What are the first things that come to your mind when thinking of Hackney? Food, culture, lifestyle? There’s one thing you might be missing.
In a quest to prove Hackney to be one of the most enjoyable walking neighbourhoods in London, senior campaign and engagement officer at Ramblers, Oliver Hicks-Pattinson walked over 20 miles to explore all of 58 parks in the borough. Ramblers is Britain’s largest walkers’ rights organisation.
Starting from Clapton Square, all the way around to Market Street gardens in Old Street, the 28 year-old wanted to raise awareness about Hackney’s nomination as Ramblers’ Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood as well as how beneficial walking is to local residents. “Hackney is one of the greenest areas in London. With 58 parks in 7 square miles, it’s just got a diverse range of green spaces,” Oliver explains.
“At Ramblers we’ve been talking about Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood award, and it made me think how great Hackney is. So I thought, ‘I’m gonna go out on my doorstep and explore what is on offer.’”
It took Oliver nearly nine hours of walking to explore every single one of the parks, green spaces and squares in Hackney. “I thought that would be a great reason, to go out and see how walkable the neighbourhood is and see every park. We started at 9 am, finished at about half 5/6 o’clock and it was great.”
Out of the 58 parks, however, there was one that is dear to walk-loving Oliver. “My favourite park… I’d have to go with London Fields; it’s a great place to meet people. It’s got a tennis court, cricket pitches, barbecue areas, cycle lanes… It’s got everything that’s great about a park. And it’s all on my doorstep.”
However, the parks alone are not the only reason that Hackney is such a walkable borough. In 2015, the council decided to reduce speed limits to 20mph on the roads it controls. “[The council decision] is definitely one of the good things that Hackney has done. It feels safe to walk around on pavements and the reduction of speed limits have definitely gone their way towards that.”
Green spaces in London are still scarce, nonetheless. As Oliver says, cities and towns are designed for cars and transportation, and not much is left to pedestrians.
“The Department for Transport recently released new figures that say that the number of walking trips has declined by 20% over the last decade and we’ve been seeing over the past few years mounting evidence that says walking through towns and cities improves health benefits, so I think we need to turn this around and we need to make sure that walking is an easy option.
“A lot of the walkability for the neighbourhood is the result of people out there campaigning, people talking to their local authorities, to their local councillors and saying ‘we want more walkable neighbourhoods.’”
Can Hackney improve? Absolutely. “There’s always more opportunity to cultivate more green space, especially the smaller parks, small squares and churchyards. It’s about making it easy and safe for people to access local places on foot.”
Voting for Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood is open until the 14th March on Ramblers’ website (ramblers.org.uk).