London can become a Roof Garden City – but it needs imaginative design as well as town planning

Ebenezer Howard proposed garden cities outside London. That’s fine but Central London should adopt the landscape policy of becoming a Roof Garden City. Property developers should be rewarded for providing green roof gardens and punished on those few occasions when they find reasons for not providing roof gardens and sustainable green roofs on new buildings. Visually, this is the single most important policy for making London a Green Roof City. As everyone knows, London is already the world’s Garden Capital. Now it should become the world’s Roof Garden Capital.
But I doubt if it will. British town planners are far too unimaginative – and Singapore’s planners are way out in front. As I ride my bike around London I often think ‘Why does the RTPI exist? What, in heaven’s name, do town planners DO? Why not dissolve the Royal Town Planning Institute?’ The answer, I think, is that most of their effort goes into a sometimes-useful attempt to stop landowners doing what they want to do. UK planners seem to have no positive achievements – except, perhaps, in helping developers evade planning restrictions dreamed up by their professional colleagues.
Thomas Mawson published an attractive book on Civic Art in 1911 and became a founder member of what is now the Royal Town Planning Institute in 1914. Then, in 1929, he became first president of what is now the Landscape Institute. Perhaps we need an agreed division of labour between the two professional institutes: the RTPI can stop developers from doing bad things and the Landscape Institute can encourage them to do good things.

10 thoughts on “London can become a Roof Garden City – but it needs imaginative design as well as town planning

  1. jerry

    Make the roof green is a good idea, but if we built public park on the roof of skyscrapers, will people use it? how to manage the heath and safety issue with regard to the use of the POS?

  2. Yuan

    Another point is: Does landscape architect have equal position as town planners? I think the answer is no, because landscape architect always are misunderstood by architects and urban designers…

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Pedestrian safety is definitely a consideration but see One New Change (0.30 on the above video). It is a privately owned public space at roof level and I have not heard of any public safety issues. Landscape architects could be as influential as the other professions, or more influential, if they were bolder about making proposals which appeal to the imagination of ‘real people’.

  4. Christine

    Yes. I think Canberra began to lead the way in the garden city roof garden city stakes – [ ] but unfortuneately now it seems more afraid of not looking like a city in the conventional sense of a conglomeration of highrises or dense built development.

    It would be great to think that landscape architects could develop a more rounded imagination of what the urban realm