In 1949 the English science journalist and author J. G. Crowther proposed that attendees at a UNESCO conference consider “the surface of the globe as a World Park.” Parks had been imagined and designed as worlds in miniature. Crowther’s statement is striking for inverting this principle and encapsulating the 20th century transition from conservation to ecology, in which Earth became understood as one ecosystem. The ‘World Park’ was and remains a grand scientific, cultural and geopolitical claim, not least for the then new United Nations, its sovereign members, and related agencies. The “countryside” concept animating this conference recognizes the porosity of conceptual and material barriers between the urban and the “wild”. This paper argues that urban planning is now encountering the administrative, scientific and political issues that national and global parks administration has both ignored and addressed since 1949. These challenges concern boundaries; those recognized and institutionalized (buffer zones, transboundary parks, the peri-urban, regional parks, urban national parks), and those places where control of humans and of natural processes are more difficult for authorities. From citizen-initiated urban parks, to Tribal parks, and to the many unauthorized uses and unofficial management of urban and wild environments, people have shown that creating boundaries as a tool for environmental protection or to provide recreation often fails, officially, while succeeding, sometimes, in stimulating creative “friction” where nature and citizen agency both find their way. The legacy of the World Park, even in a diminished 2021 version contains the element of hubris in which the solution (more protected area) to the problem (the environmental emergency) is the mandate of sovereign governments, agencies and experts. Can city and regional governments acknowledge the agency of citizens in creating and using places and environments differently ? Parks administrators at various levels are recognizing the limits of their own agency. Can urban planners taking on the countryside do the same?
Alison Beale (PhD) is a Professor in and former Director of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. She co-directed SFU’s Centre for Policy Studies on Culture and Communities and has published on Canadian, Australian and European national and urban cultural policies. Her most recent work concerns parks and protected areas, with a special interest in labour in parks, parks and Indigenous governance, and the representation of parks in social media, fiction and film.