An interview with Charlie Peel about National Park City Maps

Girl looking at London National Park City Map

We thoroughly enjoyed printing the ground-breaking London National Park City map for social enterprise Urban Good. The map illustrates the sheer amount of open space within the city – parks, woodland, playing fields, rivers, ponds etc – where you can head for some exercise and fresh air.

We’re now delighted to introduce Charlie Peel, the founder of Urban Good, to talk about the development of the project and its positive outcome.

Charlie, you established Urban Good CIC (community interest company) in 2016 – please tell us about the work you do. 

With a background in large scale urban development and national policy I realised the value in working across and joining up architecture, landscape, engineering, planning and communication. I believed there was space in the built environment sector for a social enterprise that used design to make cities better, and could offer clients better value.

At Urban Good we provide research, graphic design and advice to architects, planners, developers, local authorities and community projects. But the project with enough excitement to get the ball rolling for Urban Good was the National Park City.

The London National Park City Map was your brainchild – how did you come up with the idea? 

I remember hearing Daniel Raven-Ellison describe his vision for a National Park City quite early on in the campaign. Following the presentation I simply said that the concept needed one powerful image to sum it all up and communicate the idea in a matter of seconds: a map.

Without hesitation, Dan asked if I could make one. I said no… but I would try. It wasn’t until we had a working illustration, published in 2016, that I returned to Daniel with the challenge that ultimately led to the National Park City Map – ‘We’re gonna need a bigger piece of paper.’

Boy pointing at London National Park City Map

What challenges and breakthroughs did you experience along the way? 

As our first move we established a trusting and supportive relationship with Ordnance Survey, GiGL and the Greater London Authority. This opened up access to the accurate and powerful data that is the backbone of the London map.

The biggest challenge was to rip up the business plan once we learned that the data could only be made available to us if we offered the maps for free.

In just two years we have put 25,000 National Park City maps into the hands and homes of the public. Since initially crowdfunding the map, we rely on donations and a P&P charge that covers costs.

What mistake did you learn the most from? 

With such a large format, re-drawn, vector map we were keen to tell the story of London’s diverse open spaces with subtle variations in pattern. While the majority of the map would be green, patterns could differentiate the different land uses – parks, cemeteries, woodland, nature reserves, sports fields and so on.

Very quickly, with the hundreds of layers of data, the use of these complex patterns made the file a challenge to print. We worked with Dennis Maps and Kodak to resolve the issues, but since then our map making skills have improved, and we specialise in creating lithographic prints.

How has the map been received? 

Twitter images of London National Park City mapWe are in the early stages of obtaining some more conclusive feedback via a short google form. This will help us learn what we can do better with the next edition. Anyone who has a copy of the map is welcome to tell us what they think.

Up until now we have relied on social media to take the temperature of opinions – and it’s overwhelmingly flattering. People really get the map and everything it sets out to celebrate and communicate.

I believe other cities are going to create their own ‘green map’? 

Soon after London was a hit, we got the call from Amsterdam and published our first in a new series of Urban Nature maps. Now we are rolling out the series across UK cities with an initial aim of 10 cities mapped and released in 2020.

We have spent three years refining our craft and building our partnerships, and it’s great to be scaling up sustainably as a non-profit. Meanwhile we continue to support the National Park City Foundation, and will make a series of detailed London maps just like the Greenwich Map we published this summer.

Urban Good have published their Greenwich Map and Urban Nature Amsterdam Map this summer.

Tell us a bit about why you brought a film crew down to Dennis Maps this year?

We know people love our maps, but so few people have the chance to see what a modern, sophisticated map press looks like. They simply press cmd–P in their offices, and we wanted to show them just how hard it is to make the maps as great as they are!

For us the exciting part is how active and live the process is, with a team of people setting up, monitoring and adjusting the giant sheet-fed litho press. It was a great day filming Urban Nature Amsterdam being printed, and we’re excited to launch our film today. (See Video below)

What’s next for Urban Good and for you? 

Dare I say it, our plans will see us printing many more maps with Dennis Maps, but some of the current proposals are still under wraps. We can, however, proudly share that the first of our UK series will be Newcastle Upon Tyne in the same folded format as London, Amsterdam and Greenwich.

We are working with some amazing non-profits too, to help them communicate their work around walking and green spaces in cities. It’s fun work and now it’s about picking the projects that can have the greatest impact.

All National Park City maps are available by postal order via Urban Good. If you would like to buy any of Urban Good’s unique maps please click on the links below:

London National Park City Map

Amsterdam Urban Nature Map

Greenwich Map

If you would like to keep up to date with Urban Good’s news please follow them on Twitter.

Images of Girl and Boy pointing at the map and Urban Nature Amsterdam Map © Paul Cochrane.

Urban Nature Amsterdam – Printing with Dennis Maps from Urban Good on Vimeo.

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