Following my blog post last November (What if… London was a National Park?) the Greater London National Park* website was launched at the start of last month. The website both mirrors official UK National Park websites and makes the case for London becoming the world’s first National Park City, a new kind of national park.
In the 43 days since, the provocative *Notional Park has been gathering supporters and building momentum. 37 organisations are Friends of the Greater London National Park* and this number increases each day. Since the project began, nearly 350 people have signed our petition to the Mayor of London. The plan is to submit the petition to the Mayor’s office in 2015.
To my surprise the Mayor’s office replied to the petition last week.
Thank you for signing the Change.org petition about turning London into the world’s first urban National Park.
The Mayor welcomes the call for more recognition of the importance and value of London’s parks, green spaces and natural environment. He commends the campaign organisers for their inventiveness in raising awareness of this issue by calling for a Greater London National Park. The idea of a ‘National Park’ is an engaging way of sparking debate.
However, he cannot support a proposal to create a formal National Park as he understands that the evaluation framework for determining potential National Parks effectively excludes large urban areas. Furthermore, he does not have powers to ‘create’ a new class of urban National Park.
Nevertheless, the Mayor, through his London Plan policy and programmes to improve London’s park and green spaces, is providing a leadership role on this issue. In particular he has produced the All London Green Grid framework which, amongst other things, is fostering sub-regional partnerships such as the Wandle Valley Regional Park. These sub-regional partnerships have objectives consistent with those being promoted by the Greater London National Park campaign and are endorsed by London Plan policy and supported through Mayoral programmes. In addition, the All London Green Grid partnership brings together representatives from the boroughs, other land managers and environmental NGOs to ensure a more strategic, integrated approach to the management and maintenance of London’s green infrastructure.
Thank you again for contacting the Mayor.
Public Liaison Unit
Greater London Authority”
I find this response highly encouraging.
We celebrate the inspired work that is already being done across the capital and see the All London Green Grid as a fantastic framework from which a Greater London National Park would work. The potential, though, is to create a unit, department, authority or association with the power to do much more than this across a wide range of sectors, just like national parks do elsewhere in the UK.
The Mayor’s office only really gives one reason why they cannot support the idea.
“He [the Mayor] does not have powers to ‘create’ a new class of urban National Park.”
I don’t think this is right.
To be designated as a National Park by Natural England, the Park would have to meet certain (highly subjective) criteria and meet both the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and the 1995 Environment Act. In an international context, it would also need to be recognised by the IUCN who have their own Protected Areas Category System.
But we are not calling for London to become a traditional National Park. Being defined in the same way as traditional, remote and rural National Parks would devalue the importance of wilder parts of the planet that need to be thought about and managed differently. Equally, a city like London needs to have the freedom to evolve and develop dynamically in a way that is appropriate for its own needs.
I do not want London to become a traditional National Park.
London should become a National Park City, a new kind of National Park with the same spirit and aims as other UK National Parks, but with its own distinct definition, classification, criteria for qualification, leadership and management.
As it stands National Park Cities do not exist. There is no international agreement or legal definition that prevents London or any other city from becoming a National Park City. The page is blank and the opportunity is enormous – all we have to do is reach out and take the opportunity to create this “new class of urban National Park”.
I call on the Mayor to consider how London could become the birthplace of a new kind of smart city, a National Park City.
Show your support for a Greater London National Park by adding your name to the petition.
Can you imagine living for a month entirely on things that can only be found within a day’s walk of your home? This is what Jess Allen did over the last month and I’ll be asking her why she did this on Twitter tomorrow night.
Jess describes herself as a “stereotypical dreadlocked-vegetarian-eco-feminist-environmentalist-caravan/yurt-dwelling aerial dancer, walking artist and academic hedgesprite with a horse” She’s currently doing a second PhD in performance, developing the practice of tracktivism with a President’s Doctoral Scholarship from the University of Manchester.
I’ll be asking Jess some questions about her work and experiences on Twitter using the hashtag #guerrillageography from 8pm (London time) tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
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.
Last week I had great fun helping to make this live Guerrilla Geography video with National Geographic Education for Geography Awareness Week. What do you think of it?
I’m looking forward to speaking at a National Geographic event at the Wellcome Collection tonight ahead of the 125th anniversary of the organisation. The evening for commercial supporters of National Geographic in the UK is called the “New Age of Exploration”. In my short presentation I plan to (re)frame what ‘geography’ is (much like in this recent interview with Geographical Magazine) and then touch on an ‘exploration revolution’ that is taking place. Technology is not only changing how we conceive, plan, organise, conduct, share and review our explorations, but the number of people who can engage in them.
I love this short video by ito! showing four years of edits on Open Street Map. It’s an awesome example of collaborative and open exploration that involved over 750,000 registered users and shows collaboration at its best. For me, some of the most exciting cartographic ‘events’ in this video are where sparks of activity appear in countries, regions and neighbourhoods that were otherwise left uncharted or unpublished by governments and other organisations. It all demonstrates that places are not just discovered once, they can be discovered and rediscovered millions of times as they change and new people and other animals visit them. It’s a video that shows an Exploration Revolution that you are unavoidably part of…
I’m very excited to be heading to the Hay Festival this weekend. Our guerrilla geography Mission:Explore school workshops are booked out on the Friday and then we’ve an open space over this Saturday and Sunday. In The Sun last week we were listed as the ‘leading lights in guerrilla geography’… a quote that made me very happy for several hours.
This is going to be the first Geography Collective expedition in our new spaceship/time machine/HQ van. We’ve done a good bunch of the outside decoration and will have the inside ready for the launch of our next book, Mission:Explore Food, at the end of June. Thanks to Helen Steer for getting all the stickers printed, Tom Morgan-Jones for the illustrations and a day together unprofessionally fitting them, Seb (who is modelling the van) for his consultancy and Menah Raven-Ellison for her sticking skills.
We’re very proud of this new member of the Mission:Explore & Geography Collective family. Later in the summer we’ll be taking it on a little tour of the UK.