Garden Design London

London National Park City Campaign

Connecting people and the outdoors

About a year ago, an industry friend of mine invited me along to a walk around London’s green spaces. A friend of his, a man I now know to be Daniel Raven Ellison (guerrilla geographer and captain of the London National Park City Campaign) had put together a proposal to make London, the UK’s first National Park City and he was leading a guided walk to help demonstrate why.

The walk began as predicted, wandering London’s urban streets, picking up enthusiastic walkers at random tube and bus stops along the way. We strode down inner-city roads where houses and high rise buildings towered above us on both sides but then surprisingly slipped into a park, woodland or riverside path. We wove our way through the London streets dipping from meadow to stream, canal to allotment. I was spell bound.

I spent a good proportion of my childhood getting the train up and down to London but these trips were always for urban reasons; museums, art, culture, theatre or the latest tourist attraction. I never once travelled to London for the public green space and almost three decades later, I had no idea there was so much of it. I don’t think whilst I walked that day, I fully grasped the national park city concept but what I did learn, is that in London’s urban sprawl, there are pockets of green space, havens of wildlife and quite remarkable parks and gardens quite literally everywhere you go.

Fast forward a year and only 1 short month ago, I found myself listening to the first Sodshow podcast of 2017 where that very same friend of mine was being interviewed by passionate horticulturalist Peter Donegan. The topic; London as a National Park City. My mind was instantly cast back to that walk.

Mr Donegan remarked that the concept is such a simple one that it is almost baffling; create “a city where people and nature are better connected. A city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable”  (National Park City, 2017). Think back to Studio 31’s last blog which discussed healing gardens and the healing power of nature and then consider this concept and how it is not so far removed.

The statistics are staggering. If we consider children alone; in 2013, the RSPB published a three-year study, which concluded that four out of five children in the UK were not adequately “connected to nature”. In 2012, a National Trust report revealed the growing gap between children and nature. Less than one in 10 children regularly played in wild spaces, it said, compared to half of children a generation ago (The Guardian, 2016)

It may not surprise you to know that London is home to 8.6 million people, but did you also know that it is home to almost as many trees? 8.3 million to be precise; That’s almost one tree for every person in London.  It has 13,000 species of wildlife and already encompasses 4 world heritage sites, 2 national nature reserves and 1400 sites for conservation (London National Park City, 2017). It seems, much of the nature and green space is already there, what’s missing is the people connecting to it, enhancing it, caring for it and recognising it.

The great privilege of a career in landscape architecture and garden design, is that we work with exactly this concept every day. We create spaces for people to be outside, we design gardens to bring a part of nature right to the doorstep. We give people places to sit and be mindful, tree houses to play in and orchards for al fresco family dinners. We design residential gardens, community or public realm landscapes and work on scales both large and small but what almost all our schemes have in common is that (whether by choice or coincidence), we connect people and the outdoors.

The National Park City concept aims to extend this further to allow people to have free access to high-quality and importantly public green space to connect with nature right where they live. Here at Studio 31 we aim to give people, individual gardens or landscapes, personalised for them. Often, we also get to work on public realm or master planning projects which looks at doing the same for larger groups of people but what we hadn’t considered before was that in doing what we do, we fill the gaps between the urban buildings with pockets of green space. We design roof terraces and courtyards which enable nature to creep into a few square meters high above the ground or at the rear of a row of terraces. We make London just a little greener and add just a little biodiversity here and there. When we design a park or a community space, we give people more useful, more accessible connection to nature and so when we think about the National Park City campaign, we’ve suddenly seen our work in a new light. Seen how in some small way through garden design or landscape architecture we can contribute something small to something bigger and perhaps more powerful than any urban city has seen before.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Marked fields are required.