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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Public Gardens. Parks and Building Ground.
(S208a: 1872)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor published on page 343 of the first volume of The Garden, in its issue of 9 March 1872. My thanks to Dr. E. Charles Nelson for reporting this newly rediscovered work. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S208A.htm

    No one can be more desirous than myself that parks, gardens, and open spaces should be multiplied in the vicinity of all our large towns, and that they should be made as extensive as possible; but certain considerations, left entirely out of sight in the article on Victoria Park in your last week's issue, seem to render it advisable, with the view of furthering this very object, that the strips of land in dispute should, as originally proposed, be let for building on. With your permission, I will briefly state what these considerations are.

    1. When a sum of public money is voted for a park, and a special provision is made to enable the park to become in time self-supporting, and even to have a surplus revenue which may eventually pay back to the nation its original cost, it seems to me to be bad policy to endeavour to annul these provisions, and thus make it a perpetual charge on the revenue. For, if this is done, it must inevitably render any Government both less willing and less able to entertain the question of establishing new parks. The fact of the great increase of population round the park, which is adduced as an argument for keeping the building land open, is the very circumstance which has rendered the surrounding land so valuable, and which will enable it to produce the required revenue.

    2. There is, however, a very important principle involved in this question, which has been strongly advocated by Mr. John Stuart Mill, viz.:--that as much as possible of the increase in the value of land which is directly caused by the public, should belong to the public. Now there is no more certain way of increasing the value of the surrounding land than by making a beautiful park in a densely peopled district; and by reserving a strip of land all round that park at the outset, expressly to be built upon when the demand arises for it, you do actually secure a large share of the increased value to the public. The strip of building land around Victoria Park, for instance, is certain to increase in value; so that, besides producing a good revenue for the first term of the leases, it will probably, as those leases fall in, be re-let at a much higher rate, and so produce an increasing revenue, which may not only suffice to pay for the present park, but may also supply funds towards the formation of new parks in outlying districts where they will be then more needed.

    3. But if the strips of land in question are now permanently attached to the park, we not only lose all this present and prospective benefit ourselves, but we make a free gift of the wealth we have created to men who have no earthly right to it. For there will then be a most valuable building frontage to the park, about three miles in extent, in the hands of private persons, whose property will rise to double or treble its previous value the moment we extend the park up to their boundary, and give them the certainty of a perpetual view over it. Many of these freeholders will have purchased their ground at a low price, because it was believed that they would be entirely shut out from the park by a continuous line of houses on the reserved land.

    4. It is of the very first importance to establish the practicability of the principle of always securing, at the time when great improvements are first made at public expense, an additional tract of cheap land, the enhanced value of which, created by the improvement, may at some future time repay its cost; and I cannot but think that it is very short-sighted policy, under any circumstances, to claim this reserved land, and so neutralise this highly desirable result. It is almost as suicidal as the practice of those Governments which, having obtained a loan on the faith of the establishment of a sinking fund, appropriate the revenues set apart for that purpose on the first monetary pressure.

    5. On looking at your very clear map of Victoria Park, it is easily seen that the strips in question form a very small part of the whole; and although twenty-nine acres in one lump is a good-sized piece of land, it is of far less importance when in a strip nearly three miles long. For a large portion of this extent, the strips are only one hundred feet wide; and it cannot much affect the park as a place of recreation whether the houses, which will soon inevitably encircle it, are built on the outer or the inner side of the surrounding roads. On the other hand, it is a matter of the highest importance to prove, that in populous districts parks can be made self-supporting, after a few years, by the simple method of surrounding them with a belt of land reserved for building, the constantly increasing rents of which shall benefit the public instead of private landowners. I therefore maintain that it is the true interest of the people at large that the original scheme should be carried into effect, because it is founded on a true and most important principle, which will favour (as surely as the opposite course will check) the multiplication of parks and gardens for the people.

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