London is a National Park City

Logo: London National Park City

Following in the impressive footsteps of National Parks covering every type of environment, the UK’s biggest urban jungle is now recognised for its rich biodiversity, amazing heritage and breadth of cultures. It may not have the same planning powers or statutory protection as the existing National Parks, but it is by far the easiest to get around without a car.

The National Park City aster mown into the grass at Millfields Park  in Hackney © Hackney Council
The National Park City aster mown into the grass at Millfields Park in Hackney © Hackney Council

Being a world first is always gratifying, but at the launch, we revealed there are a bevy of other cities from the UK and around the world, queueing-up to join this new family. Who will be second has yet to be seen, but it could be Newcastle, Glasgow, Galway, Toronto, Adelaide, Pittsburgh or somewhere in Europe or South Korea? The aim is to confirm 25 National Park Cities by 2025.

What is a National Park City? It is a vision, a movement and a place where individuals commit to making it better, cleaner and wilder. In the process, they boost biodiversity and improve not only their own health by being more active outdoors, but bring benefits for all with cleaner air, cleaner water and improved resilience against heat and heavy downpours.

To qualify as a member of the International National Park City family, city leaders must be able to demonstrate that they are sufficiently committed to, and making progress on, a good combination of elements we lay out in our Universal Charter.

The idea started and continues as a grassroots driven initiative. The gains are so obvious and so important it has won support from developers, planners, insurers, artists, museums, councils and health agencies. It’s this cross-sectoral mix of expertise and knowledge that will help inform campaigns to ensure impacts are maximised for people and wildlife.

Falconry student © Capel Manor College
Falconry student © Capel Manor College

More people live in cities now than at any time in our history. Yet urban communities have been found to be seriously deficient when it comes to nature connections. Recent reports found many did not know that potatoes and carrots grow in the soil. Getting active outdoors is low down the “to do” list of many urban dwellers. London’s population is set to expand in the next couple of years by about 2 million, that’s more than the entire population of Birmingham! Traditionally, as house building increases, access to greenspace, especially parks and gardens, decreases. Despite having cultural connections with soil, many migrant communities find themselves divorced from their heritage and don’t feel welcome in public greenspaces. Is it any wonder that few are deeply concerned by the health of our soils and purity of our rivers?

While London National Park City has plans to work with schools and employ expert “Rangers” to lead talks and events, and help train others, it won’t change things overnight. This is a long-term vision to win hearts and minds, inspiring behaviour change. It’s a licence for people to get engaged, and for simple everyday actions like recycling or sowing seeds, to be celebrated for the collective contributions they make to everyone’s lives. The actions snowball and the impacts are amplified.

Sadiq Khan signing the London Charter © GLA
Sadiq Khan signing the London Charter © GLA

The idea of National Park Cities has won cross party support from politicians. Before Mayor Sadiq Khan took office, his predecessor Boris Johnson had heaped wholesome praise on the plan. It could soon become Britain’s newest and most treasured export, inspiring millions worldwide to protect and love the natural world. It’s not just about greening. It’s also about being active outdoors, building communities, sharing best practice, education and training.

“Community groups and Friends of Parks groups are picking-up a lot of the slack in the system created by austerity and fractured families. This is the glue that holds society together and creates the spaces where creativity, nature, health and wellbeing can thrive. People who care and give the time to make places better are worth more to our GDP than we credit.” Said National Park City Trustee Tim Webb.

Anyone who takes part, from sowing a seed to street-wide  greening events, becomes a National Park City Maker  © Friends of the Earth’s 10X Greener campaign
Anyone who takes part, from sowing a seed to street-wide greening events, becomes a National Park City Maker © Friends of the Earth’s 10X Greener campaign

“In an interview with CJS in 2014, Dan Raven Ellison explained why we chose to launch this initiative on April Fools Day,” added Tim. “We chose that date because we wanted to evoke that sense of it being a crazy idea which could work. We’ve stayed true to our vision and find the top three main challenges raised today are the same as those from 2014:

1 Becoming a National Park City does NOT add another layer of
admin and planning. This is about inspiring, informing and
co-ordinating best practice.

2 Why does London  get all the love? The answer is, the founders live here. But also because of its size and international status. If you can pull it off here, you can achieve it anywhere. 250 years on from the Industrial Revolution it’s fitting that London and the UK should lead the sustainability revolution. 

3 The other argument is around affordability of housing. The common narrative around this is we need to house more people and the obvious solution is to eat into our green space and have a lower quality of public realm. We argue the opposite and have developers who back us. We need to build up, not out. At the same time, we
invest in the quality of the public realm.

This way, we will make London greener, healthier and wilder”.   


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