Sunday, January 21, 2007

Green lungs

click photo to enlarge
If you want to know something about how a city sees itself, about its civic pride and its sense of community, you can do worse than take a walk in its parks. These public spaces will tell you a lot about both the local government and the local population.

In Britain, up until about 1980, city parks were green, vibrant, democratic places, the lungs of the urban areas. Usually laid out in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, they were frequently a result of the philanthropy of a local person, and often bore his (it was usually a man) name. Pearson Park in Kingston upon Hull is just such an example, and still features a statue of its founder. Green open spaces, a variety of ornamental trees, statues, lakes (and rowing boats), children's play areas, sports pitches, small aviaries, a collection of animals, and conservatories, all linked by a network of meandering paths, feature in the best parks. However, during the period from 1980 to about 1995 Britain's parks were seriously neglected. This was certainly due to the contempt for local government of the successive administrations led by Margaret "there is no such thing as society" Thatcher. Councils were starved of funds and parks fell into shameful disrepair. Since the turn of the century, however, things have improved considerably, and many parks are almost back to their Victorian best.

My photograph shows the former Orangery (now the Butterfly House) in Williamson Park, Lancaster. The gift to the city of James Williamson, later Lord Ashton, a local industrialist, the park is beautifully located on a hillside overlooking Lancaster, and features a number of fine buildings and features. In front of the Butterfly House is a decorative cobble pavement, the work of Maggie Howarth, that features the red rose of Lancashire, the coat of arms of Lancaster, and other decorative morifs. For my mid-morning photograph with sharply slanting light, I crouched down low and used a wide zoom lens at 22mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/320 sec), the ISO at 200, and -1.0 EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen