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What if your city were a National Park city?

What if your city were a National Park City, analogous to what London created?

What it would be like? What would it take to accomplish?


Authors: Geoff Canham, ARPro, Gareth Moore Jones, ARPro 


The forefront of the Parks’ movement occurred approximately a 150 years ago and was a similar one to the National Parks Cities movement. In the 1800’s, what we know to be the parks sector began as leaders and communities fought to ensure that areas of green and wilderness where we lived and some beyond that were saved from being lost (to the then Industrial Revolution). It was reflected that these lands needed to be saved if we were going to survive and enjoy life ourselves. Then, the focus was setting aside specific areas and having something left. Land was saved or repurposed as ‘Parks’ and more the setting aside of ‘National Parks’ was set forth from that time.

Parks are democracy.  Parks are the best expression of democracy, community and society and one that transcends politics, issues and the negative side of our species more than anything else. But why ‘ring fence’ these areas at all or away from where we live, why disassociate our species from the settings where we perform the best?  

The National Park City Movement honours parks perhaps more than National Parks themselves.  The National Parks City Movement seeks to ensure that people don’t have a detrimental effect to the environment but through individual and collective actions, and positive impact, leave the environment better than when they found it.  The National Parks City Movement achieves a range of existing environmental goals e.g. carbon zero, various environmental initiatives, etc.  Indeed, the statutory National Parks could learn a thing or two from National Parks Cities Movement.  In National Parks people are removed from the setting or the Parks are curated as a place where nature is at best conserved and attempted to be preserved. In actual National Parks there is an uneasy relationship with human visitors where they are excluded, managed, regulated and often kept at arms’ length with a range of additional policies that probably best suited to where we live as opposed to where we visit. 

The National Parks City Movement is a reflection that nature is a basic human right.  It also serves as a vehicle to ask what is it that we need from our landscape, what does a city need from nature to sustain itself?  It is a platform for leaders to share a vision for a good future.  It’s a reminder that people don’t follow ideas, they follow feelings. When ‘feels good’ to people, people will do it again.   The appeal and power from National Parks City Movement is that it’s ‘bottom up’, it’s about sharing the vision for a good future, it’s about optimism and hope. 

At the International launch in London July 2019 many speakers reflected that if we are to have a future we need to look to leaders and some of the things we need to be repeating to our communities. We need to find leaders to remind us not to fear nature but look to engage with it through this optimism of hope.  To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, we are a people that make better choices when we make those choices reflecting our hopes, not our fears.  Another one of the speaking points was that the National Parks City Movement is in effect a collective and enlightened self-interest.  The National Park City Movement is another way of engaging with people that lets them relate to their surroundings and if it feels good then people will follow. 

In New Zealand we would use a Maori proverb and to date a number of presentations has been given where this has resonated:


“Na to rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi”.

“With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive”.

Aotearoa/ New Zealand is a country that people have settled in over the past 700 or so years, either escaping over population of smaller lands or to simply find more resources. I can report from the other end of the globe that this is it; there is nowhere left to go next. We have to make the best of what we have and as it is, most of us live in cities anyway. Even in New Zealand, compared to the rest of the world where around 83% of the world’s population live in cities, here 87% of us live in urbanised cities. This is good news for the land where the food needs to come from but highlights that National Park Cities is the future. We are the only species that wants to better ourselves, the only species that tells stories, the only species that can turn imagination into something-it’s time we got a better story.


If you’ve seen some of the bigger trilogies recently, you’ll know New Zealanders love a quest. Our quest with Bay of Plenty National Park Region is to take a group of small cities close to each other and the small towns nearby, in an already beautiful area known as the Bay of Plenty bordered by National Parks, and to create the first National Park Region.


The full article can be accessed from the nature of cities website:

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