Its a novel idea, but one that I think has interesting legs. When we think of ‘national park’ we conjure images of wilderness and endless space, perhaps that’s the legacy left to us by the Americans who first forged out the idea of protecting wilderness areas and their flora and fauna from human development. Green spaces have been important to Londoners for centuries as places of ‘common’ recreation and access, the ‘green-lungs of the industrialised city’ promoted by social activists in the late 19th century. 1500km2 of green space in the Greater-London area is nothing to be sneezed at (mind you I suspect this also includes residential gardens) and I’m sure we all agree that these green-spaces are important for our health and wellbeing. However will making these spaces a collective achieve any more than it does already?
The organisers of the petition for making Greater London the first ‘Urban National Park’ on Change.org state clearly that this won’t effect planning and won’t change the great work already being done by local groups and associations. The clinching argument is that it will allow the government to put money towards enhancing the existing parks and allow for the coordination of biodiversity measures and recreation opportunities, as currently happens in National Parks in the UK. To that end I am not surprised that London Lord Mayor, Boris Johnson has responded (or at least his office has) thanking petitioners for ‘thoughts’ and dismissing any possible changes to current criteria for assessing National Parks in the UK, he doesn’t have jurisdiction over national funding.
Is there power in numbers here? Or would creating a collective just lose good ‘local initiatives’ to a more powerful machine, whereby those with greater influence (numbers, education, connections, or finance) would gain greater advantage for their local park or green space. It’s interesting food for though and probably needs to be addressed in the context of the true ‘purpose’ of a national park in the first place.
The ‘National Park Movement’ was driven by the desire to protect the Yosemite Valley in California in 1864 ‘to be used and preserved for the benefit of mankind’ and as such an act was passed for its preservation. Subsequently other parks followed including Yellowstone. Australia’s first national park in New South Wales was established in 1879 and Canada’s first national park in Banff in 1885. In the UK the National Parks Act wasn’t officially passed until 1949 and 10 areas of significance came under this beginning with the Peak District in 1951, in response to encroaching urban development, to be fair much of this land (unlike the almost ‘virgin’ landscapes of the ‘new world’) had already been changed due to ongoing farming practices. However the fundamental connection made between all is the preservation and use of green space for the ‘benefit of mankind’.
To this end, I say that the Greater London Park petition has merit, because parks ‘benefit mankind’ as places to gather, recreate, play and enjoy whether they are in wilderness areas or cities and in point of fact urban parks are accessed by many more at greater ease (without need to travel or have a car), than wilderness areas. Not too many of us will see the splendour of the Grand Canyon in our lifetime, but most of us can say we have enjoyed the sunshine in our local park.
So while I doubt the economics will stack up for the politicians who have the final say on this, I say here, here to democracy and our right to access and preserve ‘green spaces’ and best of luck to the Greater London National Park campaigners!
Photos courtesy of Iain Green, Ian James and Simon de Glanville.