for WUP is to have WUP “Voice” heard at an international level. One of our key objectives is:

“Advocacy: A global voice supporting the value and benefits of parks and the industry through science and unity”

The aim is to have quality urban parks accessible to all citizens of the world irrespective of socio-economic circumstances.

Earlier this year the WUP established a new organizational framework that includes four key Portfolio’s – Advocacy, Alliances, Members and Governance. The WUP Board has now endorsed a new Advocacy Policy, Strategy framework and Portfolio Terms of Reference. The Board also approved the establishment of four new Advocacy Portfolio Committees.

These Committees are:

• Healthy Parks Healthy Cities
• Large Urban Parks (existing Committee)
• Children, Play & Nature.
• Older Adults and Parks.
• Green Infrastructure (incorporating Knowledge & Standards (Existing Committee))

I have a range of background information available (please contact me):

• WUP Advocacy Policy
• WUP Advocacy ToR
• WUP Advocacy Strategy
• WUP Parks for All Principle Policy (draft)
• Advocacy Portfolio Committee Generic ToR
You can also access further information regarding WUP from

If you wish to join a committee or wish to review the information or have any suggestions please contact me at

Can you please distribute this message to your networks or anyone who might be interested in joining a World Urban Parks Committee


Office PO Box 11 132,
Manners Street,
Wellington 6142, New Zealand
P 61 (0)417 386 251

The Anniversary – forgot the flowers?


How often do you hear the retort “I forgot the Anniversary”?

So, when should an organisation forget a significant milestone? or should it?  The heritage and history of an organisation and its relationship with its customers and clients are just what they are however they do represent what the organisation is and generally most organisations would be proud of achieving any key milestone.  In fact, in Government where Machinery of Government sees constant and frequent changes, it is rare to find a government organisation that has the name and function after 10 years and very rare after 20 years.

So why wouldn’t an organisation celebrate its 20th Anniversary?  Why won’t it recognise its achievements and outline a sense of the future?  Why won’t it thank its staff – present and former?  Why won’t it say thanks to its customers, supporters and stakeholders?  Why won’t it take time out to reflect, tell the stories and celebrate?

The answer to the above would and should be a YES and as they say in AFL – “proud, passionate and paid up”.

So, if you don’t, does that mean the organisation isn’t “proud, passionate and paid up”?  It probably doesn’t mean the staff aren’t proud of what they have achieved but to let a significant “anniversary” slip reflects a lack of leadership with the right values.

A park agency in the USA has this year celebrated its’ 100thh Year – yes a significant milestone.  I am of course talking about the organisation that represents America’s great idea – the National Park – the USA National Parks Service.  It has celebrated in style, with new Agendas – The Urban Agenda and Healthy Parks Healthy People, free entry to parks, recognition of staff and the communities that make their parks system so great.  It is hard not to praise their leadership and especially Jon Jarvis (National Park Director) and Sally Jewell (Secretary of Interior).

So surely we should say thanks to all the staff, community members and stakeholders who have contributed to Australia’s greatest idea for parks – Healthy Parks Healthy People –


so, thanks to

Parks Victoria

12th December 1996 to 12th December 2016

and enjoy your 20th Anniversary and in the words of William Shakespeare:

“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks…”


for the historical records – the original Parks Victoria logo at the launch


Seeing the Possibilities in staff and an organisation


This is the fourth blog in my reflection of “A Modern Interpretation on Leadership in Parks”

How many times have you heard the refrain “staff are your most valuable asset”.

Apart from the fact I detest the word “assets”, it is automatically treating you as a number rather than as just an honest person.  However, how often do you find an organisation that is struggling and apparently needing to change, do leaders turn to creating Visions and have the need to have change management processes in place.   Where they suddenly need to change the Culture – to become youthful and vibrant.  What happened to that great saying “staff are your most valuable asset”.  Why does this saying get discarded so quickly?

So how does an organisation and maybe their leaders from Directors to the Senior executives find the “heart and minds” of the staff?  Rather than change the culture? It is probably these staff who have enabled an organisation to survive serious crisis’s  (think classic emergency response be it earthquake to fire) and may have been working away at achieving the foundational vision and mission of the organisation.

