Last year we saw the Garden Bridge get the boot, swiftly followed by the arrival of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to make London the world’s first national park city. For some, this may have been met with a roll of the eyes and a remark like ‘here we go with the next wildly-aspirational pledge’. But, while plans change for how we enhance our capital city, what remains intact is City Hall’s recognition of the value of green infrastructure and Londoners’ desire for high-quality public space.
As landscape designers, we think about and build the public realm first when designing new developments. Within that, green infrastructure is fundamental. We know that good greenspace is beneficial for our health and wellbeing, boosts productivity, and goes a long way towards creating a strong, positive identity for a place. This in turn attracts people to those areas, making them thriving and successful places. We’re currently designing the newest and largest addition to London’s network of parks since the Queen Elizabeth Park at Springfield in south west London which is of a scale not just to benefit the new community but reinforce the health and wellbeing of the wider community.
What then if this was turned on its head and instead we thought big about the benefits of green infrastructure in placemaking. What if we did task ourselves to plan and design London as the world’s first national park city?
‘National park cities’ are not yet a thing, but London’s aspiration to become one already is. For its size London is already one of the greenest cities in the world, with green space covering nearly 47 per cent of the city. That’s a strong starting point. There are no existing guidelines or rules on how to become a national park city, but the principle of it – to harness parks, gardens and squares for enhanced function, productivity and wellbeing – already exists in London and so this is an aspiration worth accomplishing.
The benefits of the road to get there - enhanced and well-designed space to live, work and play - and the opportunity to market London as the world’s first national park city would together cultivate the city as a sterling place to live and an attractive destination for investment and visitors.
Green infrastructure is an asset, and one that should be embraced and protected. The recently published ‘Natural Capital Account’ for the capitals green space valued this asset in excess of £91 billion. The mayor sees this and has pledged, in his Draft London Plan, that half of London will be green by 2050 and has allocated £9 million to his Greener City Fund to help local communities improve their greenspaces. We saw this agenda supported by Theresa May this week as she announced a multi-million-pound investment for inner-city London schools to experience the outdoors and plant new gardens.
Some might say that the challenge that lies ahead is achieving this while also delivering the levels of housing, commercial space and infrastructure that is also desperately needed. But for me this is an opportunity to be even more creative both in terms of design and planning. The aspiration to be the first National Park City may well be a wild one, but this could just be what we need to kickstart the creativity to make it happen.
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