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Green city – Helsinki

If last week I ventured to cycle capital Amsterdam, then this week I decided to make an infographic of the city that is just a stone throw away from Tallinn where I am based. Helsinki is the closest city just about 80 km away on the ferry and with it’s island dotted coastline and cool nordic vibes offers a great alternative for long-distance urban walking.

What makes Helsinki a very attractive city for green minded walkers are its many islands. As an urban archipelago Helsinki spreads on around 330 islands including several nature reserves like Harakka island and a eco-minded car-free Suomenlinna sea fortress. According to My Helsinki the city offers many unique island hopping opportunities for walkers and cyclists.

Helsinki has altogether 123 km of coastline that includes more than 30 public beaches (some of them on islands). With fresh air flowing in from the sea, Helsinki’s air quality remains one of the cleanest in the world all year around. The city has many coastline promenades & paths to take in fresh sea air and the Southern Helsinki coastal path dotted with islands is especially beautiful.

Helsinki city centre is compact and if combined with public transport such as trams or public ferries, walking is really one of the best way to get around. Helsinki also has around 1200 km of cycle routes and cycling is becoming increasingly more popular. The City of Helsinki aims to increase sustainable transport by creating new light traffic bridges, one even the longest in Finland.

With around 1/3rd of the city being parks and green spaces, Helsinki really is one of the greenest capitals in Europe. Central Park, the largest park and urban forests in the city, covers 10 km2 in the middle of the Helsinki. Altogether Helsinki has 70 km2 of greenery to get out and explore, including 55 nature reserves for hiking and bird spotting.

I hope you like this week’s green city and I am certainly looking forward to explore Helsinki more this summer! ✌️

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Green city – Amsterdam

I wanted to try something new this week and decided to make a series of Green City graphics. The first destination I picked is Amsterdam – the city I have been meaning to visit for years, but never have. So hoping this might be the year 🤞 I’ve been doing some enjoyable guidebook reading and picked out couple of facts what makes Amsterdam a sustainable city.

Amsterdam has more bikes than people. Amsterdam is known as the biking capital of the world, but the bikes are now taking over the city. Currently nearly 873,000 people live in Amsterdam with more than 881,000 bikes. According to IAmsterdam majority of Amsterdammers cycle daily covering combined 2 million kilometres as they pedal along.

According to Lonely Planet Pocket Amsterdam guidebook Amsterdam has 100 km of waterways and a thriving houseboat community with 2500 boats. With the interconnected waterways Amsterdam is a perfect city to live in a boat and many boat owners are interested in sustainable living, turning their boats into energy efficient floating homes.

Amsterdam also has the most canals in the world with 165 canals (that’s more than Venice) and stunning total of 1753 bridges. The narrow canals and bridges make driving in the city difficult and this is why cycling and walking is the preferred method to get around for most Amsterdammers and visitors. The historic city planners couldn’t have done better!

Amsterdam has 30 parks, a forest and 400, 000 trees in parks and along the canal paths. Because Amsterdam is compact in size, this makes Amsterdam a very leafy city. Vondelpark is one of the most popular inner city parks and Amsterdam forest with it’s 1000 ha of green lushness definitely seems like a great place to spend a day.

I know I certainly am looking forward to my visit.

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Green ways for all

London is one of the greenest cities in the world and not only because of its traditional parks and green spaces, but also for some magnificent greenways. The canals and rivers are long linear parks often aligned with trees and greenery for walkers and cyclers to enjoy. The abandoned railway lines such as Parkland Walk is another way to convert a linear space to a park.

The green ways often connect bigger parks and provide safe and quiet routes from one green space to another. If all the parks were connected by greenways, cycling and walking would be much more enjoyable and tranquil experience. These paths can get busy too, especially on weekends, but they are still much better option than walking or cycling next to traffic lanes.

The benefits of linear green walking spaces was obvious already in 1970s when four east London boroughs came together and created a Green Chain that is a system of 300 linked parks. This protected the parks from development and provided 50 miles (80 km) of green walking routes. Thanks to their insight this part of London is still particularly green.

As someone who always takes a green way when she can, Green chain is one walk that is definitely on my bucket list! 🌳🔗🌳🔗🌳

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London Greenground map with distances

The newest of London Greenground maps has more fluid lines, especially for Thames line that now follows the river more naturally, includes 100 more parks with 400 parks and open spaces total and as a new feature shows the walking distances between parks. I have also began to locate the green ways that are long linear parks usually by the waterway or railway tracks and sketched in some new suggestions for creative walking loops. 🚶‍♀️♾️

This diametrical map does not show the exact routes, but rather acts as a starting point in planning more precise journeys. The distance line lengths between parks and open spaces vary as the walking routes are not always straightforward and at times can be quite winding. This is why a mile on a map is represented with considerable difference. However I hope the map gives a larger scope for someone planning a green route in Greater London.

