London: Concrete Jungle that Dreams are made of?

Orin Hargraves points out that Greater London, at least for statistical purposes, comprises a county. But Greater London is unlike any image the word county might conjure up, in fact if a county conjures up images of the countryside interspersed with villages and small towns, Greater London is the inverse rather than an exemplar. London, concrete jungle that dreams are made of? Maybe, yet it is true to say that London is also a green city. Fly over London on a plane, and compared with other global cities, it can seem on oasis. The greenery of London is something visitors to the city, expecting some concentrated concrete suffocation, remark upon. Seen from a certain angle, the many trees, which tend to reach over the tops of the surrounding buildings, by way of an illusion, form a canopy, a forest. And that is not to mention the huge expanses of park, of which the biggest and most astonishing to see from a plane is Richmond Park, which makes you wonder whether you are in London or somewhere else. In 1966 Time under the heading Greenness & Greyness wrote that “London was the only European metropolis that had managed to maintain a combination of greenness and greyness, vitality and yet a certain gentleness. Paris hasn’t got it. Rome is oppressive, Berlin is a special case. And all the others are villages”. The article went on, “Thankfully not all of London has fallen victim to developers and there are still large expanses of greenery including Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath Wandsworth and Clapham Commons, Streatham, Tooting, and Kennington Commons, in all, nearly 2,000 acres. Farther afield are Bagshot Heath, Epsom, Leatherhead, Ashtead, Weybridge, Epping Forest, and other open spots. These areas, easily accessible by train provide much needed quiet and peaceful rural scenery and act as the lungs of the great city. There are, for instance, Waltham Cross and Abbey, the latter traditionally the grave of the unhappy Harold; there is Chislehurst, with its memories of the antiquary Camden and the emperor Louis Napoleon; there are Hayes and Keston, the favourite haunts of Pitt and Wilberforce; there is Isleworth, with its monastery of Sion; Harrow, with its school and its memories of Byron’s youth.” This was said of London in the 1960s but could be equally relevant to the 21st Century. Certainly, amidst all the traffic, litter, dowdy shop fronts, rusting bike frames, people in baggy sportswear, trees stand silent, quite often unseen, but not unfelt. London would be a harsher environment without its trees, and yet we seem to be barely conscious of their existence for the most part. Beyond the North Circular city cows go crazy for carrots. London: half moo – half pavement. Half green half grey.

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