13) How has our park changed and why?
How has our park changed and why?
1) Background information
After WWII, many public parks fell into decline because fewer people were visiting them, and therefore not seen as a priority for council expenditure. This was as a result of the following changes in leisure habits.
People no longer needed to go to the park to hear music. Radio and record players allowed people to listen to music at home. Consequently, bandstands were left to decay and were even removed in some parks. Others were only basically maintained, losing their decorative colour schemes under corporate colours.
Cinema was, by then, hugely popular, followed shortly by television in the home, providing people with alternatives to spending their leisure time.
Increased opportunities for leisure time generated a demand for more sports facilities that could not be accommodated within parks. Councils therefore had new priorities and many diverted funds from the management of parks to pay for these.
More and more people were able to afford cars, allowing them to travel away from their home town for days out. Also, the introduction of cheap package holidays enabled people to holiday abroad rather than at British coastal or country locations.
Before the post-war housing boom, many working class people had lived in terraces with only back yards. Throughout the country, new houses were being built with their own gardens in which people could spend their leisure time, including gardening.
In 1968, the Countryside Act led to the creation of the Countryside Commission which gave grants to create new country parks. These were usually sited on the outskirts of towns and were cheaper to maintain.
Parks suffered as a consequence of the increasing expense of their upkeep. To reduce costs, planting schemes became less elaborate, with fewer seasonal changes. This was less labour intensive and enabled staffing levels to be reduced. Park staff were absorbed into centralised teams, which were subsumed into larger council leisure and amenities section, and had to compete for maintenance budgets. As a result of these changes resident park keepers lost their jobs or their posts disappeared once they retired. Some park lodges were sold off; others were demolished.
A further factor in the decline of parks was the modernist influence in architecture. Town planners moved away from overly decorated features and surroundings. This was reflected in the maintenance of traditional parks, which many saw as old-fashioned. Instead, larger, uncluttered open spaces were preferred, which were, of course, more easily and cheaply maintained.
An additional problem for many councils had been the removal of park railings during WWII to support the war effort. This reduced security, leaving many parks vulnerable to vandalism and theft, providing a further drain on park budgets.
Cash-strapped councils recognised the land value of parks in or near to town centres. A few sold off fringes of their parks for lucrative development, using the proceeds to fund other services or developments.