Over the last twenty years, a number of Governments and individuals have been exploring the concept of national parks and cities. Generally the discussion and the developments have mostly centred on the purity of the “national park” concept and have only seen limited progress of understanding of a National Park concept within a City.
However 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”.
The Pori National Urban Park was established in May 2002
Since the 1970’s there have been a number of attempts to develop a typology or classification system for urban parks (including greenspace and green infrastructure), however they have generally failed to gain acceptance and international recognition.
Over the next six months, I am going to explore – what defines a “National Park City” and in this journey will explore the founding wisdom regarding national parks and posing what might be the criteria for a City to become a “National Park City”.
So where to start?
John Muir once said
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
So what is a National Park, the standard definitions range from Wikipedia:
A national park is a park in use for conservation purposes. Often it is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of ‘wild nature’ for posterity and as a symbol of national pride.
to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):
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.
And at this stage most individuals would be thinking of Yosemite National Park in the USA (apparently the first National Park) – yes a large area that is protected in law that would probably met the IUCN definition and would also met the Wikipedia definition especially reflecting “national pride”.
The Concept of a National Park
So where did this concept of a National Park come from and were they set aside based on the definition that now exists? The history of National Parks as a concept was captured in a very significant documentary:
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone.
But what was the original intent:
In 1864, Congress passes an act that protects Yosemite from commercial development for “public use, resort and recreation” – the first time in world history that any government has put forth this idea – and hands control of the land to California.
By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”
In 1864 there was no doubt that the significance of the landscape (the Cathedrals of the Valleys) provided the foundational motive but the legislative Act was about “public use, resort and recreation”. This was far from the definition that we now associate with a National Park. An interesting aside (but significant in a definitional sense) is that the park was placed in control of the California State.
So the definition of a National Park and even how we perceive a national park maybe a relatively recent construct. This is truly reflected in exploring the history of the creation of parks that we call “National Parks”:
From the UK – access to the Countryside:
First freedom to roam bill fails
James Bryce MP starts a campaign for public access to the countryside by introducing the first freedom to roam bill to parliament in 1884. The bill fails but the campaign, which was to last for more than 100 years, had begun.
Early 20th century – Public demands access to the countryside
There is a growing appreciation of the great outdoors, the benefits of physical exercise, and the feeling of freedom and of spiritual renewal gained from open-air recreation. It is a response to widespread industrialisation, the expansion of towns and cities and the ongoing enclosure of land by landowners for farming or sporting reasons. Conflicts emerge between landowners and public interest groups as the latter demand greater access to the countryside.
1930s – Mass trespass on Kinder Scout increases pressure for national parks designations
A 1931 government inquiry recommends the creation of a ‘national park authority’ to select areas for designation as national parks. However, no action is taken and public discontent grows, leading to the 1932 mass trespasses on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Five men are imprisoned.
So why are the definitions now, really only a recent construct?
This poses many questions:
- What do the definitions mean in a City sense?
- What are the attributes that define a national park?
Much of this will be explored in future blogs about “What Defines a National Park City”