Should we be allowed to get up to no good?
Horticulture Week reports that Richmond Council in southwest London has rethought its new policy of leaving parks unlocked overnight. Apparently it introduced the policy on 1 April, only locking one particular garden after that date. But it has now bowed to pressure from residents (and no less a figure than local MP Vince Cable) and is to start locking three parks again.
The concerns were about antisocial behaviour, noise and litter. Richmond Council says it has done this because it is a ‘listening council’. And fair enough. But it does raise questions of how polite we want our public spaces to be – not to mention whether they are truly ‘public’ if they are locked at night. Litter is of course an issue that can be dealt with by more frequent collection and clearing. Noise? well, city streets are already noisy, and if people are misbehaving in a serious way they can be dealt with. The interesting issue is antisocial behaviour. I live near two commons and I am not sure that I would walk over them alone at dead of night. Quite a few antisocial things go on there. But it does not mean I think they should be fenced off. If people know the risks and are willing to run them, so be it – and if they want somewhere to cruise or misbehave in other ways, then the semi no-go area of a darkened park or common seems a reasonable choice.
Of course nobody wants to have to avoid discarded needles in the morning, but locked parks also usually are locked to early morning exercisers. And cities are a mix of types and activities – even the law-abiding may have had a less than upstanding period in adolescence. Shouldn’t we accommodate everybody and allow there to be some less than perfect places in our cities?