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London: green & blue

4 November 2019

Nataly Raab

When team m:g asked me to write a blog on this quarter’s theme of ‘Journeys’, I think they imagined I would write something about a long trip I’ve made or perhaps an exotic adventure. It’s true that since all my family live abroad I end up travelling a lot, but it’s actually the smaller day-to-day journeys that affect my mental health and quality of life – so that’s what I wanted to talk about this month.

Living in this incredible cosmopolitan city means that physical journeys are a pretty big part of our everyday. We cross the city for work, to see friends and to make the most of what this cultural hub has to offer. The most common small talk question I get asked when I arrive at a meeting or an event is ‘have you travelled far?’ or ‘where have you come from today?’ because as Londoners journeys are just a part of us.  

Over the last few months, I’ve started seeing these trips across the city in a different light, realising that they are such a significant part (and proportion) of my week that I need to find a way for them to also be a part of my personal journey and enrich my routine: I dusted off my bike and decided to start exploring London through green and blue ways. 

We know very well the benefits of green and blue spaces to our mental health, the Wellcome Collection’s resident artist did a lovely comic on it in the summer, which really made me smile and was followed by this great quote:

‘Ecopsychology was a term coined by Theodore Roszak in 1992 to describe the healing power of immersing ourselves in green spaces. As patronising as it is to be told to go outside enjoy the fresh air to get over your troubles; Roszak did also say some insightful things about how exposing ourselves to nature can help us build sustainable behaviors into our lives. Which is no bad thing!’

My companion became Citymapper’s ‘quiet’ route option and all of Sustrans’ incredible work with the Q ways across the city. Though marginally longer journeys, the perk of discovering hidden green gems through these guided routes by far makes it worth my while. Cycling through quiet and greenways of London allowed me to experience the connections between places in a completely different way: a green adventure with the excitement of turning a corner to discover a weeping willow or a surprise community garden that would otherwise have passed me by.

With a group of friends, to commemorate part of our group migrating to South London, and leaving the rest in the North, we arranged a cycle-day from Finchley to Brockley. Curated through quiet ways and London’s green spaces and parks, the journey bridged the distance with parks and ponds and showed us that we can still be connected through (somewhat rainy) enjoyable green routes, changing our perspective of this big city in doing so.  

Finding these pockets of green has forced me to inject nature into my day, no matter how busy I am, how cold it is or how many hours I’ve spent in buildings and meeting rooms. It also means that I am much more in touch with the changing seasons, the smells, colours and cycles of these small little green (sometimes blue, sometimes orange and very occasionally white) patches along my journey. 

We just completed a wonderful project with the Canal and Rivers Trust to gather ideas for transforming a few sites in celebration of the Regents Canal bicentenary in 2020. We asked people what brings them to the Regents Canal and it was refreshing to hear that the majority of people come to inject some blue and green into their daily journey. People said it was a peaceful, relaxing and a calm route to walk to work, it was a welcome break from the noisy roads; an oasis in their busy days. When we asked what would make people come to the Canal more, the ideas that came out weren’t so much about changing the function of this car-free connector but more of celebrating the wonderful biodiversity and finding more ways to connect people with their natural surroundings as they journey through the spaces.

I appreciate that we all have pretty different daily journeys in and around our wonderful city and many people can’t introduce these green and blue ways as readily and easily. Realistically, no matter how hard you try, squished tube journeys and steamy bus rides still seem an inevitable part of being a Londoner. However, I would encourage everyone this autumn to think of a little green or blue route they could introduce into their week (however small) and see the changes it makes to your day.  

Have you got your own magical green or blue journey to share with us? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram.