The Diana Memorial Fountain – what did they expect?

Matthew Chatfield
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The Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park is often in the news- but rarely for the right reasons. The Ranger will not presume to go over the sad story of its creation and subsequent trials – suffice it to quote the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Edward Leigh MP, who said in March 2006 that it was ill-conceived and ill-executed, and “a typical example of the great and good airily embarking on a prestige project which will take away money badly needed for the upkeep of national recreational facilities enjoyed by millions”.

The Diana Memorial Fountain (c) flappingwings
The memorial fountain in action – for once

However, for months and years prior to Mr Leigh’s frank criticism many of the problems which plagued the fountain were blamed on anything but the basic failure by those who created it to consider how people might use it. This is an attitude with which we rangers are familiar. How many times have you heard people complain about people abusing a public facility? Many, if you have a job like the Ranger. The sort of abuse in question here might be dropping litter, breaking young trees, walking on newly planted grass, or even paddling in a fountain. In the case of the Diana fountain, for example, Tessa Jowell MP chose to lay some of the blame on members of the public, who needed to treat the memorial in a “more respectful manner”. Although the designer herself had said that “Children will paddle and play, chase and race sticks in the fountain’s shallow water”, it was later claimed that the fountain was not, in fact, intended for people to go in. No. Naughty people. This is just passing the buck. All these examples do perhaps involve people doing something they should not, but the crucial thing is that anyone who gave it a moment’s thought could have predicted that they would, and thus something could be done to avoid it. Everyone who works in public open spaces needs to understand how people use those spaces, and are likely to react to change. If they don’t, they are not doing their job properly. So if you’re a park manager and you plant new trees, expect them to be trashed and either plant lots of extras or put on some pretty substantial guards. If you have an ice-cream stall and no bin, expect litter. If you plant new grass right where people want to walk (that’s why it’s worn away, see, did you notice?) then you need to make it more difficult for them to go over it than around it. If you build something that looks like a paddling pool… can you guess? Come on, this stuff is easy. The Ranger recently visited Legoland where he saw a remarkable installation on the main entrance path. Snaking down the hill was a small, open water feature. Right in the middle of the path. Tens of thousands of people must walk right through it every day. Has it been closed for safety reasons? No. Has it cost >

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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