9 September 2014
They may just have arrived at Queen Mary University of London, but freshers in the School of Geography will be straight out in the field exploring their new home in a brand new piece of fieldwork to research the idea of a ‘Greater London National Park.’ Students will explore and reimagine London as a green capital – rich in open spaces and the home of all kinds of living things.
This ‘Reimagine London’ project is a collaboration between the School of Geography and guerrilla geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison who is campaigning to have London designated as a national park. Acting as park rangers, the students will visit each of the capital’s 33 boroughs in groups and report back on their findings. Their explorations will be the basis for an exhibition of their work in the School of Geography at its Mile End Campus and then at City Hall in October.
Professor Catherine Nash has been leading the development of the project. “We wanted to get our new students out in the field as soon as possible to get to know London, get to know each other and to explore ideas and places in lively, imaginative and practical ways,” she said. “Their work will contribute to a debate around how people think about, enjoy and take care of this city, as well as help foster those special fieldwork skills common to geographers and environmental scientists. This is an important element of their studies and our location in east London puts us in the perfect position to research a whole host of geographical issues. We have Britain’s second-longest river running west to east across the capital, huge disparities in wealth and power in the city, and all kinds of local and London-wide initiatives engaging with environmental and social issues.”
With a population in excess of eight million, the Greater London area covers a space of 1,500 km2. While people may more readily think of the paved city streets, offices, warehouses, shops houses and transport hubs typically associated with an urban area, Greater London actually includes some 30,000 allotments, 65,000 stands of woodland, 13,000 species of wildlife and an estimated 3.8 million gardens. Daniel Raven-Ellison started the campaign because he thinks that London, despite being urban, has all of the assets that are needed to make a great National Park that would ‘benefit visitors and Londoners of all species’.
“If the Greater London area was to achieve national park status, it would be the first of its kind in the world. The park would transform how we all think about, experience and make our capital in the future,” said Daniel Raven-Ellison, guerrilla geographer and National Geographic Emerging Explorer. “It would provide us with a new and common vision of what London is for and in the process, will have the potential to improve our health and prosperity. It would also be good fun to live in the world’s first National Park City.”
He added: “At a time when so much is being cut, this is something good that we can make together. We are searching for ideas that will make cities better places to live, and this is a solution that we can all get behind. With a general and then mayoral election around the corner, now is the time to act. I hope we can make it happen!”
The new project is part of a wider redevelopment of the School of Geography’s first-year teaching. Head of School Professor Alison Blunt said encouraging students to see the links across human geography, physical geography and environmental science would help in their overall learning experience. “Our students will have their own particular interests, but there is also huge value in sharing an identity as geographers at Queen Mary and beyond, engaging with the world and pursuing all sorts of publically engaged geography. Doing this innovative project in the first week of their degree programme and sharing a common set of modules in their first year is a fundamental foundation for this.”
Developing such a geographical perspective not only helps students to produce thorough and original work but helps them develop practical skills such as team work, report writing, organisation and problem-solving so valued by employers, Professor Nash added. “The project’s not about our students inventing new planning regulations. Instead, by exploring London through the idea of an urban national park, we are encouraging them to think about the city and nature from a new perspective and ask questions about what sort of city this is, what makes it the way it is, how people and other living things live together, and the future of the city for all of its inhabitants,” she said.
The School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London is a ‘Friend’ of the campaign and it is hoped students will develop and contribute to the project throughout their first year at Queen Mary University of London. Funded by the Westfield Trust, the project’s findings will be part of a one-day workshop to be held in February on the South Bank.