Over the last few months I have visited all fifteen of the UK’s National Parks. Together they include mountains, meadows, moorlands, woods and wetlands, but as someone who lives and works in London I think there is a crucial habitat missing… an urban habitat.
What if London was the world’s first Urban National Park?
Britain’s built-up area physically covers around 7% of land and is home to a diverse range of (wild)life. The London Biodiversity Partnership has identified 15 different habitats in Greater London and more than 1,300 sites have been identified as being of value to wildlife (though I am sure there are many more). Casting a spot-light on amphibians and reptiles alone, nine of the thirteen species (common frogs, common toads, smooth newts, palmate newts, great crested newts, slow-worms, common lizards, grass snakes and adders) can be found within the M25. The Central London RSPB group has a list of 132 species of bird that you can find in London and if you know where to look you can find brown hares, otters and dormice too. Of course there is also an eclectic range of humans who together speak over 300 different languages along with their domestic pets and those less popular creatures including foxes, rats and pigeons.
London itself is very much a land of parks. At least 3,000 public parks, woodlands and gardens cover 140sqkm of London, but when you include private gardens and other green areas London’s total green space covers 628 sqkm or 40% of the city. In comparison to current UK National Parks at 1,572 sqkm London would be the 5th largest after the Lake District (2,292 sqkm), Snowdonia Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri (2,142 sqkm), the Yorkshire Dales (1,769 sqkm) and the South Downs (1,641 sqkm). Compared to its 628 sqkm of green space London would still be the 11th biggest.
National Parks in the UK are administered by their own National Park authorities. These are independent bodies that are funded by central government to:
- conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and
- promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public.
There are a number of pan-London organisations working to improve the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the city and there are also organisations working hard to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of London, but I do not think they achieve what a National Parks status would. By rethinking, reframing and replanning itself as a National Park I can imagine a wide range of possible benefits for London. These could include improvements to biodiversity, architecture, green-ways, outdoor education, accessibility, how the city markets itself to the outside world and crucially, how the city sees itself.
By reframing itself as a National Park there could be a major shift in how London and Londoners think of themselves and how those outside London imagine the city. These include London as being a:
- large archipelago of green spaces
- wild destination to be proud of… right on (y)our doorstep
- space where you have the right to roam, explore, play and learn
- place where humans are recognised as animals and part of the world’s ecosystem
- place where buildings and systems are seen as an urban habitat that is shared with other life
- city that embraces domestic and feral animals as part of a city’s innate and historic ecology
- city where large number of inhabitants recognise and enjoy their own great outdoors
In the city such an effort could change the way that the next generation thinks of and values their urban park and what can be discovered inside it. Who knows what seeing (y)our entire city as a National Park could do for its and our development, psyche and outlook.
[Feb 2014 update - I've decided to do something about this! Please contact me if you would like to help.]
I am currently working with our team at Explorer HQ on a special Mission:Explore Summer Camp, a virtual festival of outdoor activities and explorations that are aimed at kids and families. Click on the map above to have an explore and pick a mission to attempt!
The latest edition of Ecological Urbanism is terrible doorstop. The first edition is 655 pages, smells good, weighs 2kg and keeps most of my other books in their place. Despite its strengths, it can’t do video… something the latest version on the book can do. The original hardback book by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty features hundreds of photos that I took while walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London for Urban Earth, a project in urban exploration that I started in 2008. Out today, the new version splits the book into digestible chapters and includes over 15,000 photographs within the 3 Urban Earth films that I made by taking pictures every 8 steps while crossing these massive cities. You’ll find the films in volume 2, Anticipate, and are accompanied by a short piece of text that Kye Askins and I wrote. I’m delighted to see the films come to life in the book. I hope you enjoy it.
The Ecological Urbanism project has a Facebook page that you can follow here.
I’m very pleased to be working with InterContinental Hotels & Resorts to explore how globalisation is changing local places. It’s an innovative project to understand how the unique and complex interdependencies between people, countries and global brands are changing destination, including those that we call home.
