Seeds of Hope: Community Woodlands and Revitalization
Posted July 6, 2012
At the beginning of this week I got to go to the Royal Horticultural Society's flower show at Hampton Court. For a newbie like me itwas an eye-opener: enough cut-glass accents to make me think I'd stepped into a BBC studio from the 1950s, designer gardens that were more designer than garden, outlets selling Pimms and champagne and any number of exhibitors touting outlandish garden furniture (fire-breathing dragon for your patio, anyone?)
|Open spaces at Mab Lane, looking towards Stockbridge Village|
Two days later I was in West Derby in Liverpool. A few years ago the waterlogged sports fields near Mab Lane were a symbol of blight, used as a dumping ground for abandoned cars and worse. It was a place to avoid, and the antisocial behaviour it attracted helped make many of the surrounding homes places to avoid too.
Things got so bad that the local landlord, Riverside Housing, was thinking of demolishing 17 homes at a cost of nearly three quarters of a million pounds. One thing that changed Riverside's mind was the creation of a community woodland.
Walk around Mab Lane now and you'll find a forest of 20,000 trees, a mass of wildflowers, goldfinches in the trees and dog walkers or parents with young children enjoying the open space. It may not be pristine and you won’t find celebrity designers there, but it's looked after, safe and welcoming.
Mab Lane Community Woodland was created for £400,000 - just over half the amount it would have cost Riverside to knock down the homes in Altfinch Close. It's changed the look and feel of the area, turning it into a place where people now want to live.
What links Mab Lane and the Hampton Court flower show? It's a common recognition of the value of green space and what you can do with it, and the difference it makes to everyone's lives. It's something that cuts across class, wealth and race divides: we all feel better when we have access to spaces that are living and looked after.
|A small slice of Groundwork's Urban Oasis|
The reason I was at Hampton Court was to see Groundwork's Urban Oasis, a model of a community garden created with support from Marks and Spencer and the Royal Horticultural Society. Mab Lane, too, shows what can happen when local people get together with businesses (United Utilities), the public sector (Liverpool City Council) and a can-do local partnership (The Mersey Forest) to breathe life into green spaces.
Groundwork's report, Grey Places Need Green Spaces, shows how such partnerships can be a model for future care and stewardship, building on the principles of the historic commons. The report of the Independent Panel on Forestry, also published this week, underlines the multifaceted and lasting value green spaces offer.
As the panel's chair, Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, put it:
‘Our forests and woods are nature’s playground for the adventurous, museum for the curious, hospital for the stressed, cathedral for the spiritual, a livelihood for the entrepreneur. They are a microcosm of the cycle of life in which each and every part is dependent on the other; forests and woods are the benefactor of all, purifying the air that we breathe and distilling the water of life.’
For me, though, the really telling comment was from Yvonne Makin, neighbourhood manager for Riverside Housing, about the effect of the Mab Lane woodland:
'A place only becomes a no-go area because no-one goes there. We've gone from everybody wanting out to people saying, "You can't move me - I love it here!" in just two years.’
Sustainable Cities Collective