What if?

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

A glorious thought experiment. A big beautiful statement of intent. An initially absurd idea that’s delicious to briefly contemplate and then quickly set aside.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

I know!

It’s just ridiculous.


Such a thing doesn’t exist but aren’t all of the national parks empty, wild, rugged? Full of nature?

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

Isn’t London just concrete, urban, sprawl?

Density and development. Money and people in dizzying, unsustainable abundance. Cut off from, apart from, outside of the realms of nature.  Drawing in resources to feed itself, living off the fat of others’ land to gorge itself on small plates of expensive delights in a hedonistic whirl beyond the realms of seasons, nature or reason.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

A city which is growing, upwards as concrete and glass skyscrapers punctuate more and more of the polluted skies. A city where nearly 10,000 of our fellow Londoners die each year from air pollution. A city which is growing outside, drawing more and more areas into a commuter thrall to the job and career opportunities, the dynamism and complexity that lots of people working together can offer. A city which lives and grows beyond and in spite of nature.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

Clearly it’s a ridiculous notion. Some children in London spend less time outside than prisoners. Cut off and disconnected, lives lived in front of screens, behind closed doors. Even spaces which seem to be open and public are increasingly private spaces which contain and constrain public interactions, the right to enjoy them or use them as public spaces to celebrate, congregate or protest.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

47% of London is nature – blue and green spaces. Open parks, modulated private open parks and spaces. Waterways, rivers, canals, ponds, pools and lakes. Front gardens, back gardens, railway embankments, street trees and allotments. Community gardens and nature reserves. Green flags flying high. Ancient woodlands, majestic old trees and newly planted trees. Meadows and meandering walkways. Funny spaces between places that nature is inevitably claiming dominion over – helped there and elsewhere by guerrilla gardeners and seeds blown on the breeze. Over 13,000 species of wildlife making their homes here – a greater variety of species in some back gardens than areas of countryside many times their size.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

Could it be that London is all of this and so much more? From the stereotypes that reflect a partial, distorted, changeable view of the city to the startling variety of community activities that are claiming, shaping, enjoying, celebrating, improving and re-imagining this city over and over again.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

A different way of seeing the same places and spaces, seeking to change and inform our relationship to the city. One that provides a framework for development, complexity, change recognising the necessity for people and nature to co-exist. Finding a joy and delight in this, utterly revelling in nature. Bringing parks and nature into developments rather than simply allowing them to encroach upon nature.

Collectively coming together to say this is how we see our city and this is something that we want everyone here to add to, celebrate and enjoy. This can change the basis for discussions about developments, not in a way which constrains them but which gives people a clear sense of their responsibility to the city and asks them to respect this as part of their role in developing it.

Something that everyone can sign up to, from big businesses to community groups there’s so many ways to love and embrace the idea – it’s inclusive and brings everyone along in a fun framework. Plus, because it’s never been done before there’s even more scope to get out there and make of it what you will.

Working with, for and in tune with nature for the sheer beauty of it. For that to be enough.

What if London became the world’s first National Park City?

Beauty is reason enough, but it’s not the only reason. Health and wellbeing benefits arising from a proximity to and a life lived in and around nature accrue to the individuals through improved mental health; more exercise and physical health and also to society through reduced illness. Just seeing green spaces whilst recovering from illness can increase wellbeing and decrease recovery time.

Community spaces become cared for places, bringing people together in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. From hip-hop gardeners to community projects giving homeless people new opportunities.

Natural defences help reduce flood-risk and increase attenuation of floods when they do happen. This increases the resilience of the city, reduces issues for individuals getting home insurance or mortgages, cuts costs and can actually facilitate development.

Food growing is happening underground, on allotments, balconies and in schools. The Fire Service is spreading the word and local honey, beer and produce mean we are increasingly able to provide for ourselves. Different growing methods are increasing the productivity of the space we’ve got available.

People enjoy the spaces, from the brilliant Capital Ring to loads of different ways to mess around on the water. There are so many ways to explore the city, making it navigable and accessible. Plus because these things are on our doorstep we can be there and back in time for tea.

OK then, after all that, how does London even become the world’s first National Park City?

Ah well, now that’s the fun bit

2 thoughts on “What if?

  1. Hiya,
    I think that one of the reasons environmentalism has problems gaining traction is that people fear change. They don’t see that change is inevitable, but for the worse if we don’t do something now.

    Making a national city park is an interesting concept. From what I understand it is redefining the existing space into a national park. While it is a good idea in itself, I think making people rethink ideas about space and greenery etc is even more important.


    1. Welcome!
      Agree that the fear of change is part of the problem and that’s one of the reasons I think the National Park City idea is such a lovely one. It’s trying to do that very thing of getting people to reimagine the city. Partly it’s about increasing the amount of ‘nature’ in the city – going from 47% to at least 51% but more than that it’s about getting people out there in it, reframing the discussion and our relationship to the place. That’s why I start off by describing it as a thought experiment because, for me at least, that thing about rethinking ideas is what’s most interesting. Doing it in a positive way and bringing people and organisations along…


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