Is Inner London actually more green than Outer London?

And was London builded here in England's green and pleasant land? Yes, pretty much. Image: Maxwell Hamilton

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. 

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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Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital which language differences nearly split into two countries

The Canadian parliament, Ottawa.

There are many single urban areas with multiple, competing local identities: from the rivalry of Newcastle and Sunderland in Tyne & Wear, to the Wolverhampton residents who resolutely deny that they are part of Birmingham, despite being in the same urban conurbation and sharing a mayor.

However, no division is quite as stark as that of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area in Canada. Often referred to as the National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau lie directly opposite each other on either side of the Ottawa River, a hundred miles from Montreal, the nearest other significant population centre. Because the conurbation straddles a provincial boundary, the two cities literally speak a different language, with Ottawa in predominantly Anglophone Ontario and Gatineau in Francophone Quebec.

This is reflected in their populations. According to the 2011 census, French was the mother tongue of 77 per cent of those in Gatineau, a percentage maintained by policies intended to keep French as Quebec’s dominant language. Similarly, although Ottawa provides some bilingual services, 68 per cent of its residents are predominantly Anglophone; Franco-Ontarians frequently complain that the city is not officially bilingual.

Although there are similar divided cities, such as the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ottawa-Gatineau is unique in that the city was not divided by a war or major political event: its two halves have been part of the same political territory since the British defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, before either of the cities were even established. Indeed, the oldest part of Gatineau is actually an Anglophone settlement with the name of Hull (it was merged into the Gatineau municipality in 2002).

Today, the two cities facing each other across the Ottawa river have separate services, and elect difference mayors to run them: OC Transpo serves Ottawa, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) serves  Gatineau, and few tickets are transferrable between the two systems.

OC Transpo is currently constructing a light rail system to many parts of Ottawa; but proposals to expand the route into Gatineau, or to merge the two transport systems have been fraught with obstacles. The City of Ottawa owns a disused railway bridge, connecting the two cities, but arguments about funding and political differences have so far prevented it from being used as part of the light rail extension project.

The divisions between Ottawa and Gatineau are made all the more unusual by the fact that Ottawa is the federal capital of Canada – a country where bilingualism is entrenched in the Charter of Rights & Freedom as a bedrock principle of the Canadian constitution. As a result, while all proceedings within the Canadian legislature are bilingual, this principle of bilingualism is not reflected on the streets surrounding the building.

The inevitable map. Image: Google.

These linguistic, as well as political, differences have been a long-running theme in Canadian politics. Quebec held independence referendums in both 1980 and 1995; in the latter, the separatists were defeated by a margin of less than 0.6 per cent. Quebecois independence would be made all the more humiliating for Canada by the fact it would be losing the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, while its parliament was forced to look out across the river at its new neighbours.

While Quebec as a whole only narrowly rejected independence in 1995, 72 per cent of Gatineau residents voted against the separatist proposal. The presence of many federal employees living in the city, who commute to Ottawa, meant that the city was rather unenthusiastic about the prospect of independence.

So, with Quebec nationalism currently at a low ebb, Gatineau seems set to remain a part of Canada – albeit while retaining its independent from the other half of its conurbation, across the river. While recent challenges such as flooding may have been better tackled by a unitary authority, the National Capital Region seems set to remain a tale of two cities.

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