Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

London’s Parks and the Accessibility of Beauty

September 14, 2010 · No Comments

Gordon Square (personal photo)

The accessibility of art in London has been on my mind lately. This isn’t just because we’ve been going to free art museums a few times a week since we’ve been here, and because we’ve gotten cheap theater tickets to see fabulous productions. Some other reasons to consider commitment to art accessibility as an integral part of London’s identity, for me, include the architecture (I don’t care what A.N. Wilson says), artworks on the Tube, the quality music we hear from auditioned buskers on the street, and, of course, the public parks.

Hyde Park (personal photo)

So far in London, I’ve spent time in Regents’ Park (right down the street from us), Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Gordon Square and Tavistock Square/Peace Park. These spaces are radically different from each other – they range from wide open green fields to carefully manicured gardens to the small squares of Bloomsbury, veritable oases in the midst of the road rage and jackhammers we’ve gotten so used to. When life in the Arran House gets a little crowded, or when museum after museum starts to overwhelm me, I’m finding that a long walk in the park – just me and my iPod – is exactly what I need. And it doesn’t seem like I’m alone in that, either – literally, there are always other people, and when it comes to Regents or St. James, huge crowds of other people, enjoying the parks along with me.

Regents Park (personal photo)

So, yes, parks in London are pretty, and they’re frequent (and museums are big), but I think there’s more to it than that. When we look at these parks in conjunction with the free art museums and cheap theater tickets and Tube murals and buskers, I think a pattern emerges that’s really important to London’s identity: beauty should be accessible and egalitarian. It’s a priority to London’s budget that there should be green spaces and gardens in the middle of the busy city, to give us some relief from the fast pace. I know I appreciate it; it makes London liveable. Queen Victoria recognized this when she opened up Hyde Park to the public – so the laborers would have an escape from the suffocating smog, somewhere pleasant to go. London’s not the Dickensian hell-hole it was during the Victorian era, certainly, but I think the same logic holds today, and I think appreciating London’s public parks are key to appreciating the art and beauty that make this city so special.

St. James's Park (personal photo)

Categories: 2010 MaryKate

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