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” 

Seeing the Possibilities in staff and an organisation


This is the fourth blog in my reflection of “A Modern Interpretation on Leadership in Parks”

How many times have you heard the refrain “staff are your most valuable asset”.

Apart from the fact I detest the word “assets”, it is automatically treating you as a number rather than as just an honest person.  However, how often do you find an organisation that is struggling and apparently needing to change, do leaders turn to creating Visions and have the need to have change management processes in place.   Where they suddenly need to change the Culture – to become youthful and vibrant.  What happened to that great saying “staff are your most valuable asset”.  Why does this saying get discarded so quickly?

So how does an organisation and maybe their leaders from Directors to the Senior executives find the “heart and minds” of the staff?  Rather than change the culture? It is probably these staff who have enabled an organisation to survive serious crisis’s  (think classic emergency response be it earthquake to fire) and may have been working away at achieving the foundational vision and mission of the organisation.

When an organisation is in crisis, the new leadership should seek out and understand those that day in day out “make” the difference and more importantly may know what to do to make an organisation great again.  It wouldn’t be that they are fearful of the future – they may already see and have grasp what it is and they may have a better sense of what the organisation stands for.  But how do you find these so called “assets” or the lost ones?

There is an organisation that I once worked for who have been going through this – “got to change and become youthful and vibrant”, that has had serious impacts on its ability to achieve present and future social obligations.  This journey for the organisation has meant most things haven’t progressed past the thinking that existed in 2010.  So why, haven’t they progressed or performed at the level expected (and that is not saying that there aren’t possibilities).  Even though they have been going through the youthful and nearly bohemia renewal (with limited success), there are many staff who might hold the key to the future, who might already grasp what needs to be done.

This dilemma of leadership grasping the abilities, ideas and vision of staff was brought home to me over the last 16 years, where I watched a small number of individuals create an idea, that fundamentally changed the concept of parks.  It took those staff 5 to 6 years to have the concept accepted within their own organisation but saw it expand and grow internationally as other leaders saw the possibilities in the concept.  An example of this is the USA National Parks Services where the leaders have embraced a concept from Australia and are now seen as the world leaders.

Leadership is the ability to see what is really possible in your staff.

The concept is Healthy Parks Healthy People.


A Modern Interpretation on Leadership in Parks


In early 2015 I commenced with my first posting of Parks4Life:

Welcome to Parks4Life – Exploring Leadership and Innovation in park management

That blog outlined the key areas that I would focus on.  Since that first post I have explored:

  • Design Legacy – 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.
  • Park Governance Models – There have been many examinations of “park” management arrangements from a range of different perspectives such as governance, leadership, business models, revenue generation and innovation.
  • Key Emerging Innovations – such as London National Urban Park, NESTA Rethink

However, it has taken until now to come back to the “central” theme – leadership.  This blog commences this reflection and forward look at leadership in parks.

In 1995, I completed a Masters Research Thesis (as part of my MBA) on “A Review of Managerialism in Park Organisations in Australia”:

My interest in “Managerialism” and its impact in Public Sector management developed due to the interesting and frank discussions and debates that were a part of the Monash MBA program.  In this regard special recognition is due to the staff of the Public Sector Management Institute at Monash University especially David Corbett, Race Mathews and Professor Bill Russell.

This thesis involved an investigation of managerialism in Park organisations in Australia.  The application of the techniques introduced as part of the managerialist reform of Australian Park and Open Space organisations is examined and an alternative approach that enhances the likelihood of achieving the expected improvements is explored.

The managerial reforms in Australia have changed the public sector dramatically and the traditional public sector administration has all but disappeared.  However, the value of the reforms have been extensively debated and few empirical studies have been undertaken.

This paper explores the hypothesis that a holistic approach to the management of organisations may improve the chances of delivering the anticipated improvements which stakeholders including staff, management, clients and owners, desire.  Holistic management can best be described as a management philosophy founded in the quality movement and not a single management tool.

During the time I was undertaking my Thesis, I was taken by an observation by Peter Drucker (1974) in his book Management stated that:

“Few (government) service institutions today suffer from having too few administrators; most of them are over administrated, and suffer from a surplus of procedures, organisation charts and management techniques.  What now has to be learned is to manage the service institutions for performance.  This may well be the biggest and most important management task of the century” (p.166).

This statement (observation?) is still so very true and seems to haunt the public sector throughout the western world.

It has only been a recent event with an organisation that I have had some previous involvement with, that brought me back to this central theme of leadership and Peter Drucker.

