As part of the campaign to make the capital a National Park City, Dan Raven-Ellison has paced the length of London – and beyond…
I’ve just finished walking across all of the UK’s 15 national parks and 69 cities: the equivalent of the length of Britain and then some. Without a doubt, the best part of my journey was my 18-hour, 56km leg across London: from Hinchley Wood in the south-west, through the centre of the city and all the way to Grange Hill in the north-east. The UK has many brilliant cities, but none compare to London’s diversity, omnipotence and sheer scale.
I made the trek because of the campaign I’m working on, with many other Londoners, to make London the world’s first National Park City: a greener, wilder, healthier, better place to live. I’ve walked across the capital many times before, and also hiked the equivalent height of Everest by climbing the capital’s buildings. If you’ve not done it, I can’t recommend walking across the capital enough as a way of getting a true and intimate sense of the city.
You can do it over a single, exhausting and probably painful day, or split it into two or three sections to make the journey less blistering and give you a chance to enjoy things a bit more. This time I chose to take three days.
Walking through London, I can’t stop seeing blank canvases. Windowless walls could become climbing walls, dead concrete spaces could be brought to life as wildflower meadows, windowsills could turn in to exhibition spaces, and there’s a serious lack of street swings in our city. There are amazing things happening in London’s great outdoors, but we could and should have so much more. Making London a National Park City will help to make that happen.
The great thing about urban exploration is that you don’t really need anything other than your clothes and an Oyster card. The only thing that’s essential is an openness to the wonders of the city, and possibly an EEG.
What’s an EEG? An eye-catching, portable ‘electroencephalography’ unit, provided in this case by tech company Cisco, that’s literally able to read minds. The headset’s 14 sensors picked up and interpreted electrical activity inside my brain, recording my levels of excitement, interest, focus, relaxation and stress. My aim was to see how my brain reacted to different kinds of places and to think about how people, nature, things and technology can converge to improve urban life.
I find walking across the city highly meditative. I’m always surprised by how far I can walk without seeing anyone. The capital is criss-crossed with quiet, green and blue ways where the loudest noises are made by stunning parakeets. Even on suburban streets I can walk long distances, passing no walkers and only seeing people in cars. During longer solo treks, when I walk from the Grand Union Canal into Southall, down from Nunhead Cemetery into Peckham or across the common and into Wimbledon, it always takes me a moment to adjust to the sensory assault of people and the things that they do.
We’re still crunching the findings, but there are some clear patterns from my EEG. Busy and polluted roads are stressful and green or blue places are relaxing. That might not be news, but wearable tech provides hard evidence for how badly designed places can have an unacceptable impact on mental and physical health, while also informing how we can make our city more interesting, exciting and relaxing.
Find out more about the Greater London National Park City campaign at www.nationalparkcity.london, and see photos and tweets from Dan’s journey via #WildCities and National Geographic. All pictures by Dan Raven-Ellison.
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