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To dreamers and defenders


Southampton Common, 326 acres of still largely wild land, open to all

In America, Portland, Oregon, is a green city, filled with flowering trees, but if Washington Park did not interrupt the houses with meadows, woods, solitary paths, playgrounds for children and a rose garden, I would feel hemmed in. Early in the morning, you can wander almost alone under the great trees. On summer evenings, families come for picnics and concerts. The idea for this park comes directly from Britain.

We've written that the design of the public park had an unexpected and wonderful birth in 18th century dreams about freedom, but even older dreams and realities - going back thousands of years - were the wellspring of the public park. The dream was and the reality is that for thousands of years common lands were shared. Across Britain commoners grazed sheep, cows and geese on the common lands, collected firewood, and took woodcock in season. It was an independent life, and without romanticizing it, had its satisfactions.

Common lands were an ancient custom, and were fiercely defended in Magna Carta, which forced John to return forests he had taken, and by people such as Robert Kett. Over the centuries, many commons became enclosed, but some survived. (Boston Common is a famous American example.) Since then new common lands for sport and relaxation, such as Central Park in New York and Stanley Park in Vancouver, have been established for our free use. They offer a balance to private property, which is also fundamental to freedom, and allow us to share something precious together.

As I wandered through Washington Park yesterday, I was grateful to those dreamers and defenders.