Green city pioneer:
We want to share the story of the brilliant environmental scientist Dan Raven-Ellison, a guerrilla geographer, National Geographic Explorer and Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion. Dan is also the leader of the campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City, a movement to improve life in London and make the city greener, healthier and wilder.
We caught up with Dan to learn more about London National Park City, what inspires him and his passion for nature and protecting the environment.
1. Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about yourself and your mission?
I’m a guerrilla geographer, explorer and enjoy projects that challenge myself and others to see the world in new ways.
2. What drives you?
We desperately need to have a better relationship with the rest of nature.
3. What is your greatest achievement to date?
Back in 2013 I asked myself “what if we took inspiration from the world’s rural national parks and made London the world’s first National Park City?”. After a big campaign in July last year the London National Park City was launched. A place you can explore, a vision you can share and a movement you can join, it’s all about working together to make where we live greener, healthier and wilder. London is already full of inspiring people and projects that are working on these things… but we desperately need more.
This success was only possible because of the efforts of volunteers and campaigners not just in London, but across the country and internationally too. It’s definitely a shared achievement that would not have been possible without so many others.
4. What are you working on that's getting you fired up and excited?
I’ve been thinking for some time about the UK’s footpaths. They are inspiring, beautiful, rich with stories and also a mess. So, during lockdown I’ve worked with 700 brilliant volunteers from across the country to create a network of 7,000 walking routes that connect all of Great Britain’s towns and cities as well as thousands of villages.
Called the Slow Ways, people will be able to use the routes to walk between neighbouring settlements or combine them to make long distance journeys. It’s this second purpose of the Slow Ways that excites me the most… with people using them to travel long distances on foot while stopping off in towns and cities to rest along the way.
Walking is so important. On a personal and societal level, it can help save money, improve health, reduce emissions, give us story and bring us joy. I hope the Slow Ways give a boost to all of those things.
Later this year we’ll be looking for 10,000 people to help us test them all.
London National Park City rangers come together to help make the city greener, healthier and wilder. See more here.
5. Where do you want to take National Park City next?
The National Park City Foundation, the charity that we’ve set up to help make the London National Park City a success, is working to help people in the UK and around the world to make their cities National Park Cities.
In the UK there are campaigns and moves to make Cardiff, Swansea, Belfast, Glasgow and Newcastle National Park Cities. I think Adelaide in South Australia will probably be the second National Park City.
The hope is for there to be 25 around the world by 2025. That might sound ambitious, but it’s really about responding to the need.
We live in a time of existential crises. Crises of climate, ecology, injustice, racism, health, leadership and truth. While the world’s population grows and our planet urbanises it’s vital that decision makers, voters, consumers - that people - are able to have a healthy relationship with nature for their own sake, the sake of our ancestors and the sake of the rest of the life on the planet.
While there are lots of people telling us why we should be afraid, the National Park City vision that everyone within a city can both contribute to and benefit from.
6. What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
Whenever and wherever you can, at the very least, don’t harm other life.
7. How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?
I hope my work inspires people to see things differently; spot new connections, join things up, fill gaps and challenge the status quo when it’s bad.
I know there are lots of people who are thinking about London differently now because it’s a National Park City. That shift in thinking creates new opportunities.
A couple of years ago I collaborated with Friends of the Earth, Jack Smith and Benjamin Zephaniah to make this short film. It’s been watch hundreds of thousands of times.
Each second of the film and every metre that I walk in it represents 1% of what the UK looks like from above. I hope it might inspire or support you, in a small way, to reimagine how we can make more space for nature in our islands.
I’ve now got my sights on developing this format to inspire people in other countries too.
8. Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
If you’ve got kids, read Ian Gilbert’s book of Thunks with them. It’s a great little book that’s packed with tough questions to explore.
9. What do you listen to when you're cooking dinner?
Depends on the night of the week. I could be working through a boxset on Netflix, have the Moral Maze or New Quiz on or, at the moment, be listening to Floating Points, Rival Consoles, Apparat, LCD Sound System, Chemical Brothers, Elder Island or something like that.
10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
To learn from my mistakes.
11. Can you leave us with who'd be your Eco Hero?
Can I say snakes? I was obsessed as a kid and grew up looking for snakes wherever I could.
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