Emily Robinson, London Sport’s CEO, shares her thoughts on incorporating Active Design into London’s green spaces.
Unless you were facing a losing battle against hay fever, it was easy to get excited about last week’s Chelsea Flower Show returning to London for the 110th year. Amongst the beautiful floral displays, the Show demonstrated the power of the outdoors and how it can make us calmer and more connected to the world around us.
However, the Show rarely reflects one of the greatest enablers of green space: physical activity. While it rightly boasts meditation gardens and reflective ponds that can promote a healthy mental state, it doesn’t do justice to the more physical uses of our gardens and parks, namely playing, running and walking.
With 3,000 parks dotted across the capital, you would hope that activity levels would reflect the incredible opportunity seemingly presented to Londoners. Sadly, the opposite seems to be the case. Only 6 in 10 Londoners do enough physical activity for their mental and physical health, with women and girls far less likely to be active than their male counterparts.
Two of the biggest barriers to activity for women and girls are both centred around green space. Incredibly, nearly 4 in 10 teenage girls do not feel safe exercising outdoors. While London’s green spaces cover nearly 20% of the capital (more than all railways and roads combined), many of them are not considered places where women, particularly when alone, want to venture.
Equally, many of these spaces simply aren’t designed with women in mind. There are limited spaces and facilities specifically created for sports popular amongst women, and many public areas for activities are made up of things like skate parks and football pitches which are used almost entirely by boys.
There is also the problem of inequality of access. While many of the Chelsea Flower Show ticketholders will be taking inspiration for their own private gardens, the reality is that most Londoners rely on public green spaces. However, poorly maintained walkways and inadequate provision of toilets restrict thousands of Londoners from being able to enjoy these spaces, and because maintenance is massively dictated by council funding, it is the most deprived communities and disabled groups who find themselves unable or simply unwilling to use the spaces.
Parks and other green spaces have so much potential to raise activity levels and help more people to reap the mental, physical and social benefits of an active life. To do this, we need to be more creative in our design of parks and more ambitious in making green spaces accessible and safe for everyone.
While I was still blown away by 2023’s Chelsea Flower Show, I’m hopeful that next year we’ll get to see more gardens that have activity and play at the centre of their designs.
Written by Emily Robinson, CEO London Sport.