The success of the London National Park City campaign leaves little doubt that its message resonates with people. While excellent campaigning skills and individual charisma played a role, the vision and engagement model it pursues addresses a gap in existing urban greening initiatives through a recasting of people’s relation with nature. Managing to turn this vision into an operational model able to fit in and augment existing systems is not, however, without challenges. “It is harder to hold on of your followership than to acquire it in the first place and getting projects off the ground can be hard work” observes Ben Smith.
The London National Park City movement aims to be a long-lasting approach, one that is not affected drastically by changes in political leadership – just like the national parks found in the countryside. Its operating model, as currently expressed in the London National Park City Charter involves securing local political buy-in and endorsement. Local elected officials are important stakeholders, but they remain one set of stakeholders among many others. Politicians are not expected to own the idea or the process. The National Park City Foundation promotes a strong self-organising bottom-up ethos that does not easily fit within traditional politics.
In London, as would most likely be the case in any other city, the National Park City Foundation is far from the only charitable organisations seeking to enhance people’s connection to nature. Those involved in the London National Park City movement are keen to not take away from any of the grass roots work already underway. They see the movement as a facilitative and augmenting force. Although some of the London-related work, such as the London National Park City Festival were wholly funded by the GLA, the National Park City Foundation has stated it was committed not to pursue public funding so as to avoid diverting resources away from any existing players in the field.
However, the London National Park City movement’s stunning popular and political success, as well as its ambition to increase over time private sponsorship in order to ramp up its activities, can be perceived as threatening. By aiming to be a mobilising and facilitative force, rather than focusing on more contained and recognisable fundraising, rebranding, or campaigning functions, the London National Park City movement breaks a mould found in more traditional initiatives. Creating the sense of safety to secure genuine collaboration will require time, and more examples of successful partnerships and initiatives, but everybody working in climate change and nature recovery acknowledge that collaboration is essential, so perhaps the innovative positioning of National Park Cities can sustain.
One of the National Park City Foundation’s ambition is to facilitate the creation of 25 other National Park Cities across the world by 2025. If successful, this will provide plenty of different contexts to test and explore this new model.