It’s no secret that London is one of the world’s greenest capital cities; an astonishing 47% of London’s surface is green, be it a park, common, square or cemetery; Londoners are never very far from some verdant oasis. We use them for quiet reflection and music festivals, for relaxation and personal trainers, for dogs, prams, horses and even country shows. This rich variety of use is evident throughout the capital: from Richmond Park to Lee Valley, Hampstead Heath to Mitcham Common, Londoners will take to them as they wish; freedom in action.
However, it’s not just what we do in them that varies from place to place or person to person; these grassy hot-spots are not homogenous. Their diversity is representative of the city that they are scattered across. The forest in Sydenham Hill Wood is a far cry from the flat open terrain of Blackheath; the maze in Hampton Court and the adventure playground in Toffee Park are certainly not ‘peas in a pod’; the Sky Garden is 155 metres above the City; Regent’s Park has got Gorillas. Whether topographically, architecturally or just simply because of what you can find in them, these green spaces are fantastically different.
Why, then, do we insist on only going to the one nearest to where we live? Hyde Park aside (and in this case, it’s usually because you’re entertaining someone from out of town), we refuse to travel further than 15 minutes to get our hit of green. Maybe it’s laziness? Maybe it’s a sense of belonging? Maybe it’s ignorance? Maybe’s it’s the invariable variation of British weather. Either way, it’s certainly foolish.
I understand that park-going is often a last-minute decision. During our capricious spring and summer, we spontaneously go and throw a Frisbee or over-carbohydrate a duck as soon as the clouds disperse and the glimmers of sun break through. In the autumn, we sporadically don our coats and admire the leaves’ annual chameleon act when sufficiently satisfied that the heavens won’t open upon us. In winter, we go when the beauty of the frost outweighs the numbing of our toes. Whatever the reason for going, the point is that London’s parks thrive all year round, so the next time you get the urge to be out and about, why don’t you go and explore one that isn’t on your doorstep?
You wouldn’t not go to the V & A because it’s in South Kensington. You wouldn’t forgo that exhibition at the Tate Modern because of an aversion to going to the South Bank. We travel to museums and art galleries across the city because of the unique delights they have contained within them; for the experience. Sound familiar? Some parks even play host to museums and galleries: think the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill; the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park; Crystal Palace Park has got almost the same number of dinosaurs as the Natural History Museum.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Green Flag Award, which celebrates the nation’s best parks and green spaces. Last year, Green Flag’s quality mark was bestowed upon 359 green spaces in London – nearly one for every day of the year – with the prize for the best park in the UK going to Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets; nominations for this year ended on 30th September.
Not taking advantage of these award-winning green areas is liking choosing the set menu in the restaurant of life. And, do you want to know the best bit about London’s plethora of green space: yep, you guessed it, completely free. So, I say unto thee, go and explore. It’s not difficult. Some would even say it’s a walk in the…nah, I won’t stoop that low.