By 2030, London’s population is projected to reach 10 million. For the UK’s capital, already one of the busiest cities in the world, this means even more pressure – particularly on its green spaces.
The good news is that London is on course to becoming one of the greenest and most sustainable cities on Earth, thanks to a raft of new initiatives. In fact, as of next year, London will become the first-ever National Park City – a project that will push for half of the city area to consist of green and blue spaces – parks and bodies of water – by 2050. The figure is currently at 47 percent. Support for the campaign has been so successful that organizers are now launching an initiative to also plant nine million wildflowers across the city.
Keeping London livable in the future
According to David Elliott, head of the charity Trees for Cities, what has been most important is the raised awareness created by the National Park City project. “It’s great it has resonated with people,” he says. “Green space is often thought of as a ‘nice to have’ rather than essential due to more pressing needs around economics, for example.
But the reality now is that there is more understanding that green space and access to the outdoors results in a high quality of life. With the population increasing, there’s a further realization about how we make this a livable city in the future.”
Reduce social deprivation with plants
Trees for Cities is a charity that launched in London 25 years ago and plants trees all over the UK as well as internationally. The organization focuses on urban areas, planting trees in streets, parks, housing estates, and schools. “Mental wellbeing or community cohesion can be positively benefited by improving the local environment,” he says. “There’s a huge amount of inequality in London and there are enormous divisions. That’s the same with green spaces, too. Many of the most socially deprived areas are the most green-deprived. Much of the development needs to be around areas of social deprivation.”
Create a green Silicon Valley
David is a member of the London Sustainable Development Commission, which provides advice to London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan on helping make the city more sustainable as it develops and grows. “Some of the issues we’re looking at are green financing, and creating a new clean tech hub within London – a green Silicon Valley – as green tech will be such a key part of the sustainable economy.
Since the Mayor took office in 2016, he’s put green front and centre of his agenda. He’s thrown his weight behind the National Park City initiative and is supporting it with his Greener City Fund; £9 million dedicated to funding green initiatives. Currently, grants include a community garden next to a school relocated following the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017.
Turn the city into an ultra-low emission zone
He’s also been looking at transportation as a crucial element of sustainable urban design, mitigating its impact on air quality. In March of 2018, Khan introduced the T-Charge – a £10 surcharge per day on older, more polluting vehicles traveling in the centre of London. The end game is to have an ultra-low emission zone in the city, which will expand to the surrounding boroughs by 2021.
Londoners are being encouraged to use their bicycles more as well. Already, the city has a network of cycle super highways – bike routes that run from outer London into and across the city centre. Two new routes are currently being built, running both north to south and east to west. The existing routes are already busy, with Londoners making the most of the new arteries that slice through the city.
Look into a bright and green future
The future is looking bright, but continued investment is key. “The millennials have taken a massive step forward in terms of their awareness and for me that’s a real encouragement for the future,” says David. “The next period of time is critical.”