London Has Become The World’s First National Park City... Now What?

By Martin Mangler Last edited 32 months ago

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London Has Become The World’s First National Park City... Now What?
A bee, by the River Lea. Image M@

In July 2019, London became the world’s first National Park City, in recognition of its abundant natural spaces.

This is positive news. All Londoners should act on the reminder, and go explore the many green corners of the capital. Spending time with nature can dramatically improve our physical and mental health.

Now, other cities are lining up to follow London’s lead and earn their own green badges. But what does this new title actually mean for Londoners? And what happens next?

Rethinking London as a green space

Campaigner Daniel Raven-Ellison, who spearheaded the initiative, is a geography teacher turned 'guerrilla geographer'. He sees the new title as a challenge and an aspiration for all Londoners to rethink the way they see, experience and shape their city and the natural environment around them.

It's a — dare we say it? — grassroots movement. Rather than showering Londoners with ever more events (though here's one exception), he hopes that the National Park City will inspire organisations, businesses, communities, and everyone living in London to shift perspectives and take action themselves.

Daniel Raven-Ellison, one of the founding fathers of the National Park City London, in his natural habitat. Courtesy Daniel R.-E.

How do we do that?

On its homepage, London National Park City has collated a myriad of free DIY activities designed to inspire the inner naturalist in every Londoner.

Activities range from fairly low-commitment stuff (“Look out of your window more often”) to more involved initiatives like setting up a group to plant trees, making seed balls with your children, or lobbying your local council for positive change. Over time, Raven-Ellison hopes, this will guide Londoners towards becoming activists for London National Park City themselves. Or, as he calls them: Makers.

Of Park City Makers and Rangers

Raven-Ellison’s vision is that, in 20 years, interacting and engaging with nature will be an integral, normalised part of everyday life in London: walk through a park to work, feed some birds for lunch, pick up your child from forest school and go for a swim in the canal.

Butterfly on comfrey, in the Lea Valley, by M@

And just like an old-fashioned national park, London might soon get its very own National Park City Rangers. This won’t be an organic football team, but a mix of professional staff and trained volunteers who will coordinate activities and help spread the word. Timberland has announced support for the Rangers programme. More information on the timing of the programme, and how to become a Ranger, is to be released in the coming weeks.

If you don’t want to wait until a ranger tells you what to do, just get inspired on the National Park City London website, take action yourself and become a Maker. We did some digging ourselves and picked some activities that struck us as particularly fun.

Six ways to celebrate living in a National Park City

Think London isn't that green? Even the busiest streets - like Kingsway - look forest-like from above. Image M@
  1. Log how your environment affects your mood with this app.  Find out what makes you happier: a good old London plane tree, or a really good car park? Plus, your data will feed into plans for healthier cities.
  2. Become a guerrilla gardener with free wildflower seeds from Kew Gardens’ Grow Wild project. Why not confuse your enemies by planting flowers outside their front yards?
  3. Get a the free National Park City map of London’s green spaces and go forest bathing. Yeah, that’s actually a thing.
  4. Take photos of a garden or tree near you throughout the year. Part of the “Do Nothing for Nature” range of suggestions, this low-maintenance idea might yet land you an exhibition in your local coffee shop.
  5. Walk a long-distance London hiking trail like the Capital Ring. Often in life it’s the things that don’t sound great at first that turn out to be the most rewarding.
  6. Grow some vegetables and compete in the fruit and vegetables exhibition at the Lambeth Country Show.

London National Park City operates as an independent charity and receives no funding from government or councils.

Last Updated 04 September 2019

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