The park and the commons: vernacular spaces for everyday participation and cultural value

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    Public parks were first established in the UK in the newly industrialised cities of Manchester and Salford, as nineteenth century cultural strategies for public health, regulation and education responding to moral anxieties about the changing conditions of everyday life. This article looks at public parks as vernacular spaces for everyday participation, drawing on empirical research, including ethnographic fieldwork, household interviews and focus groups, and community engagement conducted for the Manchester-Salford ecosystem case study of the ‘Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Value’ (UEP) project [Miles & Gibson, 2016. Everyday participation and cultural value. Cultural Trends, 5(3), 151–157]. It considers narratives of participation [Miles, 2016. Telling tales of participation: Exploring the interplay of time and territory in cultural boundary work using participation narratives. Cultural Trends, 5, 182–193], which reveal how parks are valued and recognised as community assets and spaces for both tolerance and distinction, where different communities can meet, become visible, and perform shared and distinct cultural identities [Low et al., 2005. Rethinking Urban Parks, Public Space and Cultural Diversity. Austin: University of Texas Press]. It draws on the conceptual device of ‘the commons’, defined as a dynamic and collective resource that stands in tension with commodified and privatised space [Gidwani & Baviskar, 2011. Urban Commons Review of Urban Affairs: Economic & Political Weekly, Volume XLVI No. 50 December 10, 2011.]., to explore how parks present opportunities for civic participation through contemporary processes of ‘commoning’ [Linebaugh, 2014. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All. Berkeley: University of California Press]. I argue that parks are also subject to contemporary forms of enclosure through social exclusion and physical closure, which impact on the likely success of current policy imperatives for community asset transfer and alternative management models.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)34-46
    Number of pages13
    JournalCultural Trends
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2017


    • parks
    • everyday participation
    • community assets
    • the commons
    • cultural policy


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