Wild West and Beyond
Having grown up in Surrey, just outside London, many weekends and school holidays included day trips to our wonderful capital city: the London Eye, boat trips on the Thames, the Science and Natural History museums being amongst my favourite places to visit. However, as I grew older, I started to see that there was more to London than its tourist attractions, and began to appreciate the exploration of the history, lesser known areas, back streets, and great parks more frequently. Being home to nearly 9 million residents, and attracting more than 19 million tourists every year, there is a lot of pressure on London to perform. With poor air quality, an ageing population, an increasing skills gap, housing and rail crises and prevalent poverty and social exclusion, London is undoubtedly struggling in the current socioeconomic climate. As residential, commercial and retail needs continue to intensify, cranes have become a staple of London’s skyline. With these ubiquitous developments set to grow in both size and quantity, how can we ensure London remains a vibrant and sustainable city for all future generations?
In May 2019, London as a National Park City will officially launch. A movement to ensure the capital becomes greener, healthier and wilder, the aim is to improve quality of life in and around London. Now with the support of 359 wards across 33 boroughs and full backing from Sadiq Kahn, Mayor of London, momentum has built steadily over the past few years. Recently, over 300 events were put on as part of National Park City Week from 21st – 29th July 2018. In partnership with Urban Good, a London National Park City map has been created, showcasing all the incredible green, wild, play, food, civic and blue spaces as well as walking trails, activities and landscapes in and around London. Whilst the map demonstrates the many adventures waiting to take place in London, it also illustrates a distinct lack of connectivity between spaces, particularly in Central London. This exciting grassroots movement needs ever more energy in the lead up to the launch next year, so check the website to see how to get involved.
Green infrastructure has rightly attracted a lot of attention in the last few years – from parks to green roofs and gardens to woodland, there’s a lot more to it than just planting trees. Climate change is the most prominent global challenge of our time and we need to find as many ways to mitigate and adapt to it as possible. Green infrastructure absorbs numerous tonnes of CO2 – London’s public parks alone hold over 5 million tonnes of carbon, playing a part in reducing the rapidity of which we experience climate change’s hold. Alongside temperature regulation, reduced flood risk and noise abatement, green landscapes vastly improve air quality, with London’s trees removing an estimated 2240 tonnes of pollutants from the air every year. Whilst these environmental benefits may be clear, the less obvious social and economic contributions of green infrastructure are also huge. It is estimated that the avoided public health costs due to green spaces, across both physical and mental health, are £950m per year. Community engagement is 83% higher around green spaces, compared to concreted areas, and the newly developed green infrastructure industry is a great gateway into work. The business case for an increasing amount of infrastructure to be green in colour is strong, but how can we ensure it is well implemented?
One of the most important considerations of green infrastructure is connectivity – gardens and squares in isolation provide nowhere near the amount of benefits that green corridors do. I recently spent 2 weeks on work experience with Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, and have gained so much more of an insight into green infrastructure projects in London. Wild West End is an initiative in which the West End’s largest property owners are collaborating to develop and share best practice on creating a greener West End for all. Grosvenor, The Crown Estate, The Portman Estate, Howard de Walden, Shaftesbury and Great Portland Estates (with technical expertise provided by Arup and the London wildlife Trust) are using this opportunity to demonstrate the positive impacts of green infrastructure and ensure that existing green spaces are connected to attract wildlife as well as human interaction. To date, the partners have installed over 6,500m2 of green space across their buildings, including nearly 50 green roofs, carefully integrating ecology features such as beehives, bird and bat boxes to provide habitat value. What struck me about this particular venture was the co-operation and positive relationships between these private sector businesses and their willingness and determination to create a more inviting and environmentally sustainable West End for everyone.
For example, an award-winning garden has opened within The Portman Estate after being moved to the heart of the West End from RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The Wild West End Garden has been developed by the area’s businesses to improve biodiversity and air quality, promoting happiness and wellbeing in the retail and leisure centre. The Wild West End Garden, which won a gold medal in the Spaces to Grow category at Chelsea Flower Show has been moved to Old Quebec Street in Marylebone to provide a tranquil, green oasis for visitors to the district. Whilst it may be a small green space, the plants and benches provide a sense of peace and quiet and the project has been hailed as a success, attracting many tourists and passers-by. Perhaps the whole of London could benefit from a similar idea?
With continued investment, coupled with increased public awareness and engagement, London is set to become greener, healthier and happier over the coming years thanks to initiatives such as these – and with additional green infrastructure interventions in the pipelines, this programme is one to keep an eye on. Now there’s some good news for you.
Header Image: Skyline with Flower (Source: Wild West End)