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Of many lessons Londoners can take from the COVID-19 crisis, one of the more salient observations is the extent to which our community relies on public spaces. Indeed, it is increasingly clear that an open, trusting and harmonious society revolves around free and accessible space for citizens. These public spaces are where we gather to relax, socialise, exercise, study and think. The sanctity of such areas should be built into our social contract.

The Greater London Authority and local councils do not, rather surprisingly, hold reliable data on our civic spaces. From the London Environment Strategy of 2018, we can see that Greater London has approximately 3,000 parks covering approximately 18% of land. Frustratingly, however, there is no dataset covering the extent to which these parks are privately owned public spaces, or even closed to the public. In the aftermath of the current national crisis it will be important for City Hall to gather this vital information.

Studies have shown that trust and civic participation are increased where populations have opportunities to interact, much of this taking place in our city’s parks and open spaces. An obvious example for the role of public space in democracy is Speaker’s Corner on the edge of Hyde Park. At a time when only a third of the population has trust in government or the media, and anecdotal evidence from the COVID-19 epidemic suggests our trust in each other as citizens may also be low, it is of heightened importance that we are given opportunities to observe and interact with one another.

Yet despite public space playing a clear role in citizenship and urban life, there is scant political will to defend parks and recreational facilities as a public right. Open spaces across Central London have been privatised, including around King’s Cross, the Olympic Stadium and even City Hall. These privately-owned sites restrict fundamental freedoms such as the right to protest and the ability for journalists to conduct their work, as well as employing security guards who drive away young people, artists and others who seek a space for recreation and activity.

The COVID-19 crisis has heightened existing tensions, with local authorities facing disdain after moving to shut-down beloved parks and restrict the public’s ability to go about their lives. As conservatives, such measures to restrict freedoms and confiscate public areas should strike a blow at the heart of our beliefs. It is high time that authorities democratise our green space, protect it from development, and invest in civic areas within all communities.

In Greater London it is clear that Mayor Sadiq Khan has failed to defend our green spaces from encroachment on several fronts whilst he’s played politics and tinkered with policy. Instead, upon defeating this virus Londoners will be asked to choose their next mayor, and all candidates must be pressed on their plans for preserving and democratising public land. Of critical importance, London authorities need to agree a citizen’s contract to hold themselves accountable for the preservation and upkeep of our community spaces for generations to come. If we fail in this task, London will never be the same.

Adam is a member of Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.