The push is on to turn London into a national park. Could this prove to be the wave of the future here in Australia? “Attention please, citizens of the future, we are now approaching the Melbourne National Park City.”
"If you look out your window to your left you will see the rich grasslands and wild walking trails of Royal Park. We are now heading east to the Merri Creek region, perfect for cycling, running or a picnic, or it can be the starting point of a larger hike to the Yarra estuary and the city parklands if you are visiting for a little longer. Get your cameras ready and keep an eye out for sulphur-crested cockatoos, rosellas and white-faced herons as we travel through the National Park…"
Hold on a minute. Can an urban environment become a national park?
Traditionally, National Park status is reserved for largely undeveloped natural areas that are distinctly separate from the places we live in. But with an abundance of recreation areas and green space, and the increasing improvement of urban habitat, cities offer a range of protected natural areas for the enjoyment of the general public and the preservation of wildlife. They are gaining all of the credentials of a national park with the added advantage of being right on the doorstep of vast potential user groups. So why not?
Indeed, London may become the first National Park City in the world. The Greater London National Park City initiative is campaigning for London to be given the recognition and the strategic management that comes with National Park status – with the intention of driving better connections between people and nature.
The campaign makes the point that a staggering 47 per cent of the Greater London area is physically green, made up of a rich tapestry of parks, gardens, rivers, allotments, woodlands and canals. London arguably contains a very diverse and potentially interesting range of habitats and natural scenery that makes it comparable to other National Parks in the UK.
So if these green assets were given the focus and investment of a National Park, could their value be vastly improved? Furthermore, could a coordinated focus on visitor experience re-imagine London as a destination for locals and tourists alike – a place to visit not just for its iconic built environment but for its complex and varied natural landscape? The overwhelming answer seems to be ‘yes’, with a host of public figures, including DJ Norman Jay and film director Danny Boyle supporting the campaign.
Could Australian cities also earn national park status? If you imagine possible the National Park Cities of Australia, each would have a distinct but equally interesting profile, ranging from the sub-tropical oases of Brisbane to the grids and gardens of Adelaide to Perth’s vast coastal plain.
The commitment of energy and strategic focus on the planning and investment of green infrastructure in our urban environments would certainly be welcomed. At the moment, recreation and green space planning receives the attention of local councils, but in most Australian cities the Metropolitan area is governed by multiple local authorities with varying priorities and consistent budget constraints. Here, a coordinated approach to funding, management and promotion of natural assets could make a big difference.
As proved in London, the National Park platform could be a catalyst for the collaboration of a range of individuals, organisations and movements to achieve a common greening goal. In Australia, the 202020 Vision campaign is having a similar impact, bringing together over 200 organisations to drive a single vision: to make our urban areas 20 per cent greener by 2020. The campaign has already done a great job of benchmarking the coverage of green space and tree canopy in our cities and of distributing case study projects to inspire action.
Nevertheless, a coordinated governing structure like that which would come with a National Park classification would surely aid delivery. In January, the Turnbull government made some vague noises about committing to increasing canopy cover in cities, but the focus seems to have been lost following the re-shuffle of the Minister for Cities position. The benefits of greener city environments for health and well-being, economic reward and environmental enrichment are clear – all we need is for everyone to jump on the same bus.
Attention please. The next tour of the Australian National Park Cities is departing shortly. Will you join?