I have recently published seven relative short articles through LinkedIn around a modern interpretation of leadership and the present leadership of integrity, visions and impact.   The public sector in the western world is gripped in a focus on what “leadership” means and what is integrity.  This discussion reminds me of the 1980’s debates on NPM – New Public Management – an era where rigorous debates were encouraged that help reshape the concept of Public Sector Administration into Public Sector Management.  The present discussion might just be a process of regaining the heart and soul of what is “public service” in a broader sense and not just the domain of the government.  It may lead to defining “Public Sector Leadership” – PSL.


The First Series: – Reflections on Leadership

Over time I will expand and explore this concept of leadership in parks and also reflect on great examples from around the world.

I encourage you to participate in this conversation as the challenges to society are immense however the benefits of a modern park system maybe set the foundation for society and a liveable communities and a sustainable world.




Emerging Topics

Having just explored the emerging concept around “Design Legacy” and parks that culminated with a keynote presentation on this subject at the recent International Symposium on the “Future of Parks Management” in Japan and number of other topics have emerged.

Recently I was invited to give an outline of park “governance” models that could be used in an urban context, so over the coming months I will explore this concept.  Central to this exploration will be understanding why different (and multiple) “governance models” are successful and that good park management is not about a singular insular model.

The other topic that seems to be a central feature of modern life and seems to be constantly being talked about internationally is the emergence of “lifestyle” diseases. Even though it is evident that parks are a “natural solution” to these grand health challenges, it is amazing that progress isn’t being made at the extent you would expect.  It is probably time to reflect on where Parks are at regarding the health challenge.

Elery Hamilton-Smith (1929 – 2015) – A magnificent man who cared for people and the environment

When I was notified that Elery had over the weekend past away, I was sitting outside a cabin on Rottnest Island (Western Australia) looking over the ocean but more particularly sitting atop a limestone system. Three of Elery’s passions…karst systems, people and parks. A setting very appropriate to reflect on the impact Elery had on myself and parks.

I first really got to know Elery in the early 1990’s, when a colleague of mine, Brett Cheatley engaged Elery as part of a team to undertake a review of urban parks and their visitors but also to explore the concepts of “benchmarks”. That initial interaction lead to a wise counsel relationship that guided much of my thinking around parks and people. When I was floundering to find a topic for my Master’s Thesis, my supervisor Bill Russell (Monash University) suggested I seek Elery out. Meeting in the front room in his house, Elery, in a very typical Elery fashion – that look and stare of intense interest..questioned me about how society was changing, how parks were changing and thus “what was management”. This was the mid 1990’s and thus led to a thesis around “managerialism in parks” and many endless discussions on parks, people and the future.

That experience shaped my thoughts on so many topics ranging from:

  • A whole of system approach to park management that resulted in the establishment of Parks a Victoria
  • The interconnection of people and the environment that resulted in the Healthy Parks Healthy People
  • Learning and innovation that has resulted in me revisiting the “design” of parks through the concept of legacy
  • Management and leadership that resulted in the Parks Forum and the recently established World Urban Parks

But more than that, he encouraged thinking, a lost art. He also encouraged a holistic and humanistic approach. He engaged with all and was very forgiving.

Neil McCarthy

A short Biography

Elery Hamilton-Smith (born 28 December 1929) is a retired Australian interdisciplinary scholar and academic, latterly adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at Charles Stuart University.

Elery grew up in rural South Australia. He did not have conventional academic training, and graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Diploma in Social Sciences in 1956

Elery worked in teaching and community services (1949-68) social policy & Planning Consultant (1969-77). He developed a plan for education of recreation and leisure workers and helped establish courses in 6 universities (1974). He was appointed lecturer and continued as Professor and Head of School in Social Policy and Community Services (1969-95). His career over this period included wide-ranging research and consultation often centred upon leisure policies and programs. He undertook various national policy development studies, visiting professorships, Educational Fellowship with Government of Canada, work with UNESCO, WLRA Centre of Excellence (Wageningen), and Benefits of Leisure studies with the US Forest Service.

In the 1990s Elery moved progressively from his interest in outdoor recreation into examining issues of sustainability and environmental studies; accepted a chair in environmental studies and worked as an advisor with both IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and the UNESCO World Heritage Bureau.

Elery had wide interests and he had worked on:

  • social policy development and programmes dealing with youth issues.
  • development of leisure and outdoor recreation activities
  • Conservation, particularly tourism and visitor appreciation of wilderness and National Parks
  • Cave and karst management
  • sustainability and environmental studies.

Elery had published over 2,000 books, reports and papers and worked in 50 countries.

Elery’s contribution to Australian society was recognised in 2001 when he was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in Australia Day Honours. Elery was also recognised by his park peers when the Parks Forum in 2010:

“formally recognised the life-time commitment of Elery Hamilton-Smith AM for his work for parks around the world, starting with his advocacy work in the 1960s. Elery has held many professorial appointments and undertaken various roles with UNESCO and the United Nations development program. He also has many years of working in various IUCN programs, as a volunteer.”

