The Urban Nature Park is a green space management model that is being applied to a number of parks in Sheffield. Over the next three years, 300ha of the city’s existing open space will be converted. The Urban Nature Parks are more naturalistic green and open spaces with less mown grass, more urban woodland which require significantly less maintenance than traditional parks. Existing examples of such informally managed green space in Sheffield include Shirebrook Valley and Manor Fields Park.
We in the place-keeping group are very excited to see how this green space model will take shape and to see what residents and users will make of it. The Council claims that devoting more space to trees will bring both environmental and social benefits, which we would broadly agree with. However the research to date on people’s perceptions of urban woodlands in residential areas is mixed. Opportunities for walking, exploring, experiencing nature are counterbalanced by fears of personal safety, vandalism and crime. We’d therefore be interested to hear more about what people’s responses to the Urban Nature Parks are. People attending the recent Re-visioning Parks event heard about the first wave of Urban Nature Parks - which are, not surprisingly, green spaces where less-intensive managements is already a feature. However, despite choosing these seemingly less controversial, ‘quick win’ sites, there has still been opposition to some of the proposals made. This suggests that there may be rocky times ahead for future. It might not be so clear-cut for future Urban Nature Park sites. Will communities embrace a shift from ‘turf to trees’ in parks that have more well-established formal landscapes?
This management approach will lead to differences in maintenance practices. But what will they involve? Do we replace the mowers with scythes?
It will also be interesting to see who is involved in delivering the Urban Nature Park: who’s working in partnership? Who is involved in the decision-making and to what extent? Clearly the financial situation of the Council is driving this shift to less intensive management, but these are changes that could bring many other benefits if undertaken in the right way. The Council has recognised this, but will local communities? Have the future UNPs already been decided on?
Being academics, we are interested in evaluating the performance of the UNPs? Here at the university we hope to involve students in evaluating how well the UNPs achieve the original aims and measure people’s response to them… let us know your opinions!