Park life: Where are the world’s smallest and largest parks?

This is technically inside a city park. Image: Paxson Woelber/Wikimedia Commons.

Burntwood in Staffordshire: the hometown of the discoverer of the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold on record, the lead singer of Reef, and Lightning from Gladiators. And, if you’re to believe the locals, the smallest park on the planet.

Prince’s Park, named for the future Edward VII in honour of his wedding, is certainly quite small: at an area of under 135m², you could fit 10,518 of it into Hyde Park, if you wanted to for some reason. Across the road from a church, it contains a single bench and precisely three trees, charmingly (or extremely dangerously if you’re a Richard Dawkins type) named Faith, Hope and Charity. Someone should measure them and check which is actually the greatest. But it is not ‘officially’ recognised as the smallest park in the world: stout-producing fact arbiters Guinness will only concede that it is the smallest in the UK.

Prince’s Park. Image:

The actual smallest park, according to whatever the modern day version of a McWhirter is, is Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon, where it occupies less than a third of m². But does it count as a park, or is it just a ‘glorified flower pot’, as an angry fan of Prince’s Park lashed out in 2013, while attempting to at least secure the park’s place in international records by making it the site of the world’s shortest fun run: 55 steps, apparently.

What are the important features of a park? Are three trees, a bench and a fence a minimum number of features? Is it enough features, or is Prince’s Park just a green or garden that got over-excited due to 1860s Royal wedding fever?

This definitional problem also affects the upper end of the park scale: if you’re looking for the largest park, do you include vast country parks that are basically just forests? Even if you exclude parks outside of urban areas, you end up with the largest being Chugach State Park in Alaska, which despite being larger than Greater London and containing actual mountains is technically speaking in the city of Anchorage. You’re going to need a hell of a redevelopment plan to try and beat that record.

And, having said all that, is Prince’s Park even the smallest park in Britain? A 2018 study by Ordnance Survey into Britain’s parks claimed the smallest is the Old Town Maritime Gardens in Hastings, at just 32.8m². Okay, it’s a boat with some flower pots in it sitting on some gravel, but can we argue with Ordnance Survey?
Maybe Burntwood can still make the case for its tiny park on the basis of nomenclature – argue that, if you want to be considered a park, you have to have the word park in the name. But even then, they might be stuffed, because in 2014 a local community in Darlington turned 25m² of land underneath a billboard which at the time was displaying a UKIP advert into Councillor Gerald Lee Park, named after Darlington’s litter-despising mayor. It has one bench, and two bushes. “Splendid hats” were donned the day it opened, it says here, but probably not by the local Labour party who were angry that it had been named after a Tory, and a living Tory at that.

As for the world title, Guinness hasn’t budged and Portland’s Mill Ends Park has kept its title since first receiving it in 1971. Originally a hole in the road for a lamp post that never got installed, it became a ‘park’ when a local journalist with the unlikely name of Dick Fagan, whose office overlooked the site, decided to stick some flowers in it. Or alternatively, according to Fagan himself: in 1948 he found a leprechaun and wished for a park, and the leprechaun tricked him and gave him the smallest park in the world. It has since survived reconstruction of the surrounding road, theft of its tree and even an occupying protest movement, Occupy Portland, which filled it with plastic soldiers in 2011 in an attempt to ‘go viral’ or something.

Dick Fagan was a columnist for the local newspaper, which is perhaps a bit of giveaway as to the real value of very small parks: providing something very tenuously interesting for bored journalists to write about when all other inspiration has left them.


Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.

There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.