Reflections for the Park

From Brett Cheatley (Cheatley Consulting)

“Elery was one of those people who knew the world of urban parks better than anyone in those days and kept up this interest until his final days. He was a great research mentor especially in the area of park visitor research and visitor services. He was one of the early adopters of the need to evaluate the benefits provided by an effective urban park system. His advocacy preceded Healthy Parks Healthy People and in many ways his support and intellect took many on the journey toward the same outcome of measurement; ie. that urban parks and open space equate to a healthier and happier society. Elery was comforted in the fact that his research had shown that urban parks had been an important element of city design throughout history and yet he had become a tad disillusioned by the lack of understanding of their role and effective management. He was a strong believer that eventually communities across the world would understand both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of urban parks and that this alone would drive their protection and sustainability. Always the academic researcher and publisher; he though that research into their visitation and use, and its subsequent publication, was the key.”

From David Clarke (Former CEO Parks Forum)

“In my early time at Parks Forum, as a person with more naiveté than knowledge about parks, I found Trustee Elery incredibly generous and patient with his time. From my perspective, he contained in his life experience an exceptional body of knowledge, and the sharp mind to make use of it. Along with Peter Bridgewater, Elery taught me a lot about the international context for the work of Parks Forum, and despite many other ongoing interests, he remained committed and passionate in his views about parks and their administration. He stayed connected. He provided regular feedback on the work we were doing. On a number of occasions during my role, Elery hosted me at his home with a cup of tea and strong advice on our international relations, in an office of old-school academic style and achievement – smelling of books and leather and crammed with the paperwork that reflected his continuing interests. His great mind, his achievements and life commitment to parks demand the highest respect, and that is how I will remember him. With the greatest respect.”

Greater London National Park – Innovation at the edge

Over the last couple of weeks I have been exploring the concept of “Design Legacy” and will over the coming months expand on this. However, it is worth while occasionally reflecting on emerging innovations in the urban park sector. Meet Daniel Raven-Ellison – Daniel is a Londoner, guerrilla geographer, alternative adventurer and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. He is the driving force behind this new concept. I was luck to catch him at the recent World Parks Congress. The Concept: A Greater London National Park The city 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. As Daniel outlines: “We have eight million trees in London; the world’s largest urban forest,” As the Daniel makes his case for the world’s first urban national park, at a city scale. Yes there are national parks that form parts of great cities and the Finnish have furthered this concept of National Urban Parks. But no where 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.

Explore the concept:

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.

Follow Daniel and the journey:

Design Legacy – Who’s Legacy?

This is the second post in a series regarding ‘Design Legacy”

What has this legacy given us

So far I have only drawn on two examples, that should be well known, to highlight why individuals are important in creating this legacy. However I will return to other examples that highlight why “design legacy” is important and how it is evolving. But to further explore we should look at:

“Capability” Brown
Lancelot Brown (30 August 1716 – 6 February 1783) and more commonly known as Capability Brown, was an English landscape architect. He is remembered as “the last of the great English eighteenth-century artists to be accorded his due”, and “England’s greatest gardener”. He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure. Many of these such as Blenheim Palace, Milton Abbey and examples at Kew Gardens we highly value both for the foresight but also the style and design.

His style of smooth undulating grass, which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts and scattering of trees and his serpentine lakes formed by invisibly damming small rivers, were a new style within the English landscape, a “garden-less” form of landscape gardening, which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formally patterned styles.

His landscapes were at the forefront of fashion. His work has been hotly debated over the years, as bland compared to formal gardens approach however in the 20th century there has been greater recognition that he formulated the “garden-less smooth” approach. Irrespective of your opinion, his legacy is significant and has been widely recognized and valued.

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 – 1903) was an American journalist, social critic, public administrator, and landscape designer. He is popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture. His style draws on influences from English landscape and gardening, and his designs were primarily in the pastoral and picturesque styles. Olmsted was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks including Central Park and Prospect Park in NY.

Olmsted not only created numerous city parks around the country, he also conceived of entire systems of parks and interconnecting parkways to connect certain cities to green spaces. In 1883 Olmsted established what is considered to be the first full-time landscape architecture firm.

It is easy to expand on the great legacies of Brown and Olmsted, as many cultures have similar equivalents be it Paris, Melbourne or even Canberra (the great Walter Burley Griffin), however Olmsted and Brown give us a platform to ponder why have their legacies lasted and adapted to different societies and maybe cultures over hundreds of years. Did they “perceive” something in their designs that created lasting legacies?

Next Post:

Design Legacy – Principles of Design?

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