In most cases the distances are calculated from park centre to park centre and sometimes, especially with large parks, the walking distance between differs. For example Kensington and Hyde Park are next to each other and could be crossed over in minutes, but walking from centre to centre is a mile long route and takes considerably more time. As no one would be walking only to the edge of the park I thought centre distances would make more sense.

The loops and lines that make up the map are suggestions rather than fixed routes and the main intention of the map is to show London as one connected green network and encourage active movement between parks and along the waterways. Currently not all the London roads are quiet or safe because of traffic, but hopefully this will change soon when more people are becoming interested in active travel. 🚶‍♀️🚴‍♂️

For closer exploration see the PDF
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Would like to support the development of Greenground Map? Your donation will help the map to grow! 🌱

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Green Bus Stop Map

Green spaces and bus stops in Greater London

This minimal map shows only parks and green spaces as point of interest as well as all the bus stops in Greater London. You can either search for a park and see which bus stops are closest or alternatively, if you know the bus stop you’re going to, you can look out for green spaces nearby. For example you can enter Brockwell Park in the search box and have a bird-eye view of all the nearby stops.

Some parks only have one or two bus stops nearby, but most bigger parks have several stops to choose from. For example Alexandra Park does not have just one Alexandra Park stop, you can go to Garden Centre, Palm Court, Ice Rink or Alexandra Palace Park.

Bus stops in Alexandra Palace Park

Battersea Park similarly has more than one station as entry point to the park. For example, if you are planning a walk by the Thames starting from Battersea Park/Chelsea Gate and finishing in Albert Bridge stop across the river might be the best route for you.

Bus stops near Battersea Park

Of course Google Maps is more practical for journey planning, but the aim of this map is to give uncluttered overview and a start-point for exploration. Especially if you are someone who likes to spend time in green spaces and also really happens to like bus stops.

Explore: Green Bus Stop Map in Mapbox

Dataset from London Datastore (TfL Bus Stop Locations and Routes bus-stops-10-06-15.csv)

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Have an Earthy Christmas!

Did you know an average UK family spends 800 £ extra during Christmas and buys an average 17 gifts from Amazon? The wonderful Guardian article Dreaming of a green Christmas? Here’s how to make it come true from Rebecca Smithers highlights the vast environmental impact of the season, advising to switch from plastic goods and glittery decorations to organic or homemade alternatives and other ethical presents. Amongst other common sense suggestions she also gives hints how to keep an eye out for non-plastic packaging, recycle and avoid food waste.

The picture is not much different elsewhere in Europe, although the overall expenditure is less – in Central Europe maybe half of what Britons spend and in Eastern Europe even one fourth. But whatever the budget, what really matters is what it is spent for and how. Amazon gift may only be a click away, but sending millions of packages across the world will have huge impact on this season. Goods put together from cheap materials in China may be eye catching, but almost always contain plastic and breakable parts, and most Christmas decorations look hazardous (and probably are).

I think one of the issues with having sustainable Christmas is many people think eco friendly also means ‘dull’. The wooden toys do not bling or sound like electronic ones, the books are not as exciting as video games, the artisan gift may not have the novelty of new gadget. But in time the value of ‘boring’ gifts will definitely grow. The plastic toy will break in few months, but the wooden one may last a lifetime, video game gets outdated, but a good book will be on a shelf for years, mobile device is good for couple of years, whereas craftwork will stay valuable forever.

It does feel that even if you can avoid plastic by choosing eco friendly gifts the excess food packaging is inevitable and there is no way around it. However with some planning you can at least reduce the impact to the environment by baking your own bread and pastries, avoiding ready meals and cooking root vegetables instead and even making your own sweets. Most vegetables and fruit can be bought without packaging and oranges and apples look great on Christmas table. Nuts and berries are very seasonal too and some shops sell them without packaging (bring your own container).

Spoilt in our expectations for the season it takes time to revert back to appreciating simple consumer choices again, but if we are not cutting back from Christmas extravaganza, we are going to face many problems ahead. Having more each year is definitely worse for the planet and it’s doubtful, if it even brings us more joy. Can you remember when you last got something you really valued and cherished? Only those knowing you best can make gifts that matter. Why don’t we then only give gifts to closest around us and do something seasonal with others instead?

