Science - May 19, 2010

City park good for social harmony

City parks are good meeting places for various ethnic groups. A good layout will give everyone something, writes Karin Peters in the latest issue of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.

Peters, attached to the Socio-spatial Analysis Group, did her research in five city parks in Utrecht, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Haarlem to find out what native Dutch and Dutch descendants of Turkish and Moroccan origins do in city parks and what they like about them. Everyone said that parks are relaxing to spend time in, and nice for family or friendship get-togethers. The native Dutch are more often found cycling or taking walks in the parks, while the Turkish and the Moroccan Dutch often gather in bigger groups for picnics.
Dog
Although people do not go to the park to meet people from other cultures, they are pleased to find themselves in the midst of diversity. Sometimes, they chat to one another, mostly by way of the dog or the children. 'The park breeds familiarity', says Peters, 'because people feel at ease there. In a public area, people get a feel of the sort of society they live in. While this can also be felt in a shopping area, the picture there is more fleeting and functional.' 
Eat
The layout of the park can make it more attractive for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. A good grass field in which to football is a good meeting place in the park. 'The grass field in the Nijmegen Theme Park is situated on a slope on purpose, so that it cannot be used for football. This restricts people's mobility but gives them more space to talk and eat in peace.' Besides football fields, the availability of seats and shaded areas also attract people to a city park. The immigrants would like to see more barbecue facilities and a café in the park. A good layout will ensure that everyone feels welcomed in the park, says Peters, and avoid giving any one group the upper hand. She carried out her research together with Arjen Buijs of the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group.

Re:act