London has become the world’s first National Park City – here’s why

  • Mon,22 Jul 2019 01:26:12 PM

Consider, for a moment, the UK’s great national parks: the Lake District, the Cairngorms, the Yorkshire Dales… London?

Hustling through the havoc of Piccadilly or the morning madness at King’s Cross, it’s difficult to see the logic in declaring this metropolis a leader in urban greenery. But for those willing to read between the tube lines, there’s plenty to suggest that the city’s smoggy reputation is unearned.

A 2014 government report found that 47% of the capital is covered with green space, while a City of London Corporation report also declared it the greenest major city in Europe. From falcons to foxes and pigeons to polecats, London houses nearly 15,000 different animal species, and 22% of Greater London is designated green belt.

Now these hidden horticultural havens have earned the city international recognition – as the world’s first ever official National Park City.

What is a National Park City?

The short answer is: We can’t be quite sure. London’s consecration marks a global first, so there’s no template to work from, but the stated aim is to “make London greener, healthier, and wilder.”

First dreamed up six years ago by so-called ‘Guerilla Geographer’ Daniel Raven-Ellison, the National Park City initiative attempts to open a dialogue among ordinary people about the importance and feasibility of urban green.

The National Park City website features a host of suggestions for green engagement, from lists of London-based walks to maps of its many waterways, while an eight-day festival to mark the announcement is already underway.

Red fox
Much-maligned, and entirely wild (iStock/PA)

Organised by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the revelry will include outdoor theatre performances, fitness classes, photography competitions, open water swimming lessons, and a major art installation in Epping Forest.

It remains to be seen what long-term impact Park City status will have, but it’s already made a difference elsewhere. Authorities in Newcastle are plotting a course to recognition, while campaigning in Glasgow has already begun.

Navigating the urban jungle

Fortunately for the festival, this week is set to be a scorcher in London, so there’s no better time to explore the city’s flora and fauna. Summertime staples like Hyde Park will be likely be stuffed with sun-seekers, so it’s worth taking the time to explore somewhere else.

London’s latest offering, Beckenham Place Park, occupies a converted golf course in Lewisham, overseen by the Palladian-style mansion that was once its manor house. Eminently picnic-able lawns surround a 283-metre swimming lake, while a gradually re-wilded wetlands area is already attracting breeding birds. Officially opened on July 20, there should still be plenty of space to lay your rug.

For family-friendly fun check out Clissold Park in Stoke Newington – a Green Flag winner with a paddling pool, ping pong table, play area and even a zoo.

South London’s Brockwell Park brings a dose of urban cool, with its Grade II-listed art deco lido and endless sports facilities, including a BMX track, football pitch, basketball court and cricket net.

Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace Park (iStock/PA)

And for something a little more avant-garde, swing by Crystal Palace Park – a former Victorian Pleasure Ground still boasting a hedge maze, and a thoroughly surreal set of dinosaur statues which were built around the 1850s before knowledge of the prehistoric animals was what it is today. They may look pretty far off what we know now but this early interpretation of dinosaurs still stands proud in the south east London park.

Another flagship attraction is the so-called ‘rusty laptop’ – a graffiti-ed concert stage that once hosted Bob Marley.

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