Greener, healthier and wilder: how London is leading a global revolution

National parks are the most glorious places on Earth. There is Yellowstone with its sulphurous geysers. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is home to lions and leopards. The sparkling Thingvellir waterfalls in Iceland.

Two years ago another name was added to this list… London.

In 2019, the capital became the first national park city in the world.

Naming a city a national park is an entirely new concept. The idea is so new that most Londoners are still figuring out the concept.

So what does it mean for a city to be a national park?

“It’s about taking existing green spaces and improving them,” says Tim Webb, long-term administrator of the London National Park City organization that oversees the projects.

“We are talking about planting wild flowers. Window boxes. And green buildings with green walls and rooftop gardens. To plant trees. We can expand London’s green spaces without demolishing a single building.

The long-term goal is to transform London’s cityscape into a wilderness, where flora of all varieties thrives and animals – birds, insects, amphibians, foxes and deer – can thrive. The vision includes the creation of ecological bridges between existing parks.

The plan is ambitious and a bit chaotic. It is deliberate. The original vision of Dan Raven-Ellison, the former geography professor and activist, who envisioned the idea of ​​making London a national park almost a decade ago, was that ordinary Londoners should take the lead.

“Anyone can get involved,” says Webb. “There are formal roles, like becoming a Ranger. They run projects in the London boroughs. The youngest Ranger is 15, the oldest 72. And we urge people to become a National Park City Maker. These are people who look at their street and their neighborhood and imagine how they could be improved. Anyone can contribute. Just ask “What if? “. What if we adopted a small piece of land and planted something? What if we cleaned up that expanse of grass so the kids could play on it? ‘ “

He quotes a mother who noticed that the trip to school with her child was marred by litter. She cleared the path. I started to plant flowers. Soon other parents were involved. “We ended up with a green corridor of roads, like a spider’s web, leading to the center where the school is located. This is a great example of the impact one person can have on an entire community.

The #lnpc hashtag on social media is a great way to follow initiatives. For example, at Lavender Pond Nature Reserve in Rotherhithe, there are dragonfly activities for children, pond swims and insect hotels, as well as shoreline erosion repair and water restoration work. trails. Egyptian geese and moorhens are thriving, while butterfly breeds include Meadow Brown and Painted Lady. It’s an idyll, perfectly representing the kind of city the LNPC wants to promote.

How to make builders greener

A major aspect of the national park’s mission is to transform London’s built environment. The goal is to transform the concrete and steel buildings into something a little more wild and plant-friendly. It’s a job for the LNPC Development Forum.

“We have 12 members in the Forum,” says Emily Hamilton, co-founder of the LNPC Development Forum and ESG manager at Savills Investment Management. “We started to set up this forum over a year ago and we launched it at the beginning of this year. The slogan is greener, healthier, wilder, but the question is what that means in practice. We meet quarterly to discuss it.

She mentions demonstration projects, which show what can be done: “One of our members, Fabrix, is developing a next generation office in Southwark called Roots In The Sky. In addition to a workspace, the building will house one of the largest roof forests in Europe, open to the local community with its own access point. The improved structure will support 1,300 tonnes of soil creating a healthy and resilient environment for the trees. The building will give its occupants the opportunity to make a big statement about the value they place on nature. ”

Green walls are also possible – adding structure to allow moss, grass, ivy, shrubs and flowers to grow on the side of a building, with built-in irrigation. The visual effect is stunning, and insects and birds love it.

Green buildings also make financial sense, Hamilton says. “While working in the management of real estate investments, I see so many laws about what investors should declare in terms of sustainability. The motivation of investors to invest their capital in sustainable assets is increasing massively. It is also important for the occupants, who have their own sustainable development goals to achieve. One of the easiest places to start a business is at the office. The head office says a lot about a company’s values. “

She cites other advantages. Forests on rooftops can mitigate flooding. Green buildings are cooler, which saves money and reduces the building’s carbon footprint. There is also the human aspect. Workers appreciate being surrounded by foliage and animal life. It’s a more humane way of life.

One of the members of the Forum is Quintain, the developer behind Wembley Park, the transformed district of North West London and the UK’s largest rental construction site. Julian Tollast, manager of planning and design at Quintain, has just completed five years as an administrator of the LNPC, and he says his company is fully committed to the ideas of an urban park.

Wembley Park is one example. “25% of the 85 acres are open and accessible spaces,” says Tollast. “The National Park City is all about connecting people to their landscape, and that’s exactly what we want to achieve at Wembley Park. There are increasing levels of biodiversity across the estate. The open spaces are designed for the community to use and feel a part of, especially a seven acre park.

Tollast says the business case is “tricky.” He adds, “I’m not sure you can see what that adds to the bottom line.” In fact, Quintain is committed to more than a simple return on investment. “We have these 10 design principles,” he says. “The last two are that good design activates the five senses. It’s not just about sight. It’s the sound, the aroma and, in terms of the scenery, what you can taste. We ask, will be proud of what we have done? Would we like to live there ourselves? This is the ultimate test.

So what’s next for London National Park City?

The need for London to change is clear. Half of Londoners want to leave the city, according to London Assembly research – a trend accelerated by the pandemic.

The LNPC has a long set of goals, including improving access to green spaces for disadvantaged socio-economic groups, those over 65, and women. Projects require money – so you have to find sponsors; trustees are optimistic that the environmental mission will resonate with companies at a time when ethical action is as important to investors and staff as making profits.

The political goodwill is there. Each of the mayoral candidates supported the LNPC.

For now, the goal is to get the message across and involve Londoners in this wonderful project.

“The biggest challenge is the imagination,” says Tim Webb. “People are reluctant to think of London as another habitat, just as wetlands or forests are habitat. Urban spaces are a mosaic. While we may not be able to re-invade, by reintroducing wild bison and wild boar, we are reinventing people to live in the wild in London. We can reconnect people to live among beetles and foxes. It’s all there, but we really don’t see it much or pay attention to it. Our hope is to change that.

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