People, Parks and the Urban Green: A Study of Popular Meanings and Values for Open Spaces in the City

Jacquelin Burgess, Carolyn M. Harrison & Melanie Limb

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Burgess, J. , Harrison, C. M. & Limb, M. (1). People, Parks and the Urban Green: A Study of Popular Meanings and Values for Open Spaces in the City. Urban Studies, 25(6), 455–473.

green space , Greenwich , London , Open space , parks

Contemporary provision of open spaces within cities rests largely on professional assumptions about its significance in the lives of residents. This paper presents results from the Greenwich Open Space Project which used qualitative research with four, in-depth discussion groups to determine the design of a questionnaire survey of households in the borough. The research shows that the most highly valued open spaces are those which enhance the positive qualities of urban life: variety of opportunities and physical settings; sociability and cultural diversity. The findings lend some support to the approach of the urban conservation movement but present a fundamental challenge to the open-space hierarchy embodied in the Greater London Development Plan. The Project identifies a great need for diversity of both natural settings and social facilities within local areas and highlights the potential of urban green space to improve the quality of life of all citizens.

Main finding
The authors found that participants valued public parks and open spaces for their access to nature and opportunity for social and cultural activities, and expressed concern for safety and dissatisfaction with management in some spaces. Residents were found to value spaces most when they provided opportunities for multiple uses and when they were close to home.

Description of method used in the article
This study employs four in-depth discussion groups, a neighborhood-based social survey, and an interview process. For the in-depth discussion groups, participants were recruited from neighborhoods of different socioeconomic and ethnic characteristics and open space supplies in the Greenwich borough of London using a snowball technique. The social survey built on the discussion group by exploring the extent to which views expressed by the groups were reflected in the wider community. A quota sample based on the areas the discussion group members lived was sampled further into high and low socioeconomic status neighborhoods, resulting in 25 households chosen from 8 sub-samples and 212 interviews completed for the social survey. For the final stage, 12 interviews were conducted with people in the local authorities' leisure services and planning departments.

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