Markeaton Park is Derby's most heavily used park and is indeed one of the most frequently visited of all East Midlands sites, two facts that would suggest that its upkeep is highly important (Turbutt 1999: 18-20). However, a combination of this high degree of use and a lack of consistent funding for upkeep and infrastructure improvement has left the park in a far-less-than-ideal state. While the park remains attractive to a range of visitors (including families with children), it has entered what the Derby City Council believes may be a cycle of decline in which poor upkeep and the failure to modernize lead to a decline in use and popularity, which in turn will lead to fewer visitors and less money (Derby City Council 2011).
Keenly aware of the fact that the park's future hangs in the balance depending on what decisions are made now, the Council has begun to take measures to update the park's facilities so that they meet the needs of the communities that it serves. These needs have changed significantly over the years and the Council has made clear that it is imperative to reflect these new needs (Derby City Council 2011). One of the key concerns of the Council and of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is being asked to fund the revival of the park, is how to avoid any changes that are too keyed to current trends, as these will soon be replaced by other trends (Zahariadis 2003: 119). In an attempt to balance current and future needs, the Council is thus seeking input from the public as to what their desires are for the park while also attending to the advice of consultants who are able to bring to the project a longer perspective (Derby City Council 2011).
The above concern speaks to a larger operational concern as the park attempts to create its own renaissance. The money from the Heritage Lottery Fund must be used in very specific ways so that the funding helps to preserve the historical nature of a site and to educate the public about the historical and cultural value of sites (Heritage Lottery Fund 2012). In order to receive the funding it needs, park officials need to be able to balance preservation concerns with the desire of many visitors simply to have fun and have no interest in history. Related to this careful balance is another one that park officials must assay, which is to balance public spending and private investment in the most profitable way. The task for the park can be likened to trying to balance simultaneously on two tightropes (Agranoff & McGuire 2003: 34-6).
The renaissance of the park is to be undertaken in two phases, the first of which has already been accomplished (Derby City Council 2011; Heritage Lottery Fund 2012). The design work for the park's new planning and design has been paid for with a £142,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. This fund was granted through the Parks for People Programme, which uses "grants for projects that regenerate public parks of national, regional or local heritage value" (Parks for People 2012).
The Council are next going to submit a second application for up to £2.4 million to provide for the majority of the costs of the restoration of the park and has asked for input both from those people who are visitors to the park (asking them what it is that attracts people to the park) and those who are former visitors or who have never visited the park to determine what would bring them to the park. The next section of this paper examines some of the suggestions that the Derby City Council has proposed for the park to receive Heritage Lottery Funding with the following section assessing the current plan in terms of its underlying operational strategy.
Results and findings
Markeaton is fortunate in that it already has a wide range of types of visitors, although this range could certainly be expanded (Derby City Council 2011). Most of the visitors to the park currently are families with young children, some younger adults, and seniors. The demographic that is currently missing and that would be significant to add are adults from about age 25 to 55 (Derby City Council 2011). Even people who have grown up going to the Mundy Play Centre tend to stop going to the park when they become adults, although they may well return when they reach retirement age.
The fact that the park has gathered the above sort of statistics is highly significant because it speaks to a certain underlying operational philosophy, which is that when public money is being spent it has to benefit the widest number of people possible. While this is certainly a common attitude it is not the only one (Agranoff 2008: 86). A shift in this attitude is in fact one of the things that must take effect to preserve the park.
Both public commentary and Council suggestions so far lack a key element in terms of a cohesive operational strategy; indeed the current problems have been brought about in no small part because quite simply that there is no overall strategy for the park. Different areas of the park are aimed at attracting different types of visitors, which is certainly an important part of a master plan for a park this size. However, and this is something that the Council must be attentive to, there must also be a unifying goal if the park is to invite the largest number of users.
The park has to be organized and marketed as a single, integrated destination, while at the same time different aspects of the park that appeal to one age group or another must be emphasized as well (Worsley 2004). One of the clear current deficits in the park's plan in terms of its lack of a coherent operational strategy is that it fails to use its historical setting as an integrating strategy. Coordinating the current activities that the park offers under the umbrella of the history of the site will make the experience of all visitors more enjoyable as well as bringing in visitors from demographic groups that are currently underrepresented if it follows in the path of similar projects. (Gow 2006 makes a similar argument).
As noted, the requirement of the Heritage Lottery Fund that grants be given to focus on enhancing the heritage value of the park must coincide with the core concepts of any future master plan. Indeed, in the absence of any coherent operational strategy or philosophy, the guidelines of the granting requirements of the Heritage Lottery Fund can stand in for one.
In no small part because the park's land was deeded to the Council in several steps, the park has never had a coherent relationship with the original estate. (Again, Gow 2006 makes a parallel argument.) Creating a sense of connection between park and estate is likely to bring in new visitors in one of the demographics that is currently underrepresented: Young adults who may currently dismiss the park as a destination mostly for families with children. Weaving the history of the estate throughout the park will provide a greater appeal to young adults and is also likely to appeal to foreign visitors, which would add to the mix of almost solely domestic visitors that the park now welcomes (NHS Evidence 2003).
Once this shift in basic operational strategy (one might even call it the operational philosophy) has been put into place, a number of opportunities to implement this vision for the park become clear. It is also the case that as this first set of changes are implemented and some of the original "bones" of the estate are made more visible, other changes may become clearer.
Evaluation and Discussion
Among the changes that are most likely to reconnect the park to the estate in such a way that it is welcoming to 21st-century visitors is to reestablish a sense of center to the park. The original hall was, of course, the focus of the overall design of the estate, and its destruction has left a visual as well as psychological gap in the park (Derby City Council 2011; Girouard 1994). It is impossible to restore the hall; however, it is possible to recreate the sense of the road leading up to the Orangery as also leading to the core of the estate. This can be accomplished through several methods, all of which are relatively inexpensive (Adams 1991).
The first of these is to plant herbaceous borders along what was the main entrance road with appropriate trees planted behind the borders, a combination that will over time create an increasingly impressive entranceway. Along this avenue will be installed a series of informational plaques that use photographs and historical drawings to explain how the estate and park changed over time. Interactive exhibits in which children (as well as adults) are invited to draw pictures of what they…
Sources Used in Document:
Adams, W.H. (1991). Nature Perfected: Gardens Through History. New York: Abbeville Press.
Agranoff, R. (2008). Managing Within Networks: Adding Value to Public Organizations. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Agranoff, R. & McGuire, M. (2003). Collaborative Public Management: New Strategies for Local Governments. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Boyne, G. (2003). Sources of Public Service Improvement: A Critical Review and Research Agenda. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 13/3, 367-394.