When an organisation is in crisis, the new leadership should seek out and understand those that day in day out “make” the difference and more importantly may know what to do to make an organisation great again.  It wouldn’t be that they are fearful of the future – they may already see and have grasp what it is and they may have a better sense of what the organisation stands for.  But how do you find these so called “assets” or the lost ones?

There is an organisation that I once worked for who have been going through this – “got to change and become youthful and vibrant”, that has had serious impacts on its ability to achieve present and future social obligations.  This journey for the organisation has meant most things haven’t progressed past the thinking that existed in 2010.  So why, haven’t they progressed or performed at the level expected (and that is not saying that there aren’t possibilities).  Even though they have been going through the youthful and nearly bohemia renewal (with limited success), there are many staff who might hold the key to the future, who might already grasp what needs to be done.

This dilemma of leadership grasping the abilities, ideas and vision of staff was brought home to me over the last 16 years, where I watched a small number of individuals create an idea, that fundamentally changed the concept of parks.  It took those staff 5 to 6 years to have the concept accepted within their own organisation but saw it expand and grow internationally as other leaders saw the possibilities in the concept.  An example of this is the USA National Parks Services where the leaders have embraced a concept from Australia and are now seen as the world leaders.

Leadership is the ability to see what is really possible in your staff.

The concept is Healthy Parks Healthy People.


A Modern Interpretation on Leadership in Parks


In early 2015 I commenced with my first posting of Parks4Life:

Welcome to Parks4Life – Exploring Leadership and Innovation in park management

That blog outlined the key areas that I would focus on.  Since that first post I have explored:

  • Design Legacy – a conceptual concept that isn’t discussed or explored in the park management sector even though it is embedded in the National Park legacy and there will be much debate about what it is.
  • Park Governance Models – There have been many examinations of “park” management arrangements from a range of different perspectives such as governance, leadership, business models, revenue generation and innovation.
  • Key Emerging Innovations – such as London National Urban Park, NESTA Rethink

However, it has taken until now to come back to the “central” theme – leadership.  This blog commences this reflection and forward look at leadership in parks.

In 1995, I completed a Masters Research Thesis (as part of my MBA) on “A Review of Managerialism in Park Organisations in Australia”:

My interest in “Managerialism” and its impact in Public Sector management developed due to the interesting and frank discussions and debates that were a part of the Monash MBA program.  In this regard special recognition is due to the staff of the Public Sector Management Institute at Monash University especially David Corbett, Race Mathews and Professor Bill Russell.

This thesis involved an investigation of managerialism in Park organisations in Australia.  The application of the techniques introduced as part of the managerialist reform of Australian Park and Open Space organisations is examined and an alternative approach that enhances the likelihood of achieving the expected improvements is explored.

The managerial reforms in Australia have changed the public sector dramatically and the traditional public sector administration has all but disappeared.  However, the value of the reforms have been extensively debated and few empirical studies have been undertaken.

This paper explores the hypothesis that a holistic approach to the management of organisations may improve the chances of delivering the anticipated improvements which stakeholders including staff, management, clients and owners, desire.  Holistic management can best be described as a management philosophy founded in the quality movement and not a single management tool.

During the time I was undertaking my Thesis, I was taken by an observation by Peter Drucker (1974) in his book Management stated that:

“Few (government) service institutions today suffer from having too few administrators; most of them are over administrated, and suffer from a surplus of procedures, organisation charts and management techniques.  What now has to be learned is to manage the service institutions for performance.  This may well be the biggest and most important management task of the century” (p.166).

This statement (observation?) is still so very true and seems to haunt the public sector throughout the western world.

It has only been a recent event with an organisation that I have had some previous involvement with, that brought me back to this central theme of leadership and Peter Drucker.

I have recently published seven relative short articles through LinkedIn around a modern interpretation of leadership and the present leadership of integrity, visions and impact.   The public sector in the western world is gripped in a focus on what “leadership” means and what is integrity.  This discussion reminds me of the 1980’s debates on NPM – New Public Management – an era where rigorous debates were encouraged that help reshape the concept of Public Sector Administration into Public Sector Management.  The present discussion might just be a process of regaining the heart and soul of what is “public service” in a broader sense and not just the domain of the government.  It may lead to defining “Public Sector Leadership” – PSL.


The First Series: – Reflections on Leadership

Over time I will expand and explore this concept of leadership in parks and also reflect on great examples from around the world.

I encourage you to participate in this conversation as the challenges to society are immense however the benefits of a modern park system maybe set the foundation for society and a liveable communities and a sustainable world.




“Art on the Wall”

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a very powerful speaker regarding the highly successful approach to philanthropy in the environment sector in Australia.  This organisation is involved in management and co-management of upto 10 million hectares across Australia.  In fact it is probably the largest non-government land and conservation manager.

The keynote speaker  was inspiring and provided significant insights into there success and concepts that should be adopted else where.

However what fascinated me was his reference to a concept called “Art on the Wall”.  The basic concept is centred around an observation made about 10 years ago regarding the success of the Art world in attracting philanthropic funds.

In Victoria (Australia) in 1904, an bequest was established following the death of Alfred Felton – called the Felton Bequest.  This has been the most significant bequest and has been used to purchase over 15,000 works of art.  In 1904, the Government was able to provide the venue but couldn’t provide the Art (on the Wall) and it was an individual that made the difference.

In terms of our natural environment, the venue is the land but the Art are the elements that make Australia’s environment unique – they can range from the threatened species such as the Tasmanian devil, the spotted-tail quoll, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and the grey goshawk on the Oura Oura property in Tasmania to the world’s first Night Parrot sanctuary at Pullen Pullen Reserve in Queensland.

The question apart from who made this observation regarding “Art on the Wall”, has any government who provides the venue (parks) enabled others to provide the “Art”?  Can Government’s replicate the same success with the environment as they did over a hundred years ago with Art?




What defines a National Park City – Part 3



Venice – A National Urban Marine Park?  Photo – Caitlin McCarthy 2016

In my first two blogs What defines a National Park City – Part 2, I started to explore:

  • the idea of the meaning of National Parks and it was interesting to understand that the modern definition of a National Park is different from the original intent,
  • the history and what might be National Urban Parks, and
  • What defines a city space – the context of the “Urban National Park”.

In this blog I will explore what constitutes the attributes that defines a National Park (in a modern sense) and are there other relevant approaches and how this might relate to “National Urban Parks”.

The categorisation process is really a post WWII concept that has emerged through bodies such as UNESCO, UN and IUCN.

The IUCN & Categories

It was in 1969 when the IUCN defined a system that categorised what are protected areas (or areas to protect conservation values).

A Protected Area can be defined as:

Generally, protected areas are understood to be those in which human occupation or at least the exploitation of resources is limited. The definition that has been widely accepted across regional and global frameworks has been provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its categorisation guidelines for protected areas. The definition is as follows:

“A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values


The IUCN have defined 6 Categories of Protected Areas and National Parks Category is defined as:

Category II: National Park

Large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.

With a Primary Objective:

To protect natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes, and to promote education and recreation.


But what are the characteristics that define this classification system:

Other objectives

To manage the area in order to perpetuate, in as natural a state as possible, representative examples of physiographic regions, biotic communities, genetic resources and unimpaired natural processes;

To maintain viable and ecologically functional populations and assemblages of native species at densities sufficient to conserve ecosystem integrity and resilience in the long term;

To contribute in particular to conservation of wide-ranging species, regional ecological processes and migration routes;

To manage visitor use for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes at a level which will not cause significant biological or ecological degradation to the natural resources;

To take into account the needs of indigenous people and local communities, including subsistence resource use, in so far as these will not adversely affect the primary management objective;

To contribute to local economies through tourism.

Distinguishing features

Category II areas are typically large and conserve a functioning “ecosystem”, although to be able to achieve this, the protected area may need to be complemented by sympathetic management in surrounding areas.

The area should contain representative examples of major natural regions, and biological and environmental features or scenery, where native plant and animal species, habitats and geodiversity sites are of special spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational or tourist significance.

The area should be of sufficient size and ecological quality so as to maintain ecological functions and processes that will allow the native species and communities to persist for the long term with minimal management intervention.

The composition, structure and function of biodiversity should be to a great degree in a “natural” state or have the potential to be restored to such a state, with relatively low risk of successful invasions by non-native species.


Does our concept of a National Park need to evolve?

At this stage it is difficult to quantify the parameters that would make a parcel of land unique to be considered as a National Park.

