London's boroughs need to deliver equal access to quality green space
Let’s stop scratching our heads about how to do this – here are our 5 clear steps towards a London with #GreenSpace4All
There are so many reports extolling the virtues of greenspace. As we write, yet more research is published about how greener play areas boost children’s immune systems.
But London has just half the green space it needs for a population its size. Additionally, Londoners aren’t even gaining the full benefits of the green space which already exists. And there are inequalities in access: BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and poorer communities statistically share less space and have less access to private gardens and public parks.
There has been a flurry of reports recently about these problems. But we have a 5-step, realistic and achievable plan to solve them. London’s boroughs are doing an amazing job of transforming our streetspace for walking and cycling as we attempt to #BuildBackBetter following the Covid-19 pandemic. We now need them to get on and deliver #GreenSpace4All.
Step 1: Create small parks and play spaces by using street space. Too many Londoners live too far away from a park or play space. We can solve this by turning streets into parks. Not all our streets are needed for parking or as through-routes for cars. Councils can identify areas which are poorly served by parks or play areas and make them safe, tranquil, green spaces for relaxation or play. The images below show plans for Alfred Place in Camden, for example. If funding is not available for major works, councils can start the process by using bollards to remove traffic and enable residents to create ‘parklets’. Read our longer blog on how councils can transform streets into parks.
Step 2: Create 10 major new parks from London’s forgotten and neglected green assets. There many large green spaces in London which the owners or custodians have failed to manage effectively or deliberately left to become derelict; which are unused or under-used; or unloved because the community is excluded from the site. There are local community groups ready to help transform these into major new parks. These groups can help fundraise and deliver action through volunteering.
Campaigners in South London have tried for years to get Sutton Council to end delays to the promised restoration of Beddington Farmlands, set to deliver an abundant nature reserve for local people. As plans for the restoration have fallen behind, wildlife has collapsed and there is next to no public access to enjoy this vast area of open space at the heart of the Wandle Valley Regional Park. This could so easily become a major new park.
Watch this space for our 10 New Parks for London campaign, coming soon, featuring many more sites like this.
Step 3: Actively promote more use of the parks we already have. We’re not great at promoting London’s parks, especially the less well-known ones. This means many parks go under-used. Let’s promote our parks, and everything that goes on in them, more effectively. Did you even know about the free boulder park in Fairlop Waters Country Park, easily accessed on the Central Line, for example? Or the astonishing Ruislip Lido? We’ve mapped over 4,000 publicly accessible parks and green spaces on your doorstep GoParksLondon @GoParksLondon. And we’re planning a major #DiscoverOutdoorsLondon promotions campaign. Watch this space or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
Step 4: Improve the parks we already have. If they’re nicer, more people use them. It’s not rocket science. Improving our parks means we all get more out of them and we use them more. Update the play space; do some wildlife or tree planting; work with the local friends group to run volunteering sessions, local events, walks and talks; make sure sports areas are well kept and promote the park’s use for informal or organised adult and kids sports as appropriate. Daubeney Fields saw an increase from 27,000 to 43,000 visits (July-Dec 2018 to same period 2019) following improvements to the playground, for example.
Watch our short video of Stoke Newington Common User Group’s Anna Newman talking about how they’ve helped transform a green space in Hackney from an empty space to a thriving park.
Step 5: Stop building on our precious parks and green spaces. One year ago the grey area to the right of the below image of Shoreditch Park was park tennis and ball courts – a familiar site in, and an integral part of, many of London’s parks. It’s now a building site and a huge section of the park will be lost. And this is in a central London area with very poor access to open green space. Every case we come across there is a justification. The reality is the decisions are political, by which we mean councils judge other priorities are more important. We simply have to prioritise the preservation of open green space. There is plenty of space to build the homes and infrastructure we need in London. We don’t need to build on our precious green spaces. When we do, we sacrifice one of the most important assets we have and, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Ball courts are sometimes ‘soft targets’ because they are ‘hardstanding’ rather than grass/greenspace. But many London parks have tennis or ball courts: just because they are ‘grey’ (not green) doesn’t mean we should build on them. Ball courts are part of the London park ‘offer’. And technically, in planning policy, ‘hardstanding’ areas in parks are of course still classed as part of the park.
If you are finding it hard to believe London’s green spaces are under threat, read our blog – Top 5 threats to London’s parks and green spaces.
Shoreditch Park – images both Google Maps
REPORTS on the importance of London’s green spaces