AHRC Project

The future prospects of urban parks: the life, times and social order of Victorian public parks as places of social mixing

November 2015 – October 2017

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Introduction

Two year research project, 1 November 2015- 31 October 2017

Combines history, criminology, sociology, law, cultural and urban studies.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under priority theme of ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past’.

Leeds City Council Parks and Countryside Department are Project Partners.

Aims and objectives
  1. To understand the social significance, role and prospects of Victorian public parks in urban futures.
  2. To examine the official governance and lived experiences and expectations of urban public parks in the past and the present
  3. To reveal and expose to what extent the Victorian ideal of the park as a place of civilising influence over the urban poor and labouring classes was realised and experienced
  4. To broaden and extend historical research of the governance of urban public space beyond a focus on major city streets and squares
  5. To contribute to a reinterpretation and reinvigoration of the vision, governance and sustainability of urban parks in cities of the future
The past, present and the future: linking themes
  1. The future prospects of Victorian public parks in the present day and at the time in which they were created:
    • Spaces of experience
    • Horizons of expectations
  2. The function of parks as places of social mixing:
    • Possibilities for conflict around behaviour, anxieties of otherness and the potential for crime.
    • Other-regarding outcomes that co-mingling may facilitate

Conceptual Framework

Research Questions

‘Spaces of experience’ in the past
  • How did historical subjects experience and interpret their everyday lives, events and relations, in particular Victorian city parks?
  • To what extent do experiences depart from/shaped by expectations?
‘Horizons of expectation’ in the past
  • How did historical subjects (governors and governed) envision the future?
  • What did they expect parks might become in terms of their social promise and desired effects?
  • What do those visions reveal about the urban imagination of the Victorians?
‘Spaces of experience’ in the present
  • How do contemporary subjects experience and interpret their everyday lives, events and relations, in particular Victorian city parks?
  • To what extent do experiences depart from/shaped by expectations?
  • What new social roles and functions are public parks expected to play in the multi-cultural city?
‘Horizons of expectation’ in the present
  • How do contemporary subjects envision the future?
  • What are the (new or changed) expectations about and visions for the future promise of public parks? To what extent are these multiple or contested?
  • Are these visions socially sustainable, romantic or idealistic, and what do they reveal about the contemporary age?

Methodology

Historical analysis (1857 – 1914)
  • Local authority and police archives
  • The British Newspaper Archive
  • Open space byelaws
  • Photographs of parks
Contemporary study
  • Focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders
  • Leeds Parks Survey

Case Studies

  • Roundhay Park, Woodhouse Moor and Cross Flatts Park
  • Opened for public use during the Victorian era
  • The selection of parks draw out the diversity of:
    • Ideals concerning the social purpose(s) of parks
    • Size and social profile of users and stakeholders, with consequences for governance and regulation
    • Experiences of park life, from the more ceremonial through to the familiar and informal

Project Outputs

  • Public exhibition
  • New collection on Leodis photographic archive
  • Policy seminar
  • Academic conference papers and publications
  • National conference on the future of public park