In an English City Garden

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Jul 18, 2019
by Martin Silva Rey
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In an English City Garden

Learn how one Salzburg Global Fellow is turning his city into a park Photo by Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash

With the worst traffic jams in Europe, millions of its residents exposed to air pollution, and more than half its waste incinerated every year, it is hard to imagine that 2019 will see London become the first National Park City in the world.

But this bustling metropolis won’t be tearing down The Shard and Buckingham Palace to build parks and dig lakes in their place. No, instead the goal is to change mindsets – that “urban areas should be thought of more inclusively when it comes to thinking about nature,” explains “guerilla geographer” Daniel Raven-Ellison, the brains behind this initiative.   

“I don’t think that urban life is worth less than rural life,” he adds. “I don’t think that an urban red fox is worth less than an arctic fox or a desert fox… Urban falcons are worth just as much as those that are in the countryside.”

Raven-Ellison, who has visited every single National Park in the UK, first laid out his idea in a blog post. Six years on, he’s gained both local and international support, the backing of London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and over £32,000 in crowdfunding. One in 20 Londoners is estimated to have supported the campaign in some way.

A National Park City is not the same as a National Park, but one philosophy inspires both concepts. “People are familiar with the idea that we want pristine and great habitats for wildlife in remote and distant places. But, you know, actually, we as animals that live in the city and the animals that live in cities alongside us, we need great habitats too,” Raven-Ellison insists.

The British capital gives shelter to 15,000 species of wildlife alongside eight million humans, and around 47% of Greater London is already physically green, when including natural habits, public parks and private gardens. This is not enough for the 250 organizations taking part in the movement. The target is a city where green and blue (ponds, lakes and rivers) is the majority.

Raven-Ellison believes this would be possible if each Londoner were to turn at least one square meter of “gray” (urban) space into green or blue space, by planting road-side mini-meadows or installing ponds.

The National Park City Foundation, a charity created to support this effort, wants to bring the movement to other cities as well. To turn that aspiration into reality, whether in London or anywhere else, the ultimate responsibility lies with the citizens.  

“[It is] essential that we reverse the tide on the city becoming grayer and start making it incrementally greener,” says Raven-Ellison. “But that target is not something that the mayor can achieve on his own through policy, or local councils can do on their own through policy. It’s not something the property developers can do just in their developments where they’re building. And it’s certainly not something that any individual resident can do on their own either. But if on average everyone does that bit, that target is not only completely possible – [but we can] smash it and exceed it.”