Look around you (If you’re allowed to?)

by Gary Warnaby

A recent post on the IPM Blog has highlighted the importance of urban green space in the time of epidemics (see http://blog.placemanagement.org/2020/04/11/the-importance-of-urban-green-in-times-of-epidemics/#more-2509), in terms of their beneficial effects on the well-being of those city-dwellers able to access them.  Indeed, in the UK, there have been media reports bemoaning the fact that so many people have sought such benefits (especially during sunny weather), that the government’s recommended social distancing protocols have not been observed because of the sheer number of people occupying these spaces.  In such situations, perhaps we have to find alternative, ‘new’ greenspaces?

In my last post on this blog (see http://blog.placemanagement.org/2020/04/10/look-around-you-exploring-your-locality-during-lockdown/#more-2495), I suggested that during the current pandemic, we need to ‘look around’, and explore more extensively the locales in which we live. In doing so, I’ve certainly found new green spaces that I didn’t know existed close to where we live.  More recently, in our local explorations, we’ve investigated another green space that we knew existed only a few hundred metres from our house, but had never ventured on before – namely, the local golf course.

This weekend, when walking across a municipal field very close to where we live (which serves as a venue for the local dog-walkers, as well as the local youth – who unfortunately can’t currently use the basketball court located there), we followed a vague path through the trees and bushes bounding the field. We soon came across a footbridge over a small brook, which separates this area of land from the local golf course (s. image above).

We were warned that we were entering a potentially dangerous area:

But, given that golf courses are currently closed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we thought we would be safe. Indeed, we had a very nice walk across the fairways:

The golf course is private land, but on further investigation, we found that there were two public footpaths across it (hence, the warning signs above, where the paths entered the golf course).  We would never have ventured on the land if the golf course had been open (for fear of low flying golf balls!), but in these current times perhaps greater use could be made (in a responsible way, of course) of such amenities?  There were very few people walking on the course, but some were exercising their dogs there, and were (like us) exploring a space that they would perhaps have found somewhat intimidating to enter in normal circumstances.

How much of this type of space exists?  Perkins (2009) highlights the number and variety of what he terms ‘golfing landscapes’ in the north west of England. These comprise golf courses of all types, ranging from those that are municipally owned, to those that are exclusive private clubs[1]. Author and activist Guy Shrubsole states that in London alone there 131 golf courses, which he estimates cover 11,000 acres, constituting the second largest category of green space in the city after parks and public gardens.  He calculates that just under half (by area) are owned by local councils and the Crown Estate[2], and asks why they could not be made more accessible in the current situation.  Indeed, this leads the Guardian columnist George Monbiot to contextualise this current situation about access to ‘the commons’ in a broader historical context of land ownership and the consequent restrictions on access to public space[3].  Indeed, these issues could be seen as symptomatic of – and resonating with – recent debates about the privatisation of public space in an urban context, and the consequent implications for place management[4]. Perhaps once the hiatus of the current situation is over, it will again be time to debate such issues more vigorously?

[1] Chris Perkins, (2009) ‘Placing golf’ North West Geography 9(1)Available at: https://www.mangeogsoc.org.uk/pdfs/perkins_golf.pdf

[2] Guy Shrubsole (2020, 14 April) ’Who owns London’ golf courses’ Available at: https://whoownsengland.org/2020/04/14/who-owns-londons-golf-courses/

[3] George Monbiot (2020, 22 April) ‘Lockdown is nothing new. We’ve been kept off the land for centuries’. The Guardian.  Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/22/lockdown-coronavirus-crisis-right-to-roam

[4] Exemplified, for example, in Anna Minton’s book Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-first Century City (2009. Penguin Books, London).