This land is our land…
If only common land really was common and everywhere we looked – but the mass privatisation of land that took place under the enclosures took care of all that. There is still a lot of common land – retained through local rebellion, or rejected by the 18th century privatisers because it was poor quality. And you can find it all over England. I loved the freedom of wandering on Blackheath as a teenager, after being caged up in school all day, seeking open space and a way to get out of the house. Now I feel the same need for liberty walking on Port Meadow by the Thames in Oxford.
But there are other kinds of common space that people have claimed as their own through use, like the Royal Parks in London. They might be owned by the antidemocratic figurehead of an anachronistic institution, but they’re loved and used as free spaces for meeting and playing and being outdoors by people all over the city.
If you defined ownership by use, or love, and not by legal deeds, these parks could be said to belong to the local people.
In Greenwich, right next to Blackheath, the local people are fighting to save their local park from Olympic developers, LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games). They plan to hold the Olympic equestrian sports in the park in 2012, and a rehearsal sporting event in 2011. This will mean closing the park for most of each year, and likely in between; being prepared to cut down ancient trees in the way of the course; riding roughshod (or possibly quite expensively shod) over the historic ground of a UNESCO world heritage site; bulldozing popular local facilities including a children’s boating pond, a teashop and the bandstand… you get the picture.
So I was pleased to see that one of the swoop sites began in east London in support of all the communities being affected by the Olympic developers. I’m going to declare an interest here. I loved that boating pond. When my brother and sister and I were new arrivals in the UK aged 8, 9 and 10, culture-shocked and lonely, we would head off through the park and down to the boating pond and practice being English. I bought my first love what seemed like an unforgettably delicious cup of tea in that teashop. We sat and held hands, perched on the bandstand to keep out of the rain.
The people of Greenwich don’t want or deserve the Olympic invasion, closure and destruction of their park. They need your support: http://www.nogoe2012.com/. This is why so many Greenwich residents support the Climate Camp on Blackheath: we want a future that values our Commons- whether it’s the grass our communities use, or the air that we breathe.