My independent illustrator budget for Christmas this year is small and definitely not going to feed the giant Amazon machine. Instead I am getting few gifts from Christmas fairs and supporting local makers, having a go making my own decorations and browsing some of my favourite book shops… Even if the Christmas is on budget, the gifts will last.

Have a very good, down to earth Christmas everyone!

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Concept for a game of sustainable energy

My friend Totebo asked me to come up with a concept for a mindful Zen game and I thought it’s a fun little side project to do aside to all the maps and infographics I have been doing recently. So I had a little think about it and came up with an idea for an alternative sustainable energy game. It’s still early days and I don’t yet know, if the project is going ahead, but I hope it will spark some fresh ideas and directions on 2020! 💫

The working title of the game is Zenergi and it’s about an alternative universe where energy efficient Greener Bot has a difficult task of greening the planet. Working from her self-sufficient allotment GB sets out to plant and care for the plants she is growing herself. But running the allotment and planting on her own is not an easy task and she faces many challenges such as energy deficiency, draught and destructive plant eating vermin.

GB working in her self-sufficient allotment garden

Self-sufficiency, independent energy and mass planting is also the key to re-green this planet and people from anywhere in the world can empathise with GB as she struggles to keep her allotment running. Either you live in UK, Sweden or Brazil, the challenges of living sustainably and doing good for the environment are the same everywhere – there’s plenty of grey space to be greened all around the planet.

Fingers crossed the concept will attract some funding and this little project will take flight next year!

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Advent park explorer calendar

Tomorrow is the first advent and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the start of December with an advent calendar of parks and green spaces for a walking enthusiast. The calendar has a selection of 24 parks to go for each day up to Christmas and one special treat for Christmas Day. I hope it inspires to revisit few old favourites and perhaps discover some new green spaces and sights this holiday season! 💫

The map based calendar starts from North West and works its way through London, finishing in South East. There’s one park, farm or sight to go on each day of the month and although it is unlikely you’ll visit them all, I hope the calendar gives inspiration to embark at least on few adventures. For example Morden Hall Park or Beckenham Palace in South are both great to visit on the season as well as woods, city farms and wetlands of North.

Some of these parks run Christmas activities such as fairs and ice skating, craft workshops and light walks. Kew Garden has a renowned light walk. Check out before to see what’s on or just go with the flow.. there’s plenty going on. Others are quiet places where you can walk around, enjoy fresh air and look out for wildlife. Wherever you visit I’m sure you have a different experience on each day. You could even brave it and have a winter swim!

And of course.. when you’re finished exploring don’t forget to give some special love to your favourite local park 🙂 💚

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Greening São Paulo map for Geographical

Last month I was commissioned to create a map for Geographical Magazine to illustrate a story of urban greening in Brazil featured in their December issue. The editor Paul Presley requested for an area map of Minhocão – the highway planned to be converted into a park, but otherwise I didn’t have lot of information to begin with. So I took some time to read about the project, although the timeline was tight and came up with a flat map featuring an ‘elevated’ highway that has gone through a green transformation.

I highlighted the green areas in the neighbourhood and ‘closed off’ the 3 km stretch of highway to cars by adding pedestrian and cycling lane with icons. I also added extra foliage, seating and shades as well as new access points such as elevators. Although the area map is based on real map, the illustration is theoretical and does not reflect the real conditions and plans, but I very much hope it helps to reimagine the motorway as green space that is open for sustainable walking and cycling.

Lottie Watters’ article is a fascinating and critical view of what becomes of the area after it has been greened. She draws comparisons with High Line at New York and Rambla de Sants in Barcelona as well as notes the doubt and mixed feelings in community – it’s a story definitely worth to read for anyone interested in the effects of urban greening. Through working on an infographic map to illustrate her writing I personally have learned a lot of the area I beforehand was not familiar with.

Perhaps one day I have an opportunity to visit and see if the project turned out as I imagined it. 🤞

Greening the ‘Big Worm’ is an article by Lottie Watters in this month’s Geographical Magazine, December 2019

Illustrative map of Greening the Minhocão on the left
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Christmas is Open

In the season when everything is roller-coasting around shopping it’s easy to forget Christmas is not only about spending. In fact you’d feel much happier to spend some time outdoors, see the city in festive spirit and pick up some gifts on the go. Depending on your budget bring enough to buy warm drinks and street snacks or even take some with you – there’s nothing nicer than a flask of tea and home-made fruitcake or gingerbreads to keep you going while exploring.

