Researching the past and present-day uses of Jackson Park in Kumasi, Ghana.

Kumasi is the second city of Ghana, with two-million inhabitants and is home to the Asante kingdom. Ghana is urbanising rapidly and currently has more than half of its population living in cities. In the middle of the city, Jackson Park is an open public park, created in 1935. It has served a number of functions over the years – colonial staging ground, football pitch, market – and has played host to different groups – government officials, the neighbourhood Muslim community, hawkers, preachers, politicians, students.

Urban planning visions in Ghana, and beyond give little space for this sort of older, open, mixed-use space. Government policy imagines parkland as something green, set apart, and available for those interested only in leisure activities. In Kumasi, the sort of site Jackson Park represents, with its mix of funerals, hawkers, political rallies, prayers, rough sleepers are seen as outdated. It is also regarded by the municipal government as a poor relation to the growing number of private “pay-for park” spaces, where access is limited to those paying an entrance fee and where the focus is on building up a middle-class clientele and recouping public investment.

Over the course of the project we are learning about Jackson Park in the language, memories and activities of those who use it: the hawkers, preachers, local politicians, families, traders.

The different uses of Jackson Park are studied through three interlinked studies: ‘Getting Votes’, ‘Getting Notices’ and ‘Getting by’.

The first study ‘Getting Votes’ investigates how ordinary citizens encounter politicians and other political actors in the context of Jackson Park. In particular, we are interested in establishing the historical significance of Jackson Park as Ghana moved from colonial rule to independence.

‘Getting Noticed’ focuses on the socio-cultural and entrepreneurial uses of Jackson Park looking at how actors as diverse as business people, sport associations, NGOs, churches, and musicians use the park in the past and present.

‘Getting By’ looks at present-day users of the park, including coconut sellers, petty-traders and rough sleepers who use Jackson Park as a way of making a living. These poorer users are often seen as a nuisance in planning visions or development proposals.

The project is a partnership between Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the University of East Anglia and the University of Copenhagen, and mentors three early career Ghana-based researchers.

The project runs from 2021-2023 and is funded by the British Academy and the Global Challenges Research Fund.