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Europe’s First Urban Quiet Park Is Finally Here

By Mae Hamilton

Jul 19, 2021

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Hampstead Heath is one of the largest and most popular parks in London.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Hampstead Heath is one of the largest and most popular parks in London.

Just a few miles from Trafalgar Square, Hampstead Heath offers visitors 790 peaceful acres to escape the noise of the city and tune in to the sounds of a pristine green space.

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Since 2018, nonprofit organization Quiet Parks International has been on a quest to seek out and recognize the quiet places still left in the world. QPI, which was founded by Vikram Chauhan and Gordon Hempton, is “committed to saving quiet for the benefit of all life” and believes noise pollution isn’t just annoying, but that it can be harmful to our health and well-being by causing stress, sleep disturbances, and hearing impairment (which can lead to even more serious conditions like hypertension, cognitive impairment, and cardiovascular disease). The latest addition to their roster of quiet parks, though, is located in a rather unexpected place: London. 

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Sited just four miles north from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square, Hampstead Heath is one of London’s most popular and beloved parks, spanning more than 790 acres and including several swimming ponds, dazzling hilltop views of the city, and a passel of cozy local pubs. For meeting QPI’s standards of a quiet park—which includes providing a healthy balance of bioacoustic activity and man-made-noise-free intervals—QPI awarded the Hampstead Heath Management Committee with the honor of being Europe’s first official urban quiet park in Europe on July 18. The Noise Abatement Society, which works closely with the local and national U.K. government, will share the award. “My evaluation of the Heath has shown that it provides the important experience of being able to fully immerse oneself within the natural environment, with seclusion from the city, and the level of quiet we expect from a quiet urban park,” says Nicholas Allan, field recordist and U.K. representative for QPI. 

Hampstead Heath dates all the way back to 1543, when it was first noted in history books as being a part of Henry VIII’s exclusive royal hunting grounds. The area was informally recognized as one of London’s common areas for centuries, but as the city’s population exploded with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the existence of Hampstead Heath was threatened. Thankfully, it was formally recognized as a public open space with the Hampstead Heath Act of 1871. The ordinance decreed that “the Board shall forever keep the Heath open, unenclosed and unbuilt on.” Rather fittingly, the park will be receiving the QPI award on the 150th anniversary of the act.

QPI’s designation of Hampstead Heath as a quiet park is just the third park in the world that the organization has recognized. In 2019, sector Rio Zabalo in Ecuador was acknowledged to have met the organization’s gold standard for wilderness quiet parks, while Yangmingshan National Park, situated on the outskirts of Taipei, Taiwan, became QPI’s first urban quiet park in 2020. There are nearly 50 more urban parks across the world on the organization’s docket (including Central Park’s the Rambles in New York City and Houston’s Armand Bayou Nature Preserve) to undergo evaluation to be recognized as an urban quiet park. 

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“My father used to say, ‘Quiet? That’s so highbrow. Quiet is so trivial. Someday we can just fix the noise pollution and it will be quiet. Quiet doesn’t rank with endangered species, breeding programs, habitat preservation, global warming, nuclear waste, and toxic cleanups. And you want me to pay attention to the need to preserve quiet?’” Hempton told AFAR in a September 2020 interview. “Yes. Because when we save quiet, we save everything else.”

>> Next: The God of Silence Speaks Up

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