Making London a park city

Proposals include converting railway lines into corridors of flora and fauna

People relax at various parts of St James' Park (above and above left) in central London, Britain.
People relax at various parts of St James' Park in central London, Britain.PHOTO: REUTERS
People relax at various parts of St James' Park (above and above left) in central London, Britain.
People relax at various parts of St James' Park in central London, Britain.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The national park concept should be extended from the countryside to the urban jungle, say the backers of a bid to have Greater London declared the world's first "national park city".

Advocates of the idea want to increase London's green spaces, which currently make up 47 per cent of its total land area, to 51 per cent by 2051 and to help children connect with nature.

Mr Daniel Raven-Ellison, founder of the initiative, which published its proposal on Tuesday online and in 50,000 mock newspapers distributed in the capital, said: "London faces a whole range of challenges - air quality, water quality, the threat to protected green spaces, the lack of children playing outside and childhood obesity.

"What if we took learning from how national parks overcome these and apply it to the city context?

"Physically, the city would be greener, with more forest cover and far more children would be learning and playing outdoors."

London's 8.3m trees generate $416 million worth of air-filtration services.

Strategies would range from the small-scale, such as promoting hedgehog passages through garden fences, to urban-scale ideas, such as converting railway lines into biodiverse corridors of flora and fauna.

London already benefits significantly from its green spaces, with its 8.3m trees generating £195 million (S$416 million) worth of air- filtration services, according to engineering company Aecom.

However, much more can be made of this, says Mr Raven- Ellison.

"The green spaces around social housing cover a greater area than the 3,000 parks in London combined, but much of this space is inaccessible and under-used," he said.

"What if the quality of this land could become as high as what we see in our national parks?"

While about 400,000 people live across the United Kingdom's 15 existing national parks, London is home to 8.6 million people. This means the city would fail to meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature's standard for national parks.

Instead, suggests Mr Raven- Ellison, a new definition is needed for a national park city as "a large urban area that is managed and semi-protected through both formal and informal means to enhance the natural capital of its living landscape".

However, the proposal for a national park city would not focus on planning, bureaucracy and regulation, but instead on community and best practice.

"A large proportion of London is already protected," said Mr Raven- Ellison. "What a national park city would do is focus on the non- planning things that other national parks do, in particular, inspiring and educating people.

"If we want children to care about what's going on in the Pacific Ocean, we need to find ways for them to respect nature on their own doorstep," he added.

According to Mr Paul Hamblin, executive director of National Parks England, a national city park for London would certainly look and feel different to the UK's established national parks, but this would not devalue their identity.

"The beauty in this intriguing idea is how it can inspire a greater connection between where millions of people live and the natural world around them," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2015, with the headline 'Making London a park city'. Print Edition | Subscribe