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” 

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.

The Golden Gate Model – Leadership Legacy

Greg Beato recently wrote an article “The Park That Paid Off.” in the Stanford Social innovation Review.  A great article that outlines not only the struggle to create a great park but the governance model for parks we need to aspire to.

A brief overview:

The Park That Paid Off
For a quarter-century, the Presidio of San Francisco has been a contested terrain. At the center of that battlefield is the Presidio Trust, a government agency that represents an alternative model for funding and managing a public asset. Here’s how the trust turned a large military facility into a large urban park.

The Model is exceptional and I will be exploring this governance model through my park governance discussions, however the final part of Greg’s article highlights some interesting challenges about the conservative nature of the park sector and the leadership and vision required.

Providing a Model?
Despite the success of the Presidio Trust, even many of its strongest allies are reluctant to vouch for the portability of its model. “If there are places like the Presidio that face the same challenges, maybe smaller in scale, I think the trust model is worth considering,” says Moore. “But when you look at Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, or the majority of our national parks sites, they’re too different in their composition for an approach like this.” Rosenblatt sounds a similar note: “The NPS and some of the major Friends of the Park groups always worried that the Presidio Trust structure would be a precedent for other national parks. And we’ve always said, ‘You shouldn’t make that leap,’ because very few other national parks or monuments have so many leasable resources.”
In Middleton’s estimation, however, the trust does illustrate at least one important and broadly applicable principle. “The trouble with these big [government] systems is that they create policies that have to apply to everything equally. So whether it’s a little historic park or a much bigger park, they’ve got the same template,” he says. “The lesson here is to be flexible enough and autonomous enough to design for the place, instead of trying to impose the same solution throughout the system.”
Middleton also believes the trust stands as a powerful example of what government can do well. “It’s a demonstration of how the public sector can be really effective,” he says. “In our culture, the myth is that the only people who can innovate are in the private sector, and the people who stop you from innovating are in the public sector. In the Presidio, we’re the regulators and the safeguarders, but we’re also the implementers. And I love that.”

For further reading – the detail:

“Greg Beato is a contributing editor and columnist for Reason magazine. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Week, and more than 100 other publications worldwide.”

Modern Design Legacy Part 1

This post focuses on the modern era and this first post will cover “Community Passionate Leadership”

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” (these post) and “the System” (Part 2).

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).

Keynote at the Urban Park International Symposium – Japan May 2015

I have the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the Urban Park International Symposium – Japan May 2015 at Awaji Island, Hyogo Japan (14th to 17th May)

My keynote is all about the “future of parks”, great and broad topic but here is a bit on an insight into what I will cover:

Over the last 400 years, parks both in terms of rural and urban settings have evolved and changed to meet the challenges of evolving societies and environment. Great Parks are great forever and can adapt to changing environmental and social needs over generations.

The International Symposium in Japan on “The Future of Park Management” provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on how parks have evolved over the last 400 years, how the management of parks have changed and what will emerge as “parks” for the future.

My keynote will build upon the Philosophy and Theme of the Symposium and explore emerging concepts and paradigms and will set the “Signposts” for the future of Park Management.

 Park managers today are confronted with a plethora of challenges ranging from climate change, increased urbanization and rapidly changing social demographics to name a few. The 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.

In the 1990’s park management professionals realized with declining relevance to urban communities that they had to change the park paradigm. Leaders such as John Crompton and Brian O’Neill in the USA did this too great affect. We have also seen innovative responses such as the global phenomena “Health Parks Healthy People” as a dramatic shift in how parks are valued and managed.

My keynote will explore why the responses that have emerged are becoming the basis of the future of park management. I will explore cover topics ranging from

  • Design Legacy,
  • Community Activation,
  • Green Branding and
  • The business disruption models that are upon us – The ParkSparks.

My Keynote will challenge 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.

For more information:


Conference Information:

Welcome to Parks4Life – Exploring Leadership and Innovation in park management


This is the first posting of Parks4Life, a site to explore Leadership and Innovation in park management with a special emphasis on urban parks and the concept of standards and thus better practice.

In starting this discussion it is important to explore in a historical sense why innovation and thus leadership is important in park management.  Yes the legacy of National Parks as they are now (with the question of will this be true in a 100 years time? to be explored in the future) was about individuals who saw more than trees in the landscape.  This legacy has been well documented, will be well celebrated by USANPS in 2016 and will be debated for ever and a day.

However my journey and exploration starts with the concept of “design” legacy.  It is 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.  However consider Apple, any significant architectulural structure or significant urban design – they are all built around “design” and “legacy”.  But in this concept is another connected idea that of embedded activation – a concept that Apple is famous for, such as iTunes.

As I explore the concept of “Design Legacy” over the coming months by looking at the great designers such as Capability Brown,  it is best however to start with an individual who may have left us with a modern design legacy – Brian O’Neill…

See the future:

Brian developed a concept of park management that potentially has no boundaries and breaks all the rules of park management from social community engagement, social enterprises, participation of not-for-profits, decision-making and how the private sector invests.

It is a legacy that needs to be better understood and explored…

If you wish to add to this discussion or even post your thoughts please do