Bristol, for all its choked-up greyness, remains an extraordinarily diverse city. Old tree-lined railways are reclaimed as gentle thoroughfares for pedestrians and cyclists to explore. Shady green corridors radiating from its centre, connecting the old village centres with a splendid archipelago – verdant wedges of meadow, heath, deep wooded valleys, rugby fields and grand parks with rolling lawns.
These spaces are our refugia: guarded by tall ranks of plane tree, behind stockades of bramble and hawthorn; safe havens from the hectic streets and the hot, throttling air. They make for arresting transitions, just a few steps from kebab shop and bus stop to whispering grass and babbling brook.
I often step off my bicycle in St. George Park – the last of the parks on my commute home, an emerald bowl set into the dirty sandstone sprawl – to enjoy the sudden contrast: noise to peace, grey to green, hot to cool.
In Eastville Park, on a crisp summer morning, I know where I can see a kingfisher, on its perch above a weir, peering into an eddy, before its bolting, iridescent blue. In Stoke Park, I can see Red Kites soar on the wind, above a rolling ocean sward. And through Snuff Mills, over Trooper’s Hill, down to Crews Hole, I can walk among the stone and concrete remnants of past revolutions – the mines, the chimneys, the water-wheels, the docks.
The green spaces of Bristol are also a vital safety-net for many. They are places of escape for those stranded in cramped apartments, and those whose windows open only into billowing fumes. People who can’t afford gym memberships can get outside of their heads for a few precious minutes, to walk or jog, safe from vehicular assault. Young girls and boys without gardens at home can skate, shoot hoops, score hat-tricks and make friends. Mums and dads can exhaust their toddlers before bedtime. The village elders can get their blood pumping.
But our informal recreational spaces face increasingly uncertain futures. The Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK Public Parks 2016 report recently revealed that many councils are making tough decisions over funding. Bristol City Council is itself planning to cut all public funding for parks – £4.5m per year – by 2019, relying instead on revenue generated from events and other outside sources.
This privatisation of public open space – its disavowal as a public good – has been seen before, with disastrous consequences for our cities. It is something many will have hoped to have seen the last of. As Sam Thomson, vice chair of Bristol Parks Forum argued in a recent interview, in the 1980s, budget cuts for green spaces led to:
a spiral of crime…People stopped wanting to take their children to public places with broken equipment that became dangerous and littered with drug paraphernalia and needles…Parks became hot spots of problems that the police had to get involved in. The answer then was to sell the green spaces to be built on.”
This Bristol Parks Forum PETITION calls on Bristol City Council to withdraw its budget plan and work to develop a realistic alternative.
Our public parks are spaces of safety, spaces of sanctuary, spaces of wellbeing, spaces of humanity, spaces of love, spaces of imagination, organisation, resistance and democracy. They must be fought for, because without them we have ever less in common.
Sign the PETITION and force the debate on the future of Bristol’s parks.