I sit on the bench, admiring the craftsmanship which went into its creation. The plaque screwed to the seatback proclaims that the bench was made by a student of the local college as part of their final year carpentry project. The riverside area has many benches set amongst the leafy trees and fragrant flowers. One of the benches is long and curving with the seatback set in the middle for a choice of either a river or city view. Another seat is designed like a regal throne for a single person or perhaps a close couple. The one upon which I sit has armrests carved into the likeness of a flock of birds in flight, each individual bird with wingtips touching its neighbour.
I see the friend I have been waiting for. I stand up and wave. Emma hurries over.
“Hello,” she says. “It’s lovely to see you but I have a meeting at one. We’ll have to hurry, I’m afraid, I don’t have long.”
“No problem,” I say. “I can’t linger either, I have to prepare for a big presentation tomorrow.”
We start walking, paralleling the river downstream towards the park. Here, the river is broad. Below the retaining wall, the banks of the river are a patchwork of reedbeds, saltmarsh and the occasional stack of driftwood. The water runs clear over the stony riverbed and I can see a shoal of silver fish stemming the flow.
“Oh, look!” Emma exclaims and I turn to where she is pointing.
There’s a ripple in the surface of the calm water and suddenly an otter pops up its sleek head. It glances around and then disappears underwater again.
I look up from the wildlife filled river, past the waving stems of the reeds, to the hard line of the concrete wall and the towering skyscrapers above, all metal and glass.
“That was amazing,” I say. “I’ve never seen an otter before.”
“Well, that was worth leaving the office for, wasn’t it?”
We walk on, keeping an eye on the river for further sightings. Underfoot, the paving changes to woodchip – easier to walk on in heels than you might imagine, Emma comments – as we enter the park. Around us are mature elms and soaring oaks with an understory of hazel, elder and holly. We pass an exercise area with static bikes, friction treadmills and other public gym equipment. There’s an elderly couple competing on the cross trainers.
We stop at a food stand and each order a wrap filled with organic, fresh produce grown on a rooftop garden a couple of streets away. We carry our food back to the river and find a bench on which to sit down.
Further downstream, the park becomes an area of wetland which floods in the winter, protecting homes and businesses from flooding, slowing down the rush of water during storms, storing it for dryer spells.
We watch a kingfisher as we eat.
The small bird sits on a branch overhanging the river, occasionally darting down to pluck a fish from the water, its jewel blue plumage flashing bright.
Emma finishes her wrap and tosses her wrapper into the recycling bin. She sits back with a sigh.
“Better?” I ask.
“So much better,” she says. “Sorry for being snippy with you earlier. I was a bit stressed about this meeting and Julia had changed the schedule for next week, but it’s so lovely here. I can’t believe we’re still in the middle of the city. It’s so nice to come here for lunch, to get a breath of fresh air.”
“You’ll be saying you’re a bird watcher next,” I tease.
“Hardly,” Emma refutes. “I’m definitely a city girl. I refuse to go anywhere near all that mud and those funny smells of the countryside. This is nice though, very relaxing.” She stands up and stretches. “However, I really must be heading back now. See you next week?”
Emma blows me a kiss and strides away. I still have another five minutes. I lean against the railing and watch the kingfisher.
Following on from last week's post about suburban areas, this week, I wanted to write about an inner city scene. I wanted to consider how people and nature can live together, each benefiting the other. The links to further information below are focussed on the Thames, London, England but there are other great examples all around the world, demonstrating the integration of nature into densely populated urban spaces with mutual benefits.
If you haven't read last week's post about greening suburban streets, or the post introducing this series, Visions of Hope, then they are available here.
Links to further information
https://www.estuaryedges.co.uk/ This is a project looking at replacing brick, concrete, and metal tidal walls with a variety of habitats to encouraging biodiversity.
https://www.thamesestuarypartnership.org/ This is a charity bringing people together for the overall benefit of the Thames.
https://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/uk-europe/thames-conservation The Zoological Society of London conducts research and educational programs all over the world, including a range of projects on the Thames.