Is it really right to use public parks for private commercial events?

Somewhere under there is Hyde Park: the British Summertime Festival. Image: Getty.

During the summer, London is abuzz with large-scale cultural and sporting events – many of which are held in public parks. This season, Formula E motor races will be held in Battersea Park, while music festivals will take over Victoria Park, Finsbury Park and Hyde Park.

Events like these are enjoyed every year by thousands of people, both locals and tourists alike. But they also shut down public spaces, and have a significant impact on park environments. There is growing resistance from local residents and campaign groups, who have instigated legal challenges against the use of public parks for commercial events.

These cases give us cause to think about who, and what, parks are for. They also help us to understand the wider challenges currently facing public spaces around the world.

Why is this happening?

City parks have always been used for events – but now they are being used for larger and more commercially-oriented events than ever before.

This is mainly due to reductions in government funding: a recent Heritage Lottery Fund report found that 86 per cent of UK park managers have had their budgets cut since 2010, with a third facing cuts of 20 per cent or more. Many parks need to supplement grant income with revenue from commercial activities.

Fenced off. Image: Andrew Smith/author provided.

Glen Searle identified how parks can raise money by staging smaller, private events such as weddings and corporate functions. But now, big event companies are seeking distinctive venues and new audiences. They are keen to use urban parks, and are willing to pay large sums to hire them. For instance, Formula E paid Wandsworth council £2.85m to use Battersea Park for their events in 2015 and 2016 – a figure which includes compensation for the fact that future editions have been cancelled, due to local opposition.

The financial incentive to use parks for commercial events is clear. Events like these are also seen as valuable tools for “entrepeneurial” cities – to generate investment and to promote the city as a whole.

But there are more subtle justifications for park events, too. Professionals who represent parks feel that new events can help to diversify park users and uses. They think that music festivals, sport events and film screenings can make Victorian parks seem more relevant to modern life. Park officials also feel that they now have the technology and expertise to effectively minimise negative impacts such as noise pollution and environmental damage.

Warning: temporary closure

As we saw recently in San Francisco – when residents forced authorities to back down on plans to rent out park space – there is growing opposition to the privatisation of public spaces. Londoners are also beginning to push back against major events, which temporarily privatise parks by restricting when the public can use them.

Closed for business. Image: Andrew Smith/author provided.

For instance, Battersea Park is closed to the public for four full days during the Formula E events, and there are partial closures scheduled on 15 more days while the event is set up and dismantled.

Disruption to normal park use is heightened by damage to turf and the timing of events. These tend to take place on summer weekends – the times when parks would be more heavily used by residents.

Hiring out parks to event companies has a symbolic impact too. It normalises the idea that public space can be “bought” and fenced off. Sanctioning commercial events sets a worrying precedent, which could be used to justify more permanent installations in the future.


A way forward?

The controversies, legal challenges and general disquiet surrounding the use of parks for major events suggest that a new approach is needed.

Park managers need to work with local organisations to consider what types of events are appropriate for parks – and what types of parks are appropriate for events. Clearer guidelines on what proportion of time and space events are allowed to take up will help to avoid the legal challenges and bitter conflicts seen in London this summer.

Better enforcement of existing laws could help to maintain the balance between public and private park use too. My ongoing research suggests that awareness of these regulations is low, even among events managers and park officials.

Of course, another way to avoid these conflicts is to provide more generous public funding for parks. This may seem idealistic in a time of financial austerity. But parks are much loved by the public; they enhance the urban environment, and the well-being of citizens. If their value was fully recognised and parks properly funded, local authorities would not be forced to use them for commercial events.The Conversation

Andrew Smith is reader in tourism and events at the University of Westminster.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.

Metro

The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.

Tramway

The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.


So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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