Dan Raven-Ellison goes to extraordinary lengths to help us appreciate how good our environment actually is now – and how it could be radically better.
What’s striking about Dan Raven-Ellison is his creativity. He’s come up with some pretty inventive ways of getting people to see what’s already remarkable about their environment and to see the potential to make it way better.
We’re not just talking about the environment as a place that’s out there somewhere. He’s often talking about where most of us live – the city.
One example of his ability to shift thinking is that he’s managed to have his city, London, designated as a ‘National Park City’. (More on that soon.)
Another project was the ‘UK in 100 Seconds’ – an aerial video that shows all of the land use of the UK (urban, rural and natural) in 100 seconds. He’s also walked across all the UK’s parks wearing a sensory device on his head. (The idea being to measure human responses to different environments.) And he’s walked the height of Mount Everest by only using the stairs of London buildings.
Dan studied geography at uni and worked briefly as a geography teacher. Then he began applying the creative use of geography to communicate about the environment. He is, as he says now, a guerilla geographer.
Our interview with Dan
Here’s our podcast interview with Dan Raven-Ellison where he unpacks the origins and thinking behind his projects.
The city as national park
A few years back Raven-Ellison came up with the idea of London as a National Park City.
As a geographer, Dan has a deep interest in understanding and conceptualizing places. For him, London as National Park City was about rethinking what a city is.
He wanted to draw attention to how much green space London had already and to promote the idea of getting out into it.
But Raven-Ellison is also a passionate advocate of going much further – making cities greener, healthier and wilder.
Apart from the obvious aesthetic benefit, a greener city improves air quality, improves people’s health and quality of life, reconnects children with nature, brings more wildlife, and builds resilience to climate change.
“We know we can live healthier lives when we’re closer to nature. So why don’t we invite nature more into cities.”
From what started as a somewhat radical idea, Raven-Ellison managed to get backing from a range of respected organisations. Now it has official sanction. The Mayor of London officially made London a National Park City on 22 July 2019.
Find out more about what happened in London in these articles:
‘London Becomes the World’s First National Park City’, The Conversation, 30 July 2019
‘London to become first National Park City. What’s that mean?’ National Geographic, July 2019
And yes, Dan’s original idea sparked a push for more cities to become national parks. (In the UK and worldwide.)
The UK in 100 seconds
How is land used in the country where you live?
Dan wanted to get a handle on how much was for humans and how much was for nature in the UK – and to communicate the reality to people. He came up with the idea of walking across the most important parts and showing in a video one second of aerial footage for each percentage of land use.
The result was this stunning video –
Raven-Ellison says the impetus to tackle our environmental issues must start with a better understanding of the whole picture.
“If people have a distorted picture of how we’re using the land, how do we move forward? Whether it’s how to feed the next generation, how we tackle the mass extinction of species, or how resilient we make ourselves to climate change – the first step is to see clearly what this country looks like now.”
Dan explains more of the thinking behind the project in this video on the making of the ‘The UK in 100 Seconds’ –
The videos were produced in collaboration with Friends of the Earth UK.
Sensing the environment
Many of Dan’s projects have involved walking – to really understand landscapes. When you go slow of course you take in a whole lot more.
In fact some years back Dan walked 1,686km across all of the UK’s national parks and cities. On his head, he wore an EEG (a sensory mind-reading device) that recorded different emotions as he explored different kinds of places.
The purpose of the Wild Cities project was to better understand how people, places and nature connect to quality of life.
Where did Dan feel his best? It was when he was walking in woodland, but most interestingly the best he felt was when he was in woodland located in a city. The data providing evidence for creating beautiful natural environments in the places where most people live.
UK National Parks in 100 Seconds
Following on from Dan’s “UK in 100 seconds” film, Dan has created “UK National Parks in 100 Seconds”. This time each second of the walk reveals 1% of the UK’s National Parks and how they appear from above.
The video asks the viewer to reflect on what the parks really look like and challenges the viewer to make the most of them. You don’t have to be British to be inspired by this film. Its underlying theme of the need to conserving natural heritage is a universal one.
Slow Ways is another walking project for Dan. This time though it’s a collaborative mapping exercise. He’s calling on people across the UK to to identify a network of walking routes that connect all of Great Britain’s towns and cities as well as thousands of villages. Using existing footpaths, the aim is for people to use the Slow Ways to walk between neighboring settlements or a daisy-chain of routes for long-distance journeys.
As well as our audio interview check out this video by National Geographic Germany where Dan explains his projects further.
To find out more about Dan and his work check out his website – https://ravenellison.com
You can connect with Dan via these social media channels –
Related posts and podcasts
Dan Raven-Ellison Quotes
More of Dan’s thinking in these pearls of wisdom on geography and the environment.
Environmental Leader Profiles
We’re doing a series on the World’s Environmental Leaders. (Dan is one.)
Stories on Cities
Check our other stories on cities and other leaders when it comes to re-thinking cities.
We welcome your feedback on Dan and our series on environmental leaders. If you enjoyed the post and podcast please share it with someone you think would like it too.
What you can do
Are you inspired to change thinking about the city and country where you live? Here are some things you can do:
Help make your city a ‘national park city’
Get advice, support and resources from the National Park City Foundation.
Pitch your politician
Write, call and see your political representatives. Put a motion to your local government city council to make more green space and plant trees that will bring back native wildlife. Use available info to help support your case – including other cities or Councils that are already down the track. Tell them about Dan Raven-Ellison’s ideas. Show them Dan’s videos. Vote for politicians who support increasing green space.
Link with like-minded groups
Find people and organizations that share your values and enlist them to help lobby with you and give you more clout.
Follow Dan’s lead and think of creative ways of encouraging people to see their local environment in new ways. (I did it in the street where I live with a Better Block project. As a result, our local council developed a plan to green our street.)
Have your own suggestions to make a difference? You can also let us know in the comments.