David Cope, a Trustee of the National Park City Foundation, outlines how the UK city dwellers might benefit from National Park Cities.
If there is one thing we’ve all learnt about in 2020, it is more about our homes and neighbourhoods. Covid restrictions have meant more time at home, living locally and different daily routines. And whether you’ve loved that experience or hated it, it really matters.
Quality of Life Foundation research during the spring of 2020 showed that urban dwellers were less satisfied with their homes than those in the suburbs or rural areas. The Country Land and Business Association found 44% of Londoners said they were more likely to consider moving to the countryside as a result of Covid. The lockdowns highlight how attractive rural life could be to many urban citizens – people value access to nature and residents in some parts of our cities suffer much worse access to green space.
Now, perhaps none of that is surprising – we know intuitively that bird song, jolly flowers and a walk through nature helps our wellbeing. What is surprising is the divide in access to green space is not inevitable, it is not immutable and it is not immune to treatment. You don’t need to move to the countryside to experience the benefits of nature on your doorstep. What’s more, there are thousands of people up and down the country who are making our cities greener, healthier and wilder. Covid has made many people realise what is important to their urban lives and they resoundingly want to see change, with only 6% of people wanting things to return how they were before the pandemic.
The world’s first National Park City
The National Park City Foundation, the charity behind London becoming the world’s first National Park City, is a movement with almost 260 organisations who came out to support our campaign. We aspire to see every Londoner become a National Park City Maker – taking pride in their local community, joining with their neighbours, exploring the great outdoors of our city and making life better. Our role is to give a platform to every Londoner who wants to take action, connecting groups together, spanning nature from dance and jogging to gardening, sharing inspiration and encouraging everyone to get involved.
Our National Park City campaign captured the imagination of politicians too. The Mayor of London set a target to make London 50% green and blue. What if the London of the future was known for being a city full of nature, just like Singapore is known for being a city in a garden? What if London copied the transformations seen in Amsterdam or Copenhagen to become a cycling city? What if London followed the ambition of Paris to become a 15 minute city?
Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cardiff too
And more to the point, what if people in every city in the UK decided they wanted to remake their cities as National Park Cities? This movement is already happening, with active campaigns in Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne and Cardiff, with other places starting their journeys of exploration and discovery. Each city is bringing its own distinctive style and attitude to their campaigns.
In Newcastle, the campaign is being spearheaded by James Cross, the CEO of Urban Green Newcastle, who says “I want our campaign to be a beacon that inspires communities in Newcastle and the wider region to value, cherish and celebrate our amazing parks, allotments and green spaces. That in doing so we feel happier, healthier and more fulfilled; that the places people care about are more vibrant and beautiful; and that people, nature and the local economy thrive.”
In Glasgow the campaign organised a gathering just before the first lockdown where ideas to make their city better were free-flowing. From creating car-free links between existing green spaces to accessible outdoor activities to tackle loneliness and ‘fresh air Fridays’, even in the pre-pandemic times, there was a huge demand for change.
The campaign for National Park Cities has spread around the world, with cities on every continent exploring the question of ‘what if my city was a National Park City?’ As these campaigns grow and more people join the call for action, the more irresistible the change will become. The National Park City Foundation is sharing the voices of makers and doers from all around the world telling their inspiring and unique stories of action.
Where we live really matters – our home, our neighbourhoods, our community. Whether you love it or hate it, change is possible. Citizens in every city can make positive change happen by coming together to craft a compelling vision for their city – politicians, developers, institutions will feed from the energy you create. The National Park City vision needs people like you who want to make life better in all our cities to join our movement.