What is a “large tract” of land?

Who determines “representative examples”? or

What is “recreational or tourism significance”?

Interesting questions, so who judges what will be a National Park?

  • The people behind “Americas greatest idea”?
  • The IUCN?
  • The UN?
  • Sovereign nations?
  • The community?

The IUCN has produced a lengthy guide on how to apply the Protected Area Management Categories (143 pages).


So returning to “America’s best idea” – the creation of Yosemite National Park – it certainly is a large tract of land that is in a natural state and represents unique biophysical features and is also of international significance as a tourism destination.  However this designation as a National Park occurred well before a classification system was agreed upon, some 105 years earlier.

In fact most countries designate parks as “National Parks” without any international assessment as would occur with say a “World Heritage” designation.  This doesn’t mean that parks don’t meet the agreed framework but there are many examples where this doesn’t occur and maybe the system should evolve.  The National Urban Parks concept does beg this question – who will judge if a City should be a “National Urban Park”.  However when the discussion does start to occur, it usually starts at the “1969 Protected Area” lens rather than a broader holistic concept.  Is the “1969 Protected Area” lens out of date? And has our thinking evolved?

If you start with the “1969 Protected Area” lens, very few parks in cities could be considered as Category II and that is without defining what being in a city means (see: So what is a City?) .  And no Cities would as the whole landscape (public and private) be considered as a “National (Urban) Park”.  And I stand to be corrected.

Other Concepts for defining a National Urban Park

So are there other concepts that maybe more relevant or should be incorporated to define a “National Urban Park”:


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , adopted by UNESCO in 1972.


The World Heritage system is a heavily defined process against clear criteria

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.



ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites)

This non-government organisation “works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places”


ICOMOS has developed a range of Charters and Declarations since 1964 including two that could help define the park topology in terms of city landscape:

 Charter for the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas (The Washington Charter) – 1987


Historic Gardens (The Florence Charter) – 1981


And of course there are a range of UN related program that are driving new ideas and thoughts that may be applicable in defining a “National Park City” such as:

MAB – Biosphere

Launched in 1971, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) is an Intergovernmental Scientific Programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.


Could a “National Park City” define itself in terms of the three functions of BioSpheres?:

  • Conservation – contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation
  • Development – foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable
  • Logistic support – support for demonstration projects, environmental education and training, research and monitoring related to local, regional, national and global issues of conservation and sustainable development


UN-Habitat is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future. Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.


Where next

So in this blog I have explored what constitutes the attributes that defines a National Park (in a modern sense) and the other relevant approaches and how this might relate to “National Urban Parks”.  However before we construct a classification system or bolted it onto another system with another purpose, it is worthwhile exploring in my next blog what might well be “UK’s Best Idea” for parks.

What defines a National Park City – Part 2

Arthurs Seat
Arthur’s Seat (Holyrood Park) – Edinburgh Scotland – A true National Urban Park?

In my last blog ” What defines a National Park City“, I started to explore the idea of the meaning of National Parks and it was interesting to understand that the modern definition of a National Park is different from the original intent.

Before I explore what constitutes the attributes that defines a National Park (in a modern sense), it is worthwhile exploring the present concepts of established “Urban National Parks”.

The Scandinavian countries have made definable progress in establishing “National Urban Parks” and there has been some (but limited) attempts to define what constitutes a “National Urban Park”.

Sweden: 26,000 ha

The Royal National City Park (Swedish: Kungliga nationalstadsparken) is (apparently – authors note) the world’s first national city park, established in 1995 in the municipalities of Stockholm, Solna and Lidingö in Sweden.



The Pori National Urban Park was established in May 2002


And more recently in Canada with:

Rouge National Urban Park – 7,900ha

Parks Canada is excited to work towards the establishment of Canada’s first national urban park – Rouge National Urban Park – in the Greater Toronto Area.

Once fully established, Rouge National Urban Park will be one of the largest and best protected urban parks of its kind in the world, spanning 79.1 square kilometres (7900ha – authors comment) in the heart of Canada’s largest and most diverse metropolitan area, overlapping the cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering. Indeed, Rouge National Urban Park will be 22 times larger than Central Park in New York.


