In its short existence the Galway National Park City (GNPC ) initiative, based on connecting people and nature in an urban environment and with an sustainability ethos, has had a positive impact on the local landscape providing opportunities and collaborations for citizens and organisations from different sectors to creatively work together on successfully developing new pioneering environmental and sustainability programmes.
These include the first ever mapping of city nature trails; the hosting of the first ever inter-schools second-level youth and students’ eco forum; the first ever planting of a wildflower meadow in a Galway business park; the first ever international seminar for the benefit of the city council on the subject of integrating the natural environment into future urban sustainable development; the first ever citizens’ science air quality monitoring system; the first ever visitors/volunteer centre in a Galway park; the first ever third level off-campus students’ led eco-exhibition and the coming together of teachers to work on providing Outdoor Classroom kits and a complementary syllabus for primary schools.
The initiative has also spawned a new social enterprise engineering business which aims to produce low-cost weather stations; led to the compilation of a Green Directory for Galway city; secured funding for community environmental and educational projects including the provision of financial (and human ) resources towards Galway Community College’s wonderful rewilding project at Lough Atalia. The GNPC’s website has become a repository on information related to the fantastic world-leading sustainability programmes taking place in the corporate, community, health, research, arts and educational spheres within Galway.
In January, GMIT integrated the Galway National Park City initiative into its first multi-campus Biodiversity Strategy. NUI Galway has done likewise within its Sustainability Strategy. Earlier this month, the Galway National Park City was showcased by the university at a United Nation’s event attended by over 300 academics from across the world as an example of how a third level institute provides assistance and proactively collaborates with civil society in order to advance the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by way of innovative ideas, projects, and solutions that combines academic knowledge and resources with those of other stakeholders and the wider community. The feedback from the attendees was exceptionally positive.
In the coming months, GNPC will host webinars for policy makers and the wider community on Greenways and on Blue(Water )ways looking at best practice internationally, nationally as well as local (city/county ) proposals. Being aware of the experiences of other cities and their hinterlands could help towards, in the case of the greenway webinar, in establishing a safe citywide pedestrian, cycling and public transport infrastructure for Galway, something that was actually supposed to be in place by 2012 and support it becoming a regional hub for greenways connecting to Connemara, Headford, Athenry, Tuam, Kinvara and nationwide.
In December, Adelaide became the world’s second (London being the first ) National Park City which, according to a delighted South Australia government, represents an international success story. The South Australian Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said, “This is a historic moment for South Australia. Adelaide has already been recognised as the third most liveable city in the world and by officially becoming a National Park City this reputation will be further enhanced.
Adelaide National Park City status isn’t just another title for our city, it is a trigger to promote and connect people with on-ground action to look after our environment for everyone’s health and wellbeing as well as boost our economy through increased tourism.”
This week It is expected that Southampton City Council will pass a motion for the city to work towards National Park City status. The British government is reviewing a proposal from its environmental agency Natural England on having the maximum number of English cities achieve the national park city designation. Lord Benyon, UK Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, stated that the “British government welcomes the National Park City model. It has never being more relevant…Natural landscapes have proven our salvation during COVID lockdowns.
Never been more important
But in the United Kingdom, one in three people are not connected to nature. 80% of British live in urban areas. One in eight have no access to gardens or green spaces. So the concept of a National Park City has never been more important.” He also mentioned that the National Park City model fitted in with government policies, offering an opportunity to deliver a quantum shift in improving access for all to green spaces, protecting more natural landscapes and helping in nature restoration as well as in benefiting the mental and physical health of citizens.
Cardiff Council has adopted this designation. Jonathan Maidment, Head of its Parks and Harbour Authority, stated, “Cardiff is one of the greenest cities in the UK and wants to be a carbon neutral city by 2030…Community engagement is critical for the council and the council sees the National Park City movement as a tool for engaging with a wide range of stakeholders.”
Martin Gettings, member of the London National Park City Developers’ Forum and Group Director Sustainability of the Canary Wharf Group, Europe’s largest urban regeneration project, stated at an online meeting organised by the GNPC for the benefit of Galway City Council officials and councillors, “Is National Park City status a barrier to development? No! It’s the opposite. It’s an enabler!! When a city has National Park City status it drives quality planning and development which takes into account the needs of all its residents, large and small.”
The Breda municipality wants by 2030 to become the first European city within a park and the first city in the Netherlands to join the family of National Park Cities. Their action plan of a ‘City in a Park’ is to be a biodiverse green metropolis connected to the natural and rural landscapes surrounding the city.
Kathryn Tierney, recently retired as an official at the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission and a policy coordinator for the European ‘Green Deal’, feels the Galway National Park City initiative is the implementation of the Green Deal at a local level.
Unfortunately, in spite of all of these intersectoral successes and partnerships, the experiences of other progressive cities worldwide, local support from across all sectors, the patronage of the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, and the backing of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Galway City Council decided not to include the Galway National Park designation in the City Development Plan 2023-2029.
Agree with concept
But that said, the senior management at City Hall have stated that they agree with the concept of the GNPC designation and that it could be included within other key council strategies/policies. This is especially important as it is possible that Galway city may be chosen as one of the EU’s 100 cities to be carbon neutral by 2030.
A crucial element of this application is a local Climate City Contract which will have to be co-created with local stakeholders and citizens. The Galway National Park City and its champions could become an important mechanism and opportunity for delivering this Contract.
The recent UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ) report released on February 28th confirms that the impact of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Crises are much worse than was previously thought. But it also states that while large cities are hotspots for climate impacts, they also offer a real opportunity to avoid the worst impacts of warming and that as cities continue to grow they can push for renewable energy, greener transport, and buildings. According to IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts, “We point very clearly to the cities of the world as a key place for mobilisation.”
Furthermore the war in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s dangerous over-reliance for its energy needs on oil and gas especially from Russia. Global food security could also be impacted by this conflict as Ukraine and Russia serve as global grain producers whilst both countries are also key sources of the rare metals used in mobile communications. However as EU President Ursula von der Leyen and Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said now is the time for fast forwarding the introduction of renewable energies and the implementation of the EU’s Green Deal circular economic approach.
In a time of darkness where there is a global pandemic, a brutal war impacting on the whole of the European continent, and with the ever-increasing destructive impacts of the Climate and Biodiversity Crises, people need hope that there is a better future that we can by working together help make happen. The Galway National Park City initiative is now needed more than ever and can be a shining light for other Irish cities to follow. Neil McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer of World Urban Parks and a highly respected senior Australian government official for decades, said that the question for Galway City now is, “Do you lead or do you follow?”
So let’s rise to the challenge and rediscover that pioneering spirit that made Galway a vibrant collegiate artistic, scientific, technological, educational, environmental and community powerhouse that was and still is the envy of the rest of Ireland. The reason could not be more stark, as the very essence of life on the planet is at stake.