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Making Greater London the first National Park City

By ucyow3c, on 5 March 2015


 Written by Hannah Sender, Research Assistant, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

Last week, the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity teamed up with the campaigners behind the Greater London National Park* to drive a debate on London’s green spaces and green infrastructure at a conference in the Southbank Centre.

The Reimagine London conference saw academics, practitioners and politicians come together to argue their case for what a new National Park City could achieve for the natural and cultural heritage of London.

What is a National Park City?

London's Battersea Park

London’s Battersea Park (credit: Tim on Flickr)

The idea of making London the first National Park City has gathered momentum since it was first conceived by National Geographic explorer and geography teacher Daniel Raven-Ellison last year. Daniel’s vision features London as a biodiverse landscape boasting enough substantial natural resources and cultural capital to be worthy of a new title: a National Park City.

Daniel proposes that, since we already have the natural capital, Londoners could take the principles of National Parks – to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area” and “promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public’ – and apply them to their city.

Daniel says: “I think this would radically change how we see, think about, design, manage and experience the city.”

A Greater London National Park would not have planning powers, but would aim to influence the way that Londoners see and treat their city. The rationale is that if Londoners act in ways that prove that they value green space and green infrastructure, a demand for that type of space is established.

What are the challenges for making Greater London a National Park City?
Director of the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity Professor Henrietta Moore gave a presentation in the morning session. She argued: “The biggest question for the 21st century is how are we are going to live differently? We need to rethink our living patterns for the growing population.”

No-one who lives or works in London needs to be told that the biodiverse habitats in Greater London are threatened by development projects.

We are reminded on a daily basis in local and national news that housing, or rather, affordable housing, is more than a pressing need for London’s planning authorities. There are about 800,000 Londoners waiting for council and affordable housing.

Ideas for a National Park City (credit: Ana Bleahu)

Ideas for a National Park City (credit: Ana Bleahu)

Perhaps it is more surprising, though, that those who live in council and affordable housing are within easy access to one fifth of London’s green space, but the space that they have access to very few people use due to perceived high crime rates and poor design.

As Manager of Neighbourhoods Green and expert on housing policy Steve Cole pointed out: “People end up in places they don’t want to use but have to live in.”

The potential for a greener, socially just future London
With critical though committed advocates for the National Park City thinking of Greater London’s role as a habitat for city-dwellers, a National Park City initiative is well placed to contemplate how the contrived dichotomy between environment and development can be collapsed.

In other words, by incorporating the city element into the National Park, the Greater London National Park City could achieve its goals of enhancing natural heritage in tandem with housing development.

The point of the National Park City, is seems, is to inspire innovation. The campaigners know that, free of any precedent, the Greater London National Park initiative can define a National Park City, what it aims to achieve and how it achieves its aims.

Its foundation is people power. UK Director of the Black Environment Network Judy Ling Wong said: “The Greater London National Park goes beyond pure natural conservation to social wellbeing. It has enabled us to reach into our hearts to realise the possibility.”

Over the next few weeks, the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity will be feeding back from the conference. The Greater London National Park initiative continues to garner support from researchers, politicians and practitioners alike.

To learn more, visit the Greater London National Park* website and follow the institute on Twitter and Facebook.

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