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” 


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