Guest blogger Daniel Raven-Ellison is a Guerrilla Geographer, Geo-Educator and National Geographic Emerging Explorer who has just launched a website in an effort to turn the entire city of London, England, into a National Park.
Geography is a lens that gives us the power to see and think about the world. It is a powerful lens that gives us super-human powers. From examining the microscopic detail of pollen frozen in ice cores to observing climatic changes with satellites, the ‘lens’ not only helps us to see at otherwise unimaginable scales, but to make otherwise invisible connections between people, places and issues.
While some people like telescopes, microscopes and even periscopes, my “Geographers’ Lens” of preference would have to be a looking glass—a mirror that allows me to see normal or familiar circumstances reversed, and in a topsy-turvy way. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I think London, one of the world’s largest and most iconic cities, should be named as a national park. Here are the top ten reasons the Greater London National Park* should come into existence:
- What do you expect of a National Park? How would these expectations change the way you imagine a London? I think applying the lens of a National Park to London will radically change how people see, think about, experience and create the city. At the fun end of the scale I can imagine leisure providers creating more climbing walls and zip-lines through the city, but I wonder how wildlife managers, teachers and architects would start thinking differently too.
- London is one of the very greenest cities of its size in the world. 60% of Greater London is open undeveloped land and 47% is green space. According to GiGL’s Greenspace Information for Greater London, 2013 Across London there are 2 Special Protection Areas, 3 Special Areas of Conservation, 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 2 National Nature Reserves, 36 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 142 Local Nature Reserves, 1300 sites are recognised by the GLA as being of value to wildlife, 30,000 allotments and 3000 parks. It’s a diverse place and home to over 13,000 different species. Covering 1,572 km² the Park would be the 7th largest in the UK and I think stand-up against the rest.
- Administered by the Greater London Authority and 33 local authorities, there is not currently a single top-level unit to manage and coordinate wildlife and green infrastructure effectively in the city. A National Park could fulfill this role, acknowledging that hedgehogs, parakeets and peregrine falcons do not respect political borders.
- I see no reason why a National Park should have to be remote, rural and wild… why not be close, urban and wildish? It would certainly massively increase the number of people visiting UK National Parks and some of that love would rub off on to other parks too, I’m sure.
- In the England and Wales there are a series of 15 National Trails, most of which pass through the UK’s current National Parks. One of these, the Thames Footpath, goes through London. But London also has the London LOOP, a 152 mile orbital footpath that circles the capital. This lesser known path is a great example of the wide range of infrastructure that is perfect for adventures. A National Park would be in a better position to promote some of London’s hidden highlights that are away from the shining lights of the city centre.
- Feral, domestic and human lives should be respected and celebrated just as much as those of wilder creatures. Besides, I think it’s fairly rude to call a pigeon or a fox ‘feral’ just because they were born in the city. An urban National Park reinforces this basic idea. I love the idea of going on an safari looking to spot the “Big 5” urban dogs.
- Something to reflect on is that we humans are a massive population of mammals, many of whom enjoy some very impressive migrations. Too often we think as ourselves as separate from nature. It is important to remember that we are animals; that we too can be wild and that many creatures can actually be more civilised than us. It’s a philosophical argument, but one that could help London’s human population to respect our wilder and smaller Londoners. It could also trigger something of a renaissance for anthropologists in the city.
- In the UK we have 15 National Parks that well represent 17 broad habitat types, except one—urban areas. These are a recognised habitat that, depending on your source, covers between 5.6 and 7% of the country. 100% of area divided by 17 habitat types equals 5.9%, so naming London as a National Park would be the representative thing to do.
- Globally, for the first time in history, more people are now living in urban than rural places. In the UK, 80% of us are urban. It is in these places, where we are most removed from nature, that we can also be in most conflict with it. These pressures provide us with an opportunity to innovate and find new ways to live in partnership with “otherlife” in ways that improve the health of our communities. A national park could help focus our attention on smart ways to achieve this.
- One of the best sunsets I have ever seen was across the Minneapolis–Saint Paul Twin Cities runway. It was just as good as sunsets I have watched across the Caribbean or falling behind elephants in Zimbabwe. Equal to these is sitting on a suburban train passing through south London and watching as sunbursts of light pierce between trees, buildings and pigeons across a wide and expansive urban landscape. I love the wilderness, but and cities can be just as beautiful.
Why London? I live in and love London. The experience of London becoming a national park would not only be good for my family, but the people and wildlife that I share my habitat, my home and my city with.
This is not an exclusive idea though. If you live in a town or city, why don’t you ask for it to be turned into a National Park City? If you do, be sure to let me know! You can show your support for the Greater London National Park, a park that would be an asset for the world, by adding your name to this petition. You can also check out the Student Challenge that creatively examines what the future could look like for the Park*.
Written by Daniel Raven-Ellison, National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Follow Daniel and the Greater London National Park* on Twitter at @DanRavenEllison and @LondonNP. For more information on the Greater London National Park, visit www.greaterlondonnationalpark.org.uk.