Design cemeteries for the living, not just the dead
31 October 2007
CABE is calling for local authorities to realise the full potential of burial grounds by including them in their green space strategies.
Urban burial grounds in the 19th century were originally envisaged as public open spaces, and they were professionally designed to be attractive places to visit in their own right. Today that close relationship between the cemetery and the park has disappeared from many local authority strategies. Many cemeteries are neglected, with very little to attract anyone apart from those visiting specific burial plots. Due to this lack of design, planning and ambition, the potential health and environmental benefits of cemeteries are not being realised.
Cemeteries can account for up to half of all green open space in some local authorities. But the Ministry of Justice has acknowledged that it does not know the total number of churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds in the UK (estimates range from between 12,000 and 20,000), and there is little co-ordination between owners, managers or the sector as a whole.
This suggests a huge untapped resource, even if it has not been properly quantified. No less than half of all public open space in Kensington & Chelsea is occupied by cemeteries, and they account for a third of the public open space in the London Borough of Newham. The provision of greens spaces within the urban environment has always been strongly linked to good health, and areas with poorly managed open green spaces are accordingly more likely to have a higher incidence of poor health.
CABE is calling on local authorities to include burial grounds in their green space strategies so that finance can be allocated for horticulturalists and maintenance workers, proper landscaping, visitor facilities and specially designated walks to encourage exploration and exercise. With proper care, nature can flourish, making cemeteries more interesting and colourful places.
Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE Space, thinks that cemeteries should not be considered solely as resting places for the dead: they should be designed with the living in mind too. \"The great Victorian cemeteries were designed and maintained as beautiful public parks for the enjoyment of all. Every local authority should have them in their green space strategy and ensure that their full value is realised."
In mainland Europe, cemetery commissions have been undertaken by architects including David Chipperfield at Venice's San Michele cemetery and Enric Miralles' Igualada cemetery in Barcelona. In England, there has been no equivalent commission since Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Examples of local and community work to revitalise cemeteries in England include the Abney Park Cemetery Trust in north London and Arnos Vale in Bristol.
CABE Space has published a guide for community groups wanting to improve public spaces in their local area. Order the publication here.
You can find more information on cemeteries in our briefing on Cemeteries, churchyards and burial grounds.