New Article by Andrew Smith (Academic and Geographer)

A new on-line article by Andrew Smith has just been published in Environment and Planning A: Sustaining municipal parks in an era of neoliberal austerity: The contested commercialisation of Gunnersbury Park

This paper analyses a potentially path shaping moment for the UK’s public parks by analysing a pivotal case study of park neoliberalisation. Like many municipal parks, Gunnersbury Park in West London is experiencing the effects of local government budget cuts. Governance, policy and physical changes have been introduced to reduce dependence on public funding and the result is a more commercially oriented park. This case is used to better understand how the period of neoliberal austerity 2010–2019 reshaped municipal parks. The paper highlights concerns over the transparency and accountability of the social enterprise that now manages Gunnersbury Park. It also shows how neoliberalisation and commercialisation are manifested in the park landscape: free events are replaced with ticketed ones, spaces for sport are transformed into bookable facilities, cafes are taken over by corporate chains and playgrounds are supplemented with paid entry alternatives. One of the main consequences is the financial and symbolic exclusion of those unable or unwilling to pay. The paper explores who has contested the recent changes, and why. Opponents are dismissed as idealistic NIMBYs but, by refusing to accept the post-political inevitability of park neoliberalisation, they are helping to ensure Gunnersbury Park remains a public and open space. The case is contextualised by situating it within a review of new park governance arrangements across London, and by comparing neoliberalisation processes here with those affecting New York parks. Ultimately, the research highlights the pitfalls of shifting away from the public funding and public management of municipal parks.

You can read the full article here.