13 things I learned from reading a list of 1,669 historically important English parks

The entrance to the Jewish Burial Ground on North Sherwood Street, Nottingham. Image: Google Street View.

Where are England’s best parks? Obviously this might depend both on your opinion of what makes a good park and your definition of what counts.

But if you’re looking for an official answer, you could always turn to the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England (these days managed by Historic England), which has attempted to keep track of the most notable ones since it was begun in 1983.

How do you, an aspiring park or garden, get on this list? Basically by being some combination of old or interesting: the older you are, the looser the definition of interesting gets. (Much like having a conversation with a CityMetric writer.) But don’t get complacent: you can get binned off, like Philips Park in Prestwich which got delisted due to “deterioration”.

There are 1,669 parks and gardens on the current list, of which 145 are Grade I (i.e. very good), 455 are Grade II* and the remainder are Grade II (for it is said that if ever the Heritage authorities learn of the existence of the number three, the Tower of London will fall).

So, what did we learn by reading the entire list?

1. Where the most historically important parks and gardens are

Some 150 of them can be found in Greater London – not even counting the 3 in the City of London. You can find 60 or more in each of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Kent and Hampshire. Another 33 of them lie in The Cotswolds political constituency, making the inevitably Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown the MP who represents the most listed parks and gardens.


2. The biggest park or garden

That would be the accurately named Windsor Great Park, which is 8.7 square miles in size and is only one of seven different entries on the list that are part of the Royal Estate in Windsor. Bloody favouritism if you ask me.

3. And the smallest is...

The Jewish Burial Ground on North Sherwood Street, Nottingham – which is listed due to its historical importance as the first site of Jewish burials in the city. Since superseded by larger sites, there’s no public access and from the road it’s on it just looks like a locked door in a wall, presumably to keep out fans of tiny listed gardens.

4. Which is only one of the 112 cemeteries on the list (plus three crematoriums)

Cemeteries have a bit of an advantage here because they can contain all sorts of historically interesting things, not least the people buried six feet under. Why not go to your local cemetery and take a disrespectful selfie with the grave of the most famous person you can find?

5-7. The most northerly park in England is Tillmouth Park in Northumberland

Which is the grounds of a country house turned hotel. The most easterly is Belle Vue Park in Lowestoft, the most southerly AND the most westerly is the garden of Tresco Abbey on the Isles of Scilly.

If someone wants to pay my transport and accommodation costs to visit them in compass direction order, I am prepared to do it and send up to 9 deeply unfunny tweets about it.

8. The park or garden with the longest name is...

It’s back to Windsor, for:

The Royal Estate, Windsor: Virginia Water (Including Fort Belvedere And The Clockcase)

Which I reckon is just the Royal family trying it on by lumping things together to sound more impressive.

9. The parks or gardens with the shortest names are...

Vann and Enys, private gardens in Surrey and Cornwall, respectively. If you’re a fan of briefly-named parks and gardens you can visit them, but until the revolution comes you’ll have to check which days they’re open and pay for the privilege.

10. There are 19 Squares on the list

They’re almost all in London, which people who are not from London may use to do a funny joke. There are also five Arboretums, four Botanic Gardens, two Circuses (never as exciting as they sound) but only a single Common – Southsea Common, which to be fair does include a scheduled ancient monument AND a Sea Life Centre.

11. There are 2 listed parks in prison

Because they didn’t grass off the keep???

Actually they’re both in cemeteries in the grounds of Dartmoor, to commemorate French and American POWs (in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 respectively).

12. The most popular park name on the list is Queen’s

There are 10 of them: Brighton, Swindon, Longton, Crewe, Chesterfield, Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Blackburn, Burnley. While the ambiguity over which Queen their creators meant is a good bit of common sense future-proofing, a clue to the likely most relevant Queen is that:

13. The second most popular park name is Victoria

There’s Victoria Park in East London, Victoria Park in Leicester, Victoria Park in Tunstall, Victoria Park in Tipton, and Victoria Park in Portsmouth. Oh, and two Royal Victoria Parks, a Royal Victoria Country Park. Not counting Victoria Embankment Gardens, Victoria Tower Gardens and definitely not Handsworth Park (formerly Victoria Park), because that would just be silly.

 
 
 
 

Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.