It would seem that there have been a history of National Parks being created within the metropolitan boundaries of cities, even before the first Sweden Urban National Park.  Examples are

1987 -The Dandenong Ranges National Park (Melbourne Australia) – 3,500ha

The Dandenong Ranges National Park is a national park located in the Greater Melbourne region of Victoria, Australia. The 35,400-hectare (87,000-acre) national park is situated from 31 kilometres (19 mi) at its western most points at Ferntree Gully and Boronia to 45 kilometres (28 mi) at it easternmost point at Silvan, east of the Melbourne city centre.

The park was proclaimed on 13 December 1987 (1987-12-13), amalgamating the Ferntree Gully National Park, Sherbrooke Forest and Doongalla Estate. In 1997 the Olinda State Forest, Mt. Evelyn and Montrose Reserve were formally added to the national park.


1998 – Table Mountain National Park – 22,000ha

Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park, is a national park in Cape Town, South Africa, proclaimed on 29 May 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The park is managed by South African National Parks. The property is included as part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.


These two examples both meet the IUCN criteria Category II – National Parks and probably can be deemed to be also National Urban Parks as well depending on having a definition that is internationally recognised.

There are also many other concepts and constructs around significant urban parks.  I have spoken at length about the urban park legacies created by “Capability” Brown (think Hampton Court Palace – London), Olmsted (think Central Park – NY) and Brian O’Neill (Think Golden Gate – San Francisco).  Many of these have shaped the thinking around what defines a large urban park and thus what would be a National Park in a City or a National Urban Park.  The World Urban Parks  has also been exploring the concept of large urban parks and the role they play in cities.

It was recognised that large urban parks can have unique socio-cultural environmental and economic roles and issues. A World Urban Parks-hosted web conference of large urban parks leaders in November 2015 endorsed a terms of reference, and proposed a Large Urban Parks executive committee and initial activities to facilitate a Large Urban Parks Network.


So apart from who holds the title of the first true national park in a city and I will leave that to others to debate, explore and determine.  And all of that will depend on the definition and characteristics you may agree on.  It seems that the first attribute of a National Urban Park is that it needs to be in a city but what defines a city and its boundaries?

City Definition from Wikipedia:

A city is a large and permanent human settlement.[1][2] Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town in general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.

Cities generally have complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. The concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, sometimes benefiting both parties in the process, but it also presents challenges to managing urban growth.


City Definition from OCED:

Until recently, there was no harmonised definition of ‘a city’ for European and other countries member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This undermined the comparability, and thus also the credibility, of cross-country analysis of cities. To resolve this problem, the OECD and the European Commission developed a new definition of a city and its commuting zone in 2011.

….cities with an urban centre of at least 50000 inhabitants

Source:  CITIES IN EUROPE – Lewis Dijkstra and Hugo Poelman 2012


So does that provide any clarity?

The OECD report of 2012 even gets more complex in defining a City based on commuter arrangements: “if 15% of employed persons living in one city work in another city, these cities are treated as a single city.”  And then there is the issue of “To better capture the entire urban centre, a ‘greater city’ level can be created. This is a fairly common approach and several greater cities already exist: Greater Manchester, Greater Nottingham etc.” OECD 2012 report –

So what is a City?

Well the City of London is a City and technically has a population of 8000 people and an area of 290 ha.


But we generally think of Greater London and a population of close to 12 million as the City.  So the first attribute probably needs to be around the OECD definition of greater cities.  However this doesn’t necessarily defines the physical boundary, unless you just assume the edges of a great city are defined by either a regulated planning boundary (Think – The Melbourne Metropolitan growth boundary) or existing local authority boundaries.

If you use the Melbourne definition, you tend to exclude the key service infrastructure such as the water catchments that enable a City to exist or the significant green belts that make Melbourne such a liveable City.  And given that the modern world is focused on Liveability as the world urbanises, we probably need to take an even broader interpretation of what defines a City.  Will this first attribute (the definition of a city) of defining a National Urban Park matter? NO?

Probably YES, as world institutions have a need to compartmentalise and define most things, so we can clear define a park as a “National Urban Park”.  In my next blog I will explore the attributes of what internationally defines a National Park and related concepts such as World Heritage and Biospheres to set a scene to actually explore a newer concept (than National Urban Parks) the National Park City paradigm.