• Matt Sykes

World Urban Parks - Voices of Regen #5: Neil McCarthy

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

Words by Jaari Heyes, Photos by World Urban Parks

Neil pictured with fellow 'Voice of Regen' Jarrod Ruch from Hope Seed Australia, and another familiar face

After speaking with the CEO of World Urban Parks (WUP), Neil McCarthy, I had a bizarre reflection of my own educational pathway.

A major topic we had to cover in year 12 Outdoor Recreation was the Tasmanian Franklin River campaign in the 80s. I spent an entire year learning about the power of protesting, and how the campaign influenced a nation-wide environmental movement.

When the Franklin River campaign was in full swing, Neil was one of those ‘greenie’ university students in Melbourne who “were in the forecourt every lunchtime when something was going on.” He admits that everyone was genuinely frightened for the safety of the fragile wilderness area, “thinking how wrong it all was.”

Finishing University with a devotion for the environment, Neil became a key figure in the pursuit to convert the Dandenong Ranges into a National Park. Remaining determined after initially being rejected, his team eventually succeeded in the protection of the forest.

“It was the first National Park that was created with a community voice, where recommendations to the minister had to be endorsed by a consultancy committee,” says Neil.

As this eco-pioneer continues to speak, he touches on being involved in developing Deakin University’s first Park Management and Conservation course in the 90s. I am currently three quarters through a Wildlife Conservation bachelor degree at Deakin myself. Weird!? Our huge planet can feel so small after coincidences like this.

Whether he is aware of it or not, Neil’s desire to make the world a better place has created a ripple effect of inspiration throughout generations.

Without such pivotal conservationists, I wonder if the Franklin River campaign would have made it to Australia's education curriculum? Would the Dandenong Ranges be a National Park, let alone the first with a community voice? Would I be studying Wildlife Conservation at Deakin right now?

Today, Neil’s professional life consists of being the CEO of WUP, an international organisation that provides support surrounding social and economic challenges within cities, where urban parks are the solution. He is also the CEO of a boutique consultancy called Mosaic Insights. In a world of rapid urbanisation, WUP’s goal is to improve cities globally by enhancing the health of people and our planet.

Neil’s vision for Australia’s health industry is to embrace a more holistic approach, where visiting the doctor and physio can feel wholesome and even relaxing.

“When I lived in Japan, nature and health was integrated. We went to a town on a mountain that had hot springs to relax in, but it was more than hopping into hot water. There was a mental ceremony and different types of physical therapy,” says Neil.

“You wonder, why can’t we achieve that here in Australia in a broader sense?”

Involved in a company that views the relationship between nature and people as essential, Neil comments on the reactivation of certain areas during COVID-19, where people are finding calmness amongst all the chaos.

“My property adjoins a creek and it's a cul de sac, so hardly anyone comes there. During the Melbourne lockdown, there was suddenly a whole lot of people that had found our creek. They found my oasis! I should be upset but it’s actually quite good,” laughs Neil.

With a long history in National Parks, environment and natural resource management, Neil is undoubtedly a pioneer of Regeneration. So we thought it was appropriate to ask if he had advice for young people who want to bring nature, culture and business closer together.

Neil sat back in his chair, thinking to himself for a moment.

“Try not to have a fear of failure and never take no for an answer.”

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Photos by World Urban Parks

  1. Neil on a coastal park outing

  2. Runner - photo by Tomek Baginski

  3. Tai Chi - photo by Mark Hang Fung So

  4. Prayer - photo by Naassom Azevedo

  5. Central Park - photo by Joseph Barrientos

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