28th July 2019
As the Mayor of London signs the National Park City Charter today, I’m sure there are many of us wondering what this means for our vast and fabulous capital city. As already one of the greenest cities in the world we are clearly not short of green resource. But it is the Mayor’s ambition to make more than half of the capital green and increase tree coverage by 10% by 2050. Indeed funding has already begun to flow according to the Mayor’s website – supporting 170,000 new trees in the ground and 200 green space improvement projects, over the last three years.
There’s no question that London faces ever increasing pressure to urbanise. If we are to grow to 11 million people by 2050, we need to do so in a way which balances land usage, protects and enhances the natural environment, creates space for play and healthy lifestyles as well as helps London become a more resilient city. The National Park objectives include the ‘protection of the core network of parks and green spaces’ and a city where all can enjoy ‘high-quality green spaces’. In tandem the Mayor wishes to prevent loss of green belt and increase ‘greening’ in new development.
So how do we know where to focus our efforts in this campaign for green? How do we know what ‘high quality ‘ looks like? How do we know green belt is worth protecting and as it’s name suggests, actually green?
Take Wormwood Scrubs for example. Old Oak Common is looking to significantly intensify the land adjacent to this well known, but massively under-utilised green space in coming years. What does this piece of green infrastructure offer this emerging new and the existing community? Yes it is most definitely green, but is it of high quality? Is it meeting the needs of the existing population to secure their daily ‘green immersion’ recently touted as being important to mental and physical health & well-being?
From our ongoing research to support the development of the Greenkeeper tool, it is abundantly clear, that there are many green spaces across our capital which are under-performing. Spaces which are poorly linked to any form of green network, challenging to access or poorly equipped. Spaces that are well managed and maintained but are perhaps only offering opportunities for a small fragment of their local community.
As such, although the ambitions for the London National Park City are to be applauded we are in desperate need of tools like Greenkeeper. Tools which can help us be more objective about what we are looking to improve or deliver; help us understand what existing portfolios of open space are or are not delivering; and which segments of the community we are reaching with it. We also need to use tools like this to then inform not only existing green space but also propositions within new development. We can even use these tools to test the validity of green belt. Is it actually green, accessible and offering a resource for urban escapism and therefore in any way contributing to health & wellbeing?
Clearly social value is only one measure of success, green infrastructure offers huge environmental value in its many forms, and significant economic value to local communities and Local Authorities and the NHS. As such having an informed view of what we nurture, what we enhance and what we develop is essential if we are going to really build a city worthy of this National park title.
Fingers crossed that come December, Greenkeeper will have at least some, if not a fair chunk of a solution for us all.
Author: Jenni Montgomery