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Research Projects

AHRC/RCUK Connected Communities £30,648 (Value to University of Dundee: £2,232) 07.2010 – 06.2012


Social Parks: Urban green-space as a focus for connecting communities and research

Main project collaborators

Dr Rebecca Wade, University of Abertay Dundee (Principal Investigator)
Andy Milligan, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Lian Lundy, Middlesex University (Co-Investigator)
Dr Ian Smith, University of the West of England (Co-Investigator)
Dr Kate Pahl, University of Sheffield (Co-Investigator)
Dr Jo Vergunst, University of Aberdeen (Co-Investigator)


Andy Milligan (Co-Investigator)

Context and background

SPARKS Urban green-space offers recreation, ownership and community focus to residents and visitors, and can include playgrounds, gardens, paths, sports field and courts, picnic facilities and water. Urban parks are seen as having significant benefits. They increase the desirability of housing, can significantly affect the health and wellbeing of urban populations, and may foster active lifestyles that combat obesity-related diseases and premature death. However, such uses and benefits are available and availed upon unequally. Research suggests that whilst urban green spaces were designed to encourage civility and bring nature and recreational opportunities to socio-economically disadvantaged communities, the extent to which this has been achieved varies.

Aims and objectives

The SPARKS project aims to integrate physical, social science and design through research on parks and other urban ‘social’ green spaces – Social Parks. The project brings together researchers who are collectively interested in these social spaces, thereby stimulating cross-disciplinary interaction and analysis. A full appreciation or ‘valuation’ of the role of these urban spaces in contributing to a ‘big society’ requires cross-disciplinary input, engagement with, and for, communities, and analysis at differing spatial and temporal scales.

The project aims to connect communities and research, and enhance community involvement. Users will be encouraged to reflect on how their behaviour and attitudes have changed when places/sites are re-designated, for example, from waste land to ‘urban park’ or city park to community park. The project aims to explore not just how urban green spaces might frame behaviour but how they may change behaviours.

Some questions have been identified to help frame this enquiry. What do we know about these spaces: what is the ‘value’ of green space over other land use types and the added value of water (or other significant features) within parks; how might local parks affect health and well-being and how might communities explore new uses for parks that celebrate identity and belonging? How are they changing: what is the adaptive capacity of communities in the face of climate change? What does the future hold for urban parks and green-space and what new roles should/can parks and urban green-space play in generating greater community cohesion in the ‘Big Society’?


SPARKS Outputs include a designed event and will lead to a special edition journal based on the individual efforts from existing projects and the collective efforts from this project. A non-academic summary report has also been produced to inform the Department for Communities and Local Government plus other government departments, ‘third sector’ organisations and community groups who are increasingly engaged in park-related issues. This report identifies ‘case studies’ of good practice and outlines a future direction for delivery of a cross-disciplinary evidence base relating to urban green spaces and their role in connecting communities. In addition, the main findings have been circulated to local authorities and city councils. Outputs from SPARKS are available on the project website.

A community event and exhibition will be held in Victoria Park, Rawmarsh, in which findings from the project will be projected against the side of the Youth Centre wall with the Youth Service in Rawmarsh.

SPARKS - click here to download PDF description