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.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.


Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 

“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL