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According to National Parks UK, the purpose of a national park is to ‘conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.’
If these objectives are central to the notion of a national park, why shouldn’t London, with all its green space, cultural heritage and diverse wildlife, be one too? I propose creating the Greater London National Park*.
To be clear, I am not calling for London to be given a legal national park designation. But I do think there would be great value and benefits if London was named as a new kind of national park – an urban national park.
Here are five reasons why creating the Greater London National Park* will make London a healthier and even more dynamic place to live and work.
My hope is that the Greater London National Park* idea will act as a lens through which we can re-imagine the city of the future.Daniel Raven-Ellison
80% of the UK population inhabits 7% of the land area. Despite the significance of this statistic, urban areas are not represented in any of the current 15 UK national parks. Just because the traditional notion of a national park is a rural conservation area, why shouldn’t urban habitats, with their network of green belts, parks, gardens and waterways be afforded the same reverence? Urban life is just as important as remote rural life, and city dwellers, habitats and landscapes deserve to be conserved, enhanced and promoted too. After all, most of the population doesn’t access traditional national parks.
Smart cities invest in their green spaces and infrastructure because they contribute to the health, wellbeing, happiness and productivity of their inhabitants, and not just the human ones. Investing in London’s green infrastructure can help to reduce the effects of pollution, provide affordable food, mitigate flood hazards, tackle climate change and increase biodiversity. As it stands these services are managed in a patch-work fashion across 33 different authorities. It is important to remember that wildlife and floods do not respect political boundaries. The Greater London National Park* would be in a better position to coordinate a pan-London plan and implement the All London Green Grid.
3. Public health
Green space, contact with nature and recreation can all have positive effects on people’s mental and physical health. The idea of the Greater London National Park* could create a number of public health initiatives. We could start seeing more adventurous architecture and planning that physically challenges people to be more active. Why don’t we use our waterways to canoe to work? The Greater London National Park* could be a rallying point for Londoners to get outside and make the most of the opportunities on their doorsteps, such as the inter-connected local nature reserves and the London LOOP - London’s orbital footpath that is longer than most national trails.
4. Social cohesion
Parks are spaces for people to meet, work and play. Thousands of organisations are already working together across London to improve the capital’s 3,000 parks, 30,000 allotments and its 1,300 sites that have been recognised by the GLA as being of value to wildlife. The Greater London National Park* could enhance this work by introducing local voluntary rangers, possibly recruited from young people who have signed up for National Citizen Service. This would give meaningful and valuable new opportunities for young people to engage positively within their communities and their environment.
5. Economic benefit
Following the success of the 2012 Olympics, the launch of the Greater London National Park* would support London’s bid to be recognised as an active, healthy and forward-thinking city. This would not only be good for central London’s businesses, tourism industry and local population, but also for the outlying areas of London that often go unexplored. Some of the best places in national parks are off the beaten track.
Given these reasons, I have launched the Greater London National Park* website. A provocation that makes the case for London being named as a national park by mirroring the websites of more traditional, remote and rural parks.
My hope is that the Greater London National Park* idea will act as a lens through which planners, designers, architects, recreation managers, wildlife coordinators, teachers, parents and children could reimagine the city of the future.
If the park makes the transition from being a 'notional park' to a national park it would also help to coordinate some of the thousands of organisations and initiatives that are spread across London’s cultural and ecological mosaic.
Visit the Greater London National Park* website for more information.
The Greater London National Park* in numbers
- 1,572 km² in area making it the 7th largest National Park* in the UK
- 152 mile circumference – London’s orbital footpath is longer than most national park trails
- 13,000 species of wildlife including 13 species of reptile and amphibian within the M25
- 2 special protection areas, 3 special areas of conservation, 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 36 sites of special scientific interest
- 2 national nature reserves, 142 local nature reserves, 1300 sites are recognised by the GLA as being of value to wildlife
- 60% is open and undeveloped land, 47% green space, 22% green belt
- 3000 parks, 3.8 million gardens (24%), 30,000 allotments, 6% sports areas
- 2.5% river, canals and reservoirs
- Lots of cats and dogs
Greenspace Information for Greater London, 2013
About the author
Daniel Raven-Ellison is a guerrilla geographer, radical educator and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
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