Part E – Modern Design Legacy

What has the “modern” era contributed to our knowledge of “Design Legacy”

Progress has been made in this area with concepts of “way finding” and site “activation” however most are at the detail design level rather than a legacy scale. There is also the emergence of “resilience thinking” coming from both the environmental (landscape scale conservation) and social (post crisis – bushfires (another example water conservation)) spheres.

There have be two other interesting international developments in the last decade with a park or openspace emphasis have been:

  • CABE Space – The UK Centre for Architecture and Built Environment group that attempted to encourage change and set standards (now disbanded)
  • USA – National Parks Second Century Commission – A first-in-a-generation effort to examine the national parks today, and chart a vision for their second century of service to the nation. The National Parks Second Century Commission consisted of a diverse group of nearly 30 national leaders and experts with a broad range of experience, including scientists, historians, conservationists, academics, business leaders, policy experts, and retired National Park Service executives

However the Design Legacy concepts that I wish to explore in the modern era that are having a far greater impact is focused around “the Community” and “the System”.

Community Passionate Leadership

This Design Legacy concept is best displayed by reflecting on a leader – Brian O’Neill and the Golden Gate model.

Brian O’Neill – the person

(Sourced from Wikipedia)

“O’Neill was born in Washington D.C. on September 17, 1941. He gained an appreciation for the wilderness from his family who would often take him camping when he was young. While in high school O’Neill and his twin brother Alan, along with their mother, founded a nonprofit organization to take urban children on trips to national parks.

O’Neill joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1964. He later joined the Urban Studies Branch of the U.S. Bureau of Outdoor Recreation where he helped plan various parks. O’Neill moved to San Francisco in 1979 as part of his job as the assistant regional director with HCRS.

Work with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

O’Neill served on the planning commission for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), and it was his presentation at the White House to President Nixon that convinced the President to endorse the concept of a park in San Francisco. In 1981 O’Neill was named assistant superintendent with the GGNRA, and was promoted to superintendent in 1986.”

Brian O’Neill – setting the path to the future_

Brian’s legacy developed over many years and seems to have be founded on his honest optimise that the community can achieve outstanding success.  His leadership had an immense impact on urban park managers but not yet by civic leaders worldwide.  The Golden Gate model is an exemplar of what can be achieved with the right mix of individuals and a “pinch” of Brian.

The Golden Gate model is unique partnership between the USA NPS, a Not-for-Profit Foundation (The Golden Gate Conservancy) and a broad range of partners. It is an open and very inclusive model rarely found elsewhere.

All students of park management, need to know, understand and experience the “Brian O’Neill” legacy.  A legacy that can’t be captured in a class but through first hand experience.  I am one of the few outside America that experienced Brian’s legacy up close and over a period of 15 years. He is one of the few that could connect all sectors of society – Private/Public, Health to Welfare, Business to Education with a sense of purpose that was more than just “the park” in a traditional sense.

However I have tried to capture what were Brian’s Design Legacy:

  • Belief – believing that communities and individuals can achieve achieve outstanding success
  • Community Fabric – that the fabric of the park and open space should reflect the in sense of what the community is!
  • Connections – making connections between all and making “parks’ relevant to them

Another classic example of this approach is the Washington Parks and People organisation in Washington DC (USA).

System thinking Revolution – the Greater London Urban National Park Concept

Thinking differently can lead to interesting and surprising outcomes. The concept of System Thinking is well known but hardly conceptualised or leveraged. However an example that is making us all rethink the concept of “parks” is:

The Concept: A Greater London National Park

The city of London covers more than 1,500 square kilometres, an area about the size of Surrey or South Yorkshire. More than 13,000 species, including humans, inhabit 3,000 parks, 30,000 allotments, three million gardens and two National Nature Reserves. Overall, 47 per cent of London is green space, and 60 per cent is classified as open space.

“We have eight million trees in London; the world’s largest urban forest,” _

Yes there are national parks that form parts of great cities and the Finnish have furthered this concept of National Urban Parks. But nowhere in the world has anyone reimagined the whole landscape on such a scale to achieve (from the Greater London National Park website_):

  • Children – Growing up in a National Park City would have a profound influence on our children. It would open up new opportunities for young people to be healthy, spend quality time with family, improve their outdoor education and grow up as creative citizens.
  • Health – Actively enjoying quality green space improves our mental health, physical health and well being. It not only saves money on the health services, but can also improve productivity in the workplace.
  • Wealth – The Greater London National Park will put London on the map as the birthplace of a new National Park City movement. It will not only inspire new kinds of business in the capital, but actively work to promote opportunities for recreation and tourism in London’s outer boroughs.
  • Recreation – London is an incredible, inspirational and accessible landscape to explore. The Greater London National Park would promote the city’s long distance footpaths, 50 canoe clubs and numerous other often forgotten opportunities to enjoy open-air
  • Environment – The National Park will create a common vision for the city that all Londoners will understand. Activities will lead to better management of the capital’s green and blue infrastructure and as a result, increased resilience against pollution, flooding, climate change and other risks.
  • Nature – Londoners share a long history appreciating and protecting wildlife. The Park would both celebrate our achievements in conserving green space and inspire a generation to think creatively about our future relationship with nature.

The concept is not only designed to engage communities and society with their environment and reimagine a liveable city but also to test the boundaries of the “National Park” concept. It is timely that we re-examine what is possible and what can be. This maybe the “Design Legacy” of the next century.

The Foundational Design Legacy Principles

Building upon the above example there are a further 5 Principles that can be considered:

Principle 10: Belief – is the understanding that communities and individuals can achieve outstanding success;

Principle 11: Community Fabric – is that the fabric of the park and open space should reflect the in sense of what the community is! ;

Principle 12: Connections – is about making connections between all sectors of society and individuals and making “parks’ relevant to them;

Principle 13: Systems Rethink – is about exploring “parks’ as a broader component of a whole system and how it becomes the fabric of a city;

Principle 14: Leadership without Fear – is about considering ideas and innovations that not only challenge existing concepts but also change the concept.


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