Six years ago, Daniel Raven-Ellison developed the concept of the National Park City, an idea that reimagines the way we understand urban landscapes and seeks to apply National Park principles to cities. Ever since, he has campaigned tirelessly to make London the world’s first National Park City because he believes the city is an important habitat that is full of potential. Over the years the initiative has received widespread support from a wide spectrum of people – cyclists, scientists, tree climbers, artists, teachers, students, doctors, gardeners, walkers, kayakers, activists, wildlife lovers, politicians, children, parents – and now, after years of hard work, Raven-Ellison’s dream has become reality as London has officially become the first city to be awarded National Park City status, enshrined at an official signing ceremony at London’s City Hall earlier this week.
London is one of the greenest cities in the world for its size and has a lower urban density than many other major cities. It is home to 15,000 species, has a healthy canopy of 8.4 million trees, contains four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 142 Local Nature Reserves, over 1,400 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, areas of ancient woodland, heath and common, meadows, ancient deer parks and recently created wetlands. Millions of individuals and organisations already take action everyday to care for the capital’s natural heritage and it’s being hoped that by uniting them all under a National Park City umbrella will allow far more to be achieved in terms of protections and development, as well as helping to create an atmosphere of positivity and hope.
Raven-Ellison explained that becoming a National Park City is not an award but ‘the beginning of a journey and a large-scale and long-term challenge to improve life through everyday actions and strategic policy.’ It is a vision which requires the collective action of individuals, groups and organisations to work in collaboration in order to achieve wonderful things. Everyone in the city can benefit and contribute. It has the potential to protect green spaces, improve the richness of habitats, address the mass extinction of species happening around the world, inspire new ‘green business’ activities, improve air quality, create a new shared identity for Londoners and promote London as a Green World City.
The National Park City Foundation (NPCF), the charity established by the original National Park City campaign group, in partnership with World Urban Parks and the Salzburg Global Seminar, created the first Universal Charter for National Park Cities which includes a vision and definition as well as goals, values and characteristics of National Park Cities. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently hosted a summit at which, alongside organisations and individuals, he signed the National Park City Charter for London, a document that draws from the principles and aspirations of the Universal Charter. It demonstrates their support for making the city greener, healthier and wilder.
- lives, health and wellbeing
- wildlife, trees and flowers
- places, habitats, air, water, sea and land
- time outdoors, culture, art, playing, walking, cycling and eating
- locally-grown food and responsible consumption
- decisions, sharing, learning and working together
- relationships with nature and each other
Some of the specific objectives in the London Charter include the aim of making more than half of the capital green by 2050 (and increasing tree canopy cover by ten per cent), to accelerate the installation of green roofs in new developments in order to combat poor air quality, to reduce flooding and keep the city cool as well as to provide support to boroughs to find new ways to invest in and improve their parks and green spaces. Around one-third of Greater London is already green space, meaning the city doesn’t have as far to go as cities such as Paris, which is just ten per cent green space, or New York which is just 27 per cent.
To help keep the wheels moving on these ambitions, the NPCF has said it will work with others to publish a regular State of the National Park City report to ‘highlight actions and to track the progress being made to support the National Park City vision’.
Speaking at the summit, Sadiq Khan said: ‘I am proud to have helped London, one of the greenest world cities, be recognised as the world’s first National Park City. This status is a truly fantastic reflection of our vibrant and dynamic city and our amazing network of green spaces, rivers and natural habitats. We must do all we can to help tackle the global climate emergency and ecological crisis and address the decline in biodiversity. That is why I’ve delivered 200 green space improvements, planted over 170,000 trees, protected the greenbelt and ensured greening in all new developments.’
Jayne Miller, chair of World Urban Parks, was clearly exuberant with the actions at the summit, saying: ‘London, the First National Park City! What an amazing moment for the city. Celebrating, honouring and recognising the biodiversity and greenness of this great city. The lifeblood of a city is its people and their connection to the place we inhabit, our great Earth and all of its natural riches. London is challenging cities around the world to venerate, protect and increase the green spaces in our cities. Let’s all get out and enjoy the great outdoors!’
Currently, London is celebrating this exciting achievement with a week of free National Park City Festival events across the city’s green spaces and waterways, including outdoor performances, a musical installation at Epping Forest, outdoor fitness sessions, open water events and walking tours.
It is hoped that the establishment of London as the world’s first official National Park City will provide an inspiring template for others to follow and the charity aims to have a further 25 cities around the world secure National Park City status by 2025.
One of the greatest motivations for the campaign was the need to increase the number of children exploring, playing and learning outdoors. Numerous studies reveal just how vital a connection with nature is for our well-being and this initiative aims to eventually connect 100 per cent of London’s children to nature. The natural world is one of the best environments for children to explore, play and learn and increased exposure to nature will have positive effects on young people’s education, mental health and well-being and their understanding of their urban natural heritage. It has also been shown to increase the likelihood of young people feeling responsible for their natural surroundings and taking steps to protect and care for the natural world.
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