This video introduces the project and is an invitation to join the TED conversation or share your opinion on Twitter through the hashtag #FutureOfLocal. I’m excited to be part of this investigation into the relationship between travel, sense of place, local needs and global brands. Please do contribute your thoughts, ideas and opinions as well as spread the word about this valuable and open conversation.
Next month I’m going to be making my way to Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland to give a talk at TEDxEHL 2013. Among others, I’m going to have the pleasure of sharing the stage with Caroline Duetsch Kubik, Mela Kocher and Doug Manuel. I’m excited to be taking part and can’t wait to work out what I’m going to say…
A couple of days ago I asked a few people on Urban Earth and Twitter if they would be interested in taking part in #Urban100, a project that I’m calling an open expedition because it’s going to last a year and anyone can join in. The idea is simple, to collaboratively explore urban places by taking 100 photographs over a 500 metre walk. Using the same stop-motion approach that I used in the Urban Earth films we’ll be able to create films that zoom through the urban landscapes, creating a unique representation of our urban habitats.
We’ve asked that all photos submitted #Urban100 are under a creative commons license so that anyone can edit their own versons of the films.
So far collaborators have said that they’ll be doing #Urban100 explorations in Bristol, Bangkok, London, Glasgow, Falmouth, Toulouse, Porto and Edinburgh with more being added and suggested all the time.
Being an explorer is inherently risky. Asking questions and venturing into the unknown is fraught with dangers, but by overcoming our fears we create seemingly endless opportunities to learn about ourselves and the world around us. Danger is a relative term though. Our perception, knowledge and understanding of “hazards”, our ability to asses and mitigate their risks as well as our motivations for (not) overcoming them vary massively between each and everyone of us. What feels like a comfortable walk in the (world’s largest national) park to one person can feel highly adventurous for another.
This sense of relativity is what convinces me that we are all explorers who go to extremes and accomplish death defying acts (from the likes of this and this). Your extremes may not be to venture to the Earth’s freezing poles, but in our everyday lives we perform experimental and extreme acts that put at risk our jobs, relationships, time and money. My latest gamble was on Sex and the City 2. Despite my best risk assessment I ended up losing part of my life to that film, something I’ll be mourning for days to come.
We are all explorers and as we venture through our life-journeys the best things we can do to increase our chances of survival are to trust aggregated review sites and to learn some basic first aid. I think this video from St Johns Ambulance is extremely powerful.
Getting on a First Aid course is a great idea. If you’ve got a smart phone then I highly recommend this app by the British Red Cross. It’s one of the best ways to become a death-defying explorer, like me.
I recently watched Step Up Revolution and was struck by what an awesome case study this film would make in geography classrooms. Some people may be fooled into thinking this is just a film about dance, but Step Up Revolution is a classic geographical (if fictional) study of people, place, power, planning and protest in cities. When a strip in Miami is threatened with topocide and gentrification “The Mob” fight back to protect their home. Guerrilla Geography is rife in this blockbuster, as the dancers move from ‘performance art’ to ‘ protest art’, intentionally occupying spaces to make their point and exert their power. It’s full of beautifully geography-based quotes too, as the characters debate identify, culture and more.
The love interest plot in the film revolves around Sean and Emily, two dancers who have fallen for each other but who are separated by their differences in wealth. To top that it’s Emily’s dad who is trying to redevelop the area and Sean is one of the leaders of the “Mob” that is uprising. Near the end of the film they dance together to the song “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra, a beautiful song that with its use in this film draw parallels between finding a sense of home in both place and people… in this case, with each other through dance.
The film ends with Emily’s dad (the property developer) saying “Maybe there is a way to build-up this neighbourhood without tearing it down”. What a classic problem for any classroom of students try and tackle.
I love this short film by the Light Surgeons.
After months of work it’s only a couple of weeks until Mission:Explore Food is officially published. Here are some spreads from the book that we’ve issued with our press release. I’m currently working on a Mission:Explore Food Expedition to promote the book that we’re mounting over 2012/13 to do missions and discover extreme foods around the UK. Details of this slow-food journey will be appearing on The Geography Collective blog over coming weeks.