What is a National Park City?

We are currently consulting on the following working definition for a National Park City.

“A National Park City is a place, a vision and a community. It is a city that is cared for through both formal and informal means to enhance its living landscape. A defining feature is the widespread and significant commitment of residents, visitors and decision-makers to act so people, culture and natural processes provide a foundation for better life.”

A National Park City is inspired by the family of National Parks but is not the same as a National Park.

Most of the world’s National Parks are in rural areas, often with spectacular natural beauty, where people work together to protect natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.

A National Park City recognises the value of urban life, habitats, landscapes, people and culture, and seeks to apply appropriate National Park principles to whole cities.

Just like in a rural National Park, a National Park City consists of a landscape as well as a vision and a community of people working together to look after and improve it. Unlike a rural National Park, the National Park Cities will not always have a traditional single top-down authority. Instead, it has a community, partnership and a large number of contributors. This could become millions of people.

What will National Park Cities do?

In short, they will make life better for people and wildlife.

We want cities to have more bird song, more ultimate frisbee, more hill-rolling, more tree climbing, more cycling, more hedgehogs, more volunteering, more sharing, more outdoor play, more kayaking, cleaner air, more otters, greener streets, more outdoor learning, more ball games, more public space, more outdoor art and more hilltop dancing. Why not?

In practice, the priorities of National Park Cities will vary between cities. We are currently consulting to better understand the priorities which may be universal to all cities and those which may be city specific.

In London the National Park City will work with residents, visitors and partners to:

  1. Enjoy the London’s great outdoors more
  2. Make the city greener, healthier and wilder
  3. Promote London’s identity as a National Park City

Or, in a few more words, it will help people to:

  1. Enjoy London’s great outdoors more - Connecting more people to nature and the outdoor culture, improving health, well-being and social cohesion.
  2. Make the city greener, healthier and wilder - Creating more high quality green and blue space, making London over 50% green and blue, delivering improvements for wildlife, people’s enjoyment and an attractive and sustainable environment for visiting, living and working in.
  3. Promote London’s identity as a National Park City - Helping residents and visitors to appreciate its value and potential for a rich cultural life anchored in its outdoor heritage. It will also work to link people to the national and international family of national parks and other protected areas.

In summary, it will do this by:

  1. Leading inspiring campaigns
  2. Growing a movement
  3. Supporting and coordinating action

A new way of thinking and acting, and revitalising people’s relationship with the environment and their communities is at the heart of what creating a National Park City will do.

How will the National Park City work in practice?

Anyone living in or visiting a National Park City will be able to both enjoy and contribute to it. This could do this by simply playing outdoors, exploring somewhere new or choosing to plant or protect wildflowers. Such efforts can transform lives and when done at scale, can transform landscapes, societies and systems.

A National Park City is a place, a vision, a community AND a way of organising. The majority of people will only be interested in the first three of these, but how it is organised will be vital to its success. The nature of the organisation and necessary leadership will vary between cities and countries.

In London a National Park City Network and Partnership are being formed of groups and organisations, with the Partnership having a significant leadership role.

Its approach will be to:

  • Lead campaigns that drive demand for good practices
  • Galvanise a movement with a shared vision
  • Inspire activities that contribute to its aims, acting as a catalyst
  • Join up activity and thinking, at a city-wide scale
  • Increase investment into National Park City related activities
  • Promote and share practice and knowledge sharing, amplifying existing activity and extending benefits

The Partnership will be led by a steering group and governed by a London National Park City Charter. The Partnership will agree an Action Plan on a regular basis that will set out key activities that need to be delivered and progress will be monitored by a State of the National Park City Report.

The initiative extends beyond environmental organisations, and include families, artists, sports clubs, government agencies, community groups, writers, councils, housing associations, schools, and many other diverse organisations and individuals to develop, extend and maintain activities and green spaces in localities, connecting with each other across London.

The National Park City Foundation is an independent charity that has been formed to help make the London National Park City a success and to champion the National Park City concept nationally and internationally. It will also support local action by helping to raise and direct funds and investment, helping Londoners to scale-up their activities and to fill in gaps where there is a lack of community action or support.

What is a National Park City Charter?

We anticipate that each National Park City will have a Charter.

The London National Park City is a place, a vision, a movement and is being organised through a partnership. The London National Park City Charter sits at the heart of these elements.

The Charter is a short document that sets out our Partnership’s vision, aims, values and an action plan. While some of it will be set in stone, the action plan will be updated on a regular basis by the Partnership’s members. Individuals and small community groups as well as larger organisations will be able to influence both the action plan and other sections of the Charter.

The original London National Park City proposal included a draft Charter. The first full Charter of the London National Park City is shorter, and designed so that anyone can pick it up and see how they can both contribute to and benefit from the National Park City.

What is the Universal Charter for National Park Cities?

Informed by our experiences working to declare London a National Park City, this Universal Charter gives an overall, global identity to National Park Cities. It will inspire people as individuals, as part of their community, as members of groups and as people involved with larger organisations, to act collectively to improve life in cities as part of a wider movement. It will be designed so that anyone, may they be 8 or 80, can be involved.

It will include a vision and definition as well as goals, values and characteristics of all National Park Cities. It will also include a section for people and organisations to share what actions they are taking to make progress on these goals.

In partnership with World Urban Parks and Salzburg Global Seminar we consulted on the contents of the Universal Charter in the first half of 2019.

