2016 Distinguished Individual Award Winner

Mr. Neil McCarthy (Australia) - Presented at 2nd World Urban Parks Congress, Cape Town, South Africa

Neil McCarthy has over 25 years of experience in both national and international natural resource management and is currently the Chief Executive of the North East Catchment Management Authority in Victoria, Australia. It is however Neil’s leadership in the parks sector since the early 1990’s that is deserving of recognition. =

Neil has always had a keen interest in the environment and society but his first significant impact on urban parks came about with his work to bring about the First International Urban Parks Benchmarking and Best Practice Conference in 1994-95. The Conference was a turning point in urban park management taking it away from the traditional turf and trees era and evolving a new professional, customer focused and multidisciplinary focus. 

Emanating from the benchmarking contacts and conference good will, Neil lead the development of an International Benchmarking and Best Practice Group that became the Parks Forum. Parks Forum became an influential peak body for the industry and Neil was its founding Chair. 

During the time that Neil focused on international relations and transitioning the industry, his work in Parks Victoria as General Manager saw the organisation’s reputation climb to be the envy of many across the globe. 
Parks Victoria’s reputation in government and  globally was in part due to its global outreach and the strategic thinking of Neil’s management areas. In his time on the executive significant benchmark programs in parks such as indigenous employment, Healthy Parks Healthy People, output reform and change management became lighthouse programs that many sought to copy and benefit from. 

Neil fought against the ‘old cultures’ in park management to ensure that ‘outside of the square’ thinking, national and international relationships and the parks industry was taken seriously in today’s society and government policy. To see the philosophy of Healthy Parks Healthy People have it’s own global congress, be adopted by states and countries and become a major theme of the recent World Parks Congress is testament to the work of Neil along with his supporters and colleagues. What is different and deserving about Neil though is that he was a standout individual who did not give up the drive to create this new era for parks and particularly urban parks. 

Some would have expected Neil to rest on his achievements for parks when he left Parks Victoria in 2013 to become Chief Executive of a catchment management authority. This was not to be the case. Neil’s passion for urban parks and what they can mean to society resulted in him maintaining his international interest. 

In October 2013 Neil became President elect of the International Federation of Parks and Recreation (IFPRA). Concerned with enhancing the relevance of urban parks to governments of all persuasions and with other international bodies such as the IUCN and WCPA, Neil was part of a crusade to establish a new international organisation for urban parks. Today that body is in place with the creation of World Urban Parks. 
Neil’s achievements in advancing the parks, open space and recreation industry through his advocacy and leadership are well documented through brand success and organisation development and change. The preceding paragraphs only seek to summarise some of these endeavours. Neil has other achievements that share this journey that have also significantly enhanced leadership in parks management: 

  • WCPA member; 
  • Joint creator of Parks for Life, that aimed to develop a global understanding of the core values of urban parks and green spaces; 
  • Joint creator of World Parks Day, an initiative of Parks for Life; 
  • Developer of the Parks Forum peer review program; 
  • Published a thesis on a Review of Managerialism in Park Organisations in Australia 
  • Certified International Park Professional (CIPP) 
  • Co-Founder of the People and Parks Foundation

 Neil continues to be an influential leader in urban parks whilst being celebrated in his role as chief executive for the North East Catchment Management Authority in Victoria, Australia. 
Today you will find Neil’s LinkedIn profile refer to him as an “International Expert in Urban Parks”.

There is no better label for Neil. His passion for the role that urban parks can play in society, his advocacy and leadership and his track record of shaping and challenging an industry to be increasingly relevant in an ever-changing world is certainly worthy of individual recognition.