Let’s make more cities National Park Cities.
Cities where people and nature are better connected. Cities rich with wildlife, where every child and young person benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. Cities where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, where the air is clean to breathe, where it’s a pleasure to swim in the rivers and where we can all live lives that are more harmonious with ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Together we can make our cities greener, healthier, wilder and fairer places to live.
Together we can make our cities National Park Cities. Why not?
London, Luke Massey
A movement is growing, drawing together people who want to make their cities greener, healthier, wilder, fairer and more beautiful.
Who’s involved? All kinds of people - cyclists, scientists, tree climbers, artists, teachers, students, unemployed, under-employed, doctors, swimmers, gardeners, walkers, kayakers, activists, wildlife lovers, politicians, children, parents and grandparents.
What’s our aim? To transform our cities into National Park Cities.
Banff National Park by Alexandre Choquette-Poitevin
Around the world there are thousands of unique, inspiring and loved National Parks. These are beautiful protected areas encompassing glaciers, mangroves, savannahs, tundra, moorlands, and wetlands, as well as towns and villages. From the rainforests of Virunga to the deserts of Death Valley, each is valuable and distinctive.
The world’s National Parks are home to hundreds of thousands of people and host even larger numbers of visitors each year. Just the National Parks in the United States had over 330 million visitors in 2017. They are extraordinarily important places, managed for relatively low cost.
National Park Services ensure that our National Parks are valued, enjoyed and protected by working partner organisations, residents and visitors. The aims and principles of National Parks vary between countries, but they can usually be summed up as communities working together for better conservation, enjoyment, understanding, health and prosperity.
More than half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of people will live in urban areas by 2050.
"The world is seeing an extraordinary and unprecedented increase in urbanisation, with 70% of the global population predicted to be living in cities by 2050; an increase from 3.5 billion people today to 7 billion in just 35 years.
At the same time, global levels of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancers, respiratory, and heart diseases are soaring, particularly in towns and cities, due to the change in diet and lack of exercise that many people experience. Coupled with this, nature is being squeezed out of urban areas, despite the mounting body of evidence that shows nature has a crucial role in tackling the decline of city-dwellers’ health and wellbeing.
These health and urbanization trends, combined with an increased disconnection between humanity and nature, affect not just people’s physical health, but their mental and spiritual health too. Salzburg Global Seminar
People are demanding nature in their lives wherever they live. Nature is a "need to have", not a “nice to have”; it is critical for our wellbeing and existence. We need a better relationship with the rest of nature, for our own health, for the health of wildlife and for the health of the systems that we depend on.
Think of city landscapes and what comes to mind are industrial sites, houses, roads and rail lines. But in reality they can be a richly woven tapestry of greens and blues made up of gardens, rivers, parks, woodland, nature reserves, canals, meadows, woodland, allotments, streams and lakes.
Together with our buildings, these green and blue parts of our cities can be as valuable, wild and diverse as large parts of our countryside. They can be just as outstanding for their outdoor recreation opportunities and are certainly more accessible to more people. They are crucial assets for people and wildlife.
It is also true that urban life is not worth less than rural life. Urban red foxes are as valuable as desert fennec foxes and people, homo sapiens, deserve to live in healthy habitats too.
Urban areas only cover 3% of the Earth’s surface, but the influence of urban people’s decisions extend around the world. According to the WWF, population sizes of wildlife decreased by 60% globally between 1970 and 2014 largely due to what people in cities are consuming. Far from nature conservation being done remotely from cities, it is precisely in cities where there is the most opportunity to engage people to have a better relationship with nature and experience the benefits firsthand, everyday.
So, why not apply National Park principles to major cities?
That is what is happening in London, England.
London is one of the world’s most inspirational, distinctive and iconic cities. It is home to 9 million people, nearly as many trees, and 15,000 species of wildlife. Thousands of years of human activity is visible – but London is shaped by its hills, valleys and rivers, too. Home to four World Heritage Sites, London’s urban and built heritage sits alongside its conserved natural landscape.
