International Symposium on the Future of Park Management – Japan 2015

I was the Keynote speaker at the International Symposium on the “The Future of Park Management” at Awaji Island, Hyogo (Japan) (the home of the origin of Japanese cultural and society).

The attached paper outlines the background of my keynote:

Future Direction for Urban Park Management


The Symposium was part of the15th anniversary of Awaji Flower Expo: Japan Flora 2000. The Awaji Park and flower show was part of the major recovery effort following the tragedy of the Tohoku earthquake in 1995. This Symposium has been seen in Japan as a major point in the park/landscape sector as the topic – “The Future of Park Management” signaled a major change in their thinking as they shift from “administration to management to leadership”. This shift I have personally witnessed over my 25 years of involvement in park and conservation management in Japan.

As you all would be aware Japan has been continuously facing a number of challenges including but not limited to, population problems, such as aging society and decline in birth rate and a flagging and changing economy. So the International Symposium was timely.

My keynote built upon the Philosophy and Theme of the Symposium and explored emerging concepts and paradigms and will set the “Signposts” for the future of Park Management. As would be expected regarding such a topic that one would talk about the plethora of challenges ranging from climate change, increased urbanization and rapidly changing social demographics to name a few. However these challenges internationally have been well researched and documented and are well known to park managers. However the real challenge is how we respond to them and responding to them in ways that dynamically benefit society today and tomorrow.

My Keynote focused on how “parks” are part of the solution and not the problem and thus how to be relevant to society now and into the future. The recently released “Urban Agenda” for the USA NPS, once again highlights this challenge.

My keynote explored why the responses that have emerged over the last twenty years are becoming the basis of the future of park management. I explored topics ranging from

  • Design Legacy,
  • Community Leadership,
  • Branding (Marketing) and
  • The business disruption models that are upon us – The ParkSparks.

My Keynote challenged the model of Leadership required from community leaders, park professionals and park professional organisations and why failing to act now is not a choice.

“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.”

The International Symposium included three parallel sessions:

  • Public Parks contributing to a healthy life
  • Public Parks leading civic cooperation and community revitalization
  • Public Parks developing the next generation

I participated on the panel for “Public Parks contributing to a healthy life” and summarized the key findings from the session.

Major Observations from the Symposium:

  •  Better Designed Parks: there is significant recognition that existing parks have to be re-designed to be beneficial to local communities – See Ohori Park Fukuoka
  • Promote, Promote, Promote – the Japanese now recognize that they need to manage parks and more especially market and brand their products & services – See Parks & Health
  • Partnership & Alliances – Japanese park managers have been aggressively pursuing new partners and approaches especially with the health sector, community / Friends groups and more excitingly a major Japanese Sports Company.
  • Participate Internationally – there is great support for improved international networking and knowledge exchange such as World Urban Parks

Potential ground-breaking innovations from Japan:

Ohori Park (Fukuoka) – a park that was originally built in 1929, that was poorly used and poorly designed for “adaptability”. An individual with a health academic background and a keen interest in improved “preventative” health care regarding obesity and diabetes, energized the community to redesign the park – the success in what has been achieved is the staggering and not only includes improved park facilities, includes “The Beach House” Outdoor Fitness club (effectively a social enterprise approach) with changing rooms etc. The success of the revitalization is that they now have a western styled “coffee shop” in the park.

“Parks & Health” Brand – Built around the HPHP concept, the Japanese have developed a brand that brings nature and health together – with an image that connects traditional Japanese colours (red & white), the rising sun, Japanese crane and “leaf”. In the last two years since the concept was released through a range of prog rams, they have seen great success and the development of key strategic alliances including with Mizuno (a leading Japanese sports manufacturer).

Mizuno in Parks – Can a for profit sports company really play a proactive social based role in solving health problems caused by inactivity. Mizuno are now involved in ~130 parks across Japan that include over 700 facilities. They have become a strong supporter of the Japanese “Parks & Health” program and have established a separate organizational arm to manage this innovative direction. So would Nike do the same for Americans? Would Billabong or Quicksilver do they same for Australians. Would Adidas…?