The Universal Charter was launched on 21st July 2019 at a ceremony atop One Tree Hill in London with representatives from London, World Urban Parks, Salzburg Global Seminar and cities around the world. You can read and sign up to the Universal Charter.

What is the State of the National Park City Report?

We want to make life better in cities.

In London, The State of the National Park City Report will be a way to track collective progress toward achieving this. It will do this by revealing data that relate to the National Park City’s objectives. This report will be used to inform the London National Park City Partnership’s progress, decision making and activities.

These may include:

  • air quality
  • water quality
  • water management
  • biodiversity
  • bioabundance
  • volunteering
  • local food growing
  • walking
  • cycling
  • kayaking
  • people’s connection to nature
  • outdoor learning in schools
  • key physical health outcomes
  • key mental health outcomes
  • investment and employment in National Park City related ventures
  • community engagement with the National Park City related activities
  • funding leveraged for the related sectors

In the future we anticipate for there to be a State of the National Park Cities Report which can be used to track progress within and between cities.

How is a National Park City different from a National Park?

Like a National Park, a National Park City is a place, a vision and a community of people who want to care for it.

A main difference is that National Parks are rural and tend to have few people living inside them. A National Park City is a citywide landscape that is predominantly urban and can be home to millions of people.

While there are Urban National Parks inside and beside cities, a National Park City is an entire city.

The National Park City idea takes inspiration from the aims and principles of National Parks, but because they are home to very large numbers of people living inside them some different approaches are needed. While National Parks have high levels of formal management and legal protection, in National Park Cities it is the large numbers of residents that have the power to protect and enhance the city’s living landscape. Just like in rural national parks, this power can translate to government policy, but it can translate to family policy too.

National Park City’s will have an important role in improving people’s access to nature where they live, but also to inspire people to protect and enjoy more distant National Parks and the wider family of protected areas.

Can any city become a National Park City?

Becoming a National Park City is not an award. It is the beginning of a journey to improve life in the city. Some cities that look green from space will not embody the spirit of National Park Cities. Others that look quite grey from space but have the right characteristics could make outstanding National Park Cities.

Cities that feature all of these characteristics may choose to confirm themselves as a National Park City. This would be done in collaboration with the National Park City Foundation and World Urban Parks, with a range of participants and representatives to signing an official confirmation document. Confirmed cities would be encouraged to join a network of peer-reviewed network National Park Cities

As part of developing the Universal Charter for National Park Cities we are currently consulting on ten characteristics of National Park Cities.

A National Park City:

  1. is inspired and guided by the Universal Charter for National Park Cities
  2. is a large citywide landscape
  3. is a place, a vision and a community that aims to be greener, healthier and wilder
  4. should include a wide range of places, projects and initiatives that its residents would be proud to show other residents and both national and international visitors
  5. has an active civic society and an appetite, energy and mood in the city with the potential to deliver key aspects of the National Park City
  6. can demonstrate the majority of people in the city support the aims of the National Park City
  7. has healthy support from city government and local politicians
  8. establishes a robust, collaborative and healthy network of cross-sector organisations to implement actions to make the National Park City a success
  9. implements meaningful policies to protect, increase and enhance nature, culture, heritage, the environment and public space in the city
  10. has identified, is committed to and is progressing toward its own National Park City goals, informed by the Universal Charter

Let us know what you think about these characteristics by responding to this consultation.

How does a city become a National Park City?

After we have consulted on the Universal Charter for National Park Cities we will be providing more advice. For now, take a look at our answer to the question above.

What’s the difference between a National Park City, a National Park City Partnership and the National Park City Foundation?

A National Park City is a place, a vision and a community of people working towards its aims. It is guided by a National Park City Charter.

Drawn from our much larger network, a National Park City Partnership will comprise groups and organisations that are working together to make the National Park City successful and to make life better in the city.

The National Park City Foundation is the charity that we’ve established to inspire, galvanise and support residents and visitors to make London and other cities greener, healthier, wilder, fairer and more enjoyable, resilient and prosperous. It will do this through identifying, spreading, catalysing, joining-up and scaling-up best practices and opportunities. It also facilitates the London National Park City Partnership.

What planning powers does the London National Park City have?

None, directly.

London being a National Park City does not bring the kind of planning powers the UK’s other National Parks have. London National Park City would not directly control development or prepare planning policies. These powers would remain with the Greater London Authority, the 32 London boroughs, and the City of London Corporation. Being a National Park City will not add another layer of bureaucracy to decision-making in London.

As the Mayor of London and most local council wards support the London National Park City, they may choose to use their planning policies to support our shared aims. A good example of this is an aim we share with the Mayor’s target to make 50% of London physically green by 2050.

What does it cost?

Residents and visitors can both enjoy and contribute to a National Park City without the need for any funding.

The National Park City Foundation is the charity that has been established to help make the London National Park City and other National Park Cities a success. No funding is being asked for from councils or central government. The National Park City Foundation is funded through a mixture of private giving, corporate giving and corporate services.

The Foundation will start off as a small organisation and grow over time. Eventually it may cost around £4 million a year to run. This is about the cost of running a rural English National Park or a medium-sized high school.

What would it mean to me?

It depends on who you are. Our aim is to make life better in cities by making them greener, healthier and wilder. Simply going for walks or looking after plants will help with this mission. The more you get involved, the more it will mean to you.

What is the National Park City hashtag?


How many National Park Cities do you think there will be by 2025?

World Urban Parks have set the challenge of creating 25 National Park Cities by 2025.

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