What if the words nature, green and wild were associated with cities as much as they are with the countryside? Maybe that’s not as far into the future as you think.
Every week, the number of people living in urban areas globally increases by 1.5 million. The 3.5 billion urban residents today will double to over 7 billion in just 35 years. How can we ensure our cities don’t just survive this rapid urbanisation trend, but that they, and all their inhabitants, can thrive?
Although cities are often seen as busy, polluted and densely populated, the truth is far more inspiring than that. Instead of roads, think rivers. Instead of shops, think allotments and vegetable gardens. Instead of pests, think wildlife. And instead of grey, think green and blue. The National Park City Foundation is encouraging you to do just this, reimagining your city as a home to more than just humans: instead, a home in which we can peacefully co-exist with nature. In fact, in London, our species is just one of 15,000 and there are nearly as many trees as there are people. And this is just the start.
London was officially declared the world’s first National Park City on July 22nd; this comes after 6 years of campaigning, initiated by founder Daniel Raven–Ellison. Rather than formal recognition, the National Park City title represents a movement of ideas, innovation and community. At the core of the vision is the aim to improve life in London, making it greener, healthier and wilder. At this juncture, it is important to distinguish between traditional ‘National Parks’ (such as the Peak District) and what the Foundation is trying to create: National Parks as they are now are designated by central governments, whereas the NPC is a bottom-up grassroots initiative. Nevertheless, these initiatives being so closely linked in their titles ensures that the thoughts, feelings, values and visions at the heart of both remain inextricably linked, without compromising the future of either.
The National Park City Foundation have released a Universal Charter of NPCs, with London being the first to sign. Both in the UK and globally, there is huge interest from governments, councils, communities and citizens, alluding to the question of which city will be next? World Urban Parks, with the support of the NPCF and Salzburg Global Seminar, are aiming to have 25 National Park Cities by 2025. It may seem ambitious now, with just over 5 years to go and 24 to create, however the momentum and necessity is increasing daily. Is it not true that seemingly attainable goals are not big enough?! Some cities to keep an eye on include Glasgow, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Galway and Adelaide, as well as projects closer to home, such as the West Midlands National Park.
Becoming a National Park City is a long term and large-scale project. It is therefore likely that a lot of challenges are to be faced. One of these is going to stem from the lack of legality and formality surrounding the title and education towards the fact that any city can become an NPC if it has the determination. National Park City is a community driven movement, where anyone can contribute, and everyone benefits. Speaking on the subject, Sir Terry Farrell stated that “It’s one vision to inspire a million projects”; its ‘everyday’ actions by ‘everyday’ people that are going to make the biggest difference. The inspiration isn’t limited to London, communities, schools, universities, individuals and businesses can all make a change. Do we want future generations to have a deteriorating quality of life, or be proud of the cities we have created for them? What if a vision started by one man, but championed by many, many others, changes the way cities are seen, experienced and valued, now and for all years to come?
Taking inspiration from the title of an article by Diana Sinton released in April, I leave one final statement:
Yesterday, cities had parks, but today, cities can be parks.