Andrew SMITH, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
Guy OSBORN, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
Vodicka GORAN, Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom
City parks are important amenities that provide places to relax, play, exercise, socialise and assemble (Chiesura, 2004). Programming parks with events and activities is significant because it can provide flexible ways of connecting them to communities and attracting different users (Low, Taplin and Scheld, 2009). Festivals and events can be used to make parks more inclusive, especially when local communities are involved in organising them. However, programming can also exclude, especially when the main aim is to generate income to help pay for parks. Local government budget cuts and ongoing neoliberalisation mean this is an increasingly common objective for organisations responsible for managing London’s parks (Smith, 2020). Despite increased attention to programming public spaces in academic and policy discourses, there is surprisingly little written about programming parks. This paper aims to examine the implications of programming for the inclusivity of parks, and to assess the ways park festivity affects other park activities and everyday use. The paper is based on detailed analysis of a significant case study, Finsbury Park in London which hosts a wide range of events every year. The research involved regular observations of the park at times when organised events/activities were and weren’t happening, plus interviews with local stakeholders and organisations that stage events and activities in Finsbury Park. Examples of festival and events that contribute positively to the park’s inclusivity are identified, but the paper also notes the incompatibility of some events with regular activities. Various problems associated with programming driven by financial objectives are discussed, especially the exclusive nature of large scale music festivals. The paper concludes that over-programming park space should be avoided and recommends a looser approach that blurs the lines between organised, scheduled events and more informal, spontaneous happenings.