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"The battle to save London's green spaces"


Fallow deer in Richmond Park. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Woodward, the director of London's Garden Museum, doesn't really describe the battle, but he does give us some interesting green history -

For 200 years, between the accession of George I and the First World War, Britain led the world in green town planning. Paris and St Petersburg were grander, and more lavishly gilded; Turin and Barcelona were ruthlessly efficient in their application of a grid system. But no great city has ever been as green as London in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Huge green spaces formed the city’s heart and when designs were invited for the development of Regent’s Park in 1811 the Crown Commissioners chose a scheme which created a landscape first, and put the houses in second. The Georgians made garden squares, and the Victorians invented the public park. And in the first decade of the 20th century Ebenezer Howard began the construction of the “Garden City” of Letchworth, in Hertfordshire. Lenin went there to study how factory workers lived in houses and gardens, and walked to work across the cornfields.

However, Howard’s Garden City was a reaction to a London which he felt had become crowded, inhuman and unhealthy. In 1885 the nature writer Richard Jefferies wrote After London, a novel in which the city is reclaimed by wild nature. He had come to hate a city in which the poor lived in tenements separated from nature, and flowers potted on window sills were choked by soot. His novel inspired William Morris to write News from Nowhere (1890), a story in which the hero wakes up to discover that London has become transformed into a city of small-holdings, mills, and gardens. (In it, Parliament Square has been replanted as an apricot orchard and the Houses of Parliament converted to a store for manure). Morris’s futuristic fantasy has captivated generation after generation and was a particular inspiration to the planners of the 1930s and 1940s. Their generation created the Green Belt, perhaps the last great visionary act of planning in London.

Jefferies, Morris and Howard understood that there are two types of green space. There are parks, in which we stroll, walk the dog and admire the flowers grown by other people. Parks work, and have enjoyed an astonishing revival thanks to tens of millions of pounds invested by the Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People programme. But the second type of green space is a “doing” space: space in which you dig, bend, sweat and grow. This is a space of your own, whether a garden, allotment, or a balcony big enough to immerse your hands in soil and roots. . .

London is a phenomenal and beautiful city with eight great parks and many smaller parks and squares. But we would be remiss if we did not state the truth:

London has lost many lovely green playing fields, gardens, allotments, and parks because, under the orders of the British government, it has been inundated with immigrants. You cannot add millions of people to a city in two decades and not lose breathing space, much less green space.

And many people like London like that. They love all the interactions, energy and excitement.

Those who love green are fighting to defend it in London's 32 local borough councils. You can find the record of their struggles, sometimes successful, in their local papers.

Glasses lifted to them!

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