Londoners share a very long and proud tradition of protecting and enjoying natural and cultural heritage. Friends of parks, town planners, the Royal Family, the Corporation of London, the Greater London Authority, councils, government departments, museums, campaigners, allotment keepers, developers, farmers, builders, charities and generations of millions of gardeners - all continue to contribute to making London one of the greenest cities in the world for its size.
Rouge National Urban Park - Parks Canada/Scott Munn
National Parks are inspiring places that capture people’s hearts and minds.
Traditional National Parks are usually designated by a central or regional government with definitions and criteria that vary between countries.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) definition of a National Park is a “large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities”.
Cities, with their distinctive, urban, natural and cultural heritage, historic landscapes, and many opportunities for outdoor recreation, can meet many of the requirements for becoming a National Park. The obvious barrier is that they are not the countryside or wilderness that people expect of National Parks.
However, cities are significant and incredibly important habitats that are full of potential – not least because so many of us live in them.
Taking inspiration from the successes of National Parks, National Park Cities are a new kind of “national park” which sit outside of legislation in England, but may well fit the criteria for national park families in other countries.
The term “National Park City” is used to respectfully and necessarily distinguish these citywide national parks from traditional rural National Parks and Urban National Parks. Urban National Parks are found inside or beside cities, but as yet don’t include entire cities.
Launched in July 2019, the London National Park City is a place, a vision, a movement and a way of organising.
Becoming a National Park City is not an award, it is the beginning of a journey and a large-scale and long-term challenge to improve life through everyday actions and strategic policy. Working with residents, visitors and partners, London aims to encourage people to:
The foundations for London to become a National Park City are already in place. London not only has extraordinary natural heritage, but a strong culture of caring for and enjoying life in the city.
A huge amount of activity – some new and innovative, much of it happening for tens and even hundreds of years – is already happening in London. Millions of individuals and thousands of organisations across London take everyday and extraordinary actions to enjoy, enhance and care for the capital’s remarkable natural and cultural heritage.
Many of the aspects of this idea are not new. But joining them up as an exciting, inspirational, coherent, connected, landscape-scale National Park City certainly is.
There’s an incredible amount happening in our cities, much of it unsung, some of it isolated. Much more can be achieved.
A defining quality of a National Park City is to stimulate an atmosphere in which millions of people take everyday actions to improve the quality of their lives and enhance the fabric of the city. Everyone in the city can both benefit and contribute.
Key aims include working together for more and better:
It's one vision to inspire a million projects."Sir Terry Farrell, internationally acclaimed British architect and urban designer
It is a large-scale and long-term vision that is achievable through lots of small and everyday actions. Many of these are already happening, but we have the potential to achieve so much more.
While all residents and visitors will have the potential to benefit from National Park Cities, the greatest benefits will probably come years from now. For a child born today, living in a National Park City could have a profound impact on their healthy development, their schooling, what they do with their family and how they value, enjoy and benefit from their environment. How could growing up within a National Park City inspire our children in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years’ time?
There is no precedent for creating a National Park City. It hasn’t been done before - London is the first. For such a proposition to work, it needs to have the backing of the people who live in and the people who govern the city.
In London, inspired by National Parks, we drafted a Declaration and a Charter for a London National Park City. After five years of campaigning and the support of thousands of individuals, we have successfully secured the support of the majority of London’s 2,000 local politicians and the backing of the Mayor of London. Building on this mandate and with support of people across the city, the London National Park City will be launched in July. You can read more about us on www.nationalparkcity.london.
Interest is now growing around the world, with people asking if and how their cities can become National Park Cities.
It is the ambition of World Urban Parks that a family of 25 National Park Cities is established by 2025, and we want to rise to that challenge. Why not?
The charter includes a vision and definition as well as goals, values and characteristics of National Park Cities.
Designed to be accessible, flexible and adaptable, the charter’s primary purpose is to inspire and guide people to understand what a National Park City is and how to get involved. We envisage producing a series of supporting documents to aid the transition towards becoming a National Park City.
The consultation ran from February 1st to May 2019, and the Charter was launched with representatives from London and cities around the world at an event atop One Tree Hill in South London on 21st July 2019.
Some of the organisations we're working with...