Trafalgar Square
Christmas is not the same without the smell of a spruce tree and every year the City of London orders one from Norway to stand in the square centre. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years and switching on the light ceremony this year is on December 5th at 6 pm (mark your calendars!). There will be speeches and carol singing on the night and every evening through December (singing, not speeches). As the open Christmas venue organised by the city this public tradition will get 10 points out of 10. Bring a hot drink, friends or family and enjoy the holiday spirit.

Southbank Centre
Walking by the Thames is nice all over the year, but during Christmas the area gets a special makeover for the season, with lights and markets popping up everywhere. Atmospheric Southbank Centre winter market is open for two months from November, bringing the buzz and light to the river. No doubt it will be busy and popular with locals and visitors alike, but if you get overwhelmed you can always step aside and enjoy the views over the river with cup of cocoa, either bought from one of the cosy looking cabins or kept warm in the home brought flask.

Borough Market
For the foodies Borough Market is a great destination on weekends all around the year, but in December it opens every day with seasonal food, decorations and it’s own Christmas tree. You can easily spend a fortune there, but you don’t have to. The samples are often free and if you pick up one or two food items you really liked you can either give them as gifts or have them as special treats in Christmas. Even if you really are on a budget (for example working as independent illustrator!) you can still spoil your taste puds with a doughnut or cinnamon bun from one of the vendors.

Somerset House
There are many ice skating spots popping up in London, but the one in Somerset House is the oldest and one of most beautiful. Even if you don’t plan to skate, you can still watch other skaters and take in the holiday vibe of the beautifully decorated square with its Christmas tree and lights. You can even have hot chocolate while’re watching, but it’s not exactly cheap and you may want to pick one up before heading to the Somerset House. If you bring your own sustainable thermo cup, it will last for longer. At the end you may decide to give a go on skates as well.

Carnaby Street
Many streets are lighting up for Christmas, but Carnaby street is special this year as all its decorations are recycled and sustainably produced. It’s called Carnaby x Project Zero and this years theme is ocean diversity. There are plenty of street lights in London, but this one is the first to be produced with zero waste from start to end. Even the energy used was renewable! Fingers crossed next year all the others will follow this initiative. When you’re done with admiring the sea creatures you could head to Chinatown and pick up some authentic street food on the go.

Covent Garden
Although shopping in the area is one of London’s most expensive the market lights and decorations are free to see for everyone and if not exactly the place for shopping spree you can find a small gift or two. I personally would pop by at Stanfords to pick up a specialist travel book either as a present for myself or to a friend. You could even go to the British Museum later, with more than 60 free galleries there is plenty to see any time of the year. The quirky Clocks and Watches room with the display of wooden cuckoo clocks and golden pocket watches sounds especially seasonal.

There’s more in Greenwich than the Christmas market, although walking around the village and admiring decorated shop fronts could be your main activity of the day. There are plenty of priced activities and this year, for the first time, skating opens up in Royal Museums. Either if you’re skating or not you can still take in the magical vibe at the Queen’s House and watch the skaters whizzing by in their colourful hats and scarves. When you get overwhelmed by holiday buzz, find a quiet spot in the park for treats you brought from home or picked up at the market.

Tower Bridge
London’s most magnificent bridge is not less magnificent at Christmas and lighten’s up this part of the city in darker evenings. With Christmas market on one side and Tower of London on the other this area has plenty activities including ice skating next to Tower. But even just a walk along the bank in the dusk is atmospheric to see Christmas tree and seasonal art installations near the City Hall, with views over Tower Bridge in the background. You can also take a stroll over the bridge and admire winter lights from the heights. Dress warm as it can get quite nippy.

Natural History Museum
Another museum that is magical in Christmas. Not only because there’s a skate ring next to it, but in wintery light the cake like museum really looks festive. You may think Natural History Museum is about dusty skeletons and extinct species, but the truth is very far from it. The museum has many different collections and even a huge Mineralogy collection with rocks, gems, ores and even meteorites. As the dark skies are lit up during Christmas, this is an ideal time to explore the stars in close contact and add the sparkle to the day.

Camden Market
If you want to get lost in alternative Christmas reality then Camden Market is just the place for it. You can easily spend half a day exploring the quirky shops and stalls in the depths of Camden and if you get tired, pick up some food from the diverse food outlets to eat on the canal side. Even if you don’t find anything to buy (although there’s plenty of funky and weird stuff), you’ll still have festive time with live music, seasonal food and decorations livening up one of the oldest street markets in London.

With street markets, skating rings and lights there’s plenty to explore this season. And while you are walking keep an eye out for real spruce trees as well, growing in local parks and on the streets. With all the pimped up trees across the city, there is nothing more beautiful than a real thing.
Christmas is open. Get outdoors and enjoy the season! 🌲