1. Built environment
July 11, 2017updated 28 Jul 2021 2:11pm

Is Inner London actually more green than Outer London?

By Jack May

For all the stereotypes of London – the dark star, the big smoke, the hellish swirling cloud of pollution and desperate millennials scrowling the concrete jungle for their next avocado fix – it’s a pretty green city. In fact, you can quite literally see from space just how green London is. 

It has a very low population density relative to other major world cities – think in particular of the high-rise cacophony of Hong Kong, New York, or Tokyo – and is packed with green spaces. 

There are the big blockbusters in the centre of town – Hyde Park, The Regent’s Park, Green Park, St. James’s Park – and the delightful larger expanses further out, such as Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park, and Victoria Park. 

This is without mentioning any of the tiny, often council-run, public green spaces that are dotted around the capital. Within a 30-minute walk of my standard zone-2-type place, I can easily access 11 such spaces. That’s good going. 

But a City Hall report this month warns that green things in London aren’t as peachy as they seem – and this map shows that pretty well. 

The seven, cross-party London Assembly members who compiled the report warned that “half of London households live too far away from the nearest green space – more than the maximum recommended distance of 400m in the London Plan”.

And what’s obvious is that, counter-intuitively, you’re more likely to live within the recommended distance of a public green space if you’re further into London. 

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The bits of London that aren’t ‘close’ to a public green space. Image: London Assembly.

The red patches on the map are all the places where you’re more than 400m from the nearest green space – and those are largely splodged further out, in boroughs such as Bromley, Havering, and Enfield. What’s going on here? 

The obvious answer is that residents of further-out boroughs will be more likely to have their own gardens – green space alright, but not public green space. 

This map, from the same report, shows that pretty well. 

The total green space – including private – in London. Image: London Assembly.

The pale whiter spaces in the centre of London show the areas where there’s not really any green happening at all – public or otherwise – while the gradual greening intensifies until the outermost reaches of London are basically just huge green swathes with occasional houses dotted around. 

Indeed, half of London is green space – which is a phenomenal figure. So, does the relative lack of public green space in outer London really matter? 

It does. Arguments that it doesn’t all rest on the assumption that everyone in those outer boroughs lives in an entire house with a garden, which – though lovely as a thought – is clearly not true. 

This deer feels dubious about the assertion of the headline. Image: Berit Watkin.

The lack of public green space provision in Outer London means that people living in flats – either in blocks, above a shop, or in one or two floors of a semi-detached or terraced house – are left out of loop. 

What’s more, aside from the obvious benefits of parkland – fresh air, space for exercise, heatlh benefits and so on – they’re also great for mixing people together socially. While your private garden in Bromley might be great for you, it means you’re less likely to rub up against the world and his uncle (and his dog) in the park – whether they’re taking the kids out to play, walking the dog, or just taking a stroll. 

And though that can’t necessarily be quantified empirically, the effect on an individual’s outlook, and approach to life, is probably not a fantastic one. 

So rejoice, inner Londoners. You might live cheek by jowl in the big smoke, but at least you’ve got space to walk the dog you don’t have in the park round the corner. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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