19th January 2021 – what does local mean?

Last week it became clear that our dozy prime minister doesn’t understand the concept of ‘local’. But then what does local mean if you live in a city?

An urban development organisation based in Germany promote the idea of “the five minute city” in which everything a person needs in their daily life can be found within 5 minutes walk of a public transport stop. How different London would look if that was the direction of development. 

Perhaps local in this city could be within your borough. I don’t know where the southern boundaries of my borough Southwark are and today I’m going to start finding them. I want to create a walking purpose, however artificial that might sound. 

The road where I start marks Southwark’s southernmost edge and has one pavement in Southwark and the other in Lewisham before crossing the border to Bromley. Goldfinches chitter in the tree tops before flying from our borough to another with casual disregard for my feelings. You’re our nature, please come back! 

Weaving through some residential streets in Crystal Palace to track the boundary, I keep an eye out for interesting weeds in the front gardens. I’m trying to look without being too obvious but no-one seems the slightest bit interested.  It’s official, the most popular garden weed in the south of Southwark is Annual Mercury with glossy leaves and clusters of tiny pale-green flowers.  A close runner-up is Green Alkanet, a bristly plant with forget-me-not-like blue flowers. 

The stretch from Gipsy Hill down to Herne Hill is almost straight but still interesting.  An old boundary marker for Camberwell Parish seems to be sinking into the concrete. The tree-pits are bursting into life, carpeted with an optimistic flush of tiny green seedlings. There are some established plants too and I find Red Deadnettle, Smooth Sowthistle, Chickweed and Nipplewort in flower.  Goldcrests chatting overhead are still a constant soundtrack and I see Redwings, migrant thrushes from Scandinavia, leapfrog from tree to tree in the direction of green Dulwich. 

As I’m walking I imagine a natural map of this area in which trees, parks and other green space would come to the fore and buildings and roads would recede. We take it for granted that our city maps focus primarily on roads. How have we let that happen?

Up over Red Post Hill and along to Champion Hill. I’m distracted by the desperate need for a pee now, a complication of walking during lockdown. Crossing a supermarket carpark to use the toilets, I look past the Cow Parsley into undergrowth and see a glimpse of two blue tents. This is the only space I’ve seen today where you could hide them, where it hasn’t been concreted, tidied, fenced to keep unwanted people out.

I cut back across the borough from East Dulwich to Peckham Rye before heading back up the wooded hill home. In a small way, today will change my internal map. For good.


  1. I love this. One of the first things I did when I moved here was find a map of the parish boundary, and walk it. How different your walk is to mine.

    1. Amanda Tuke · · Reply

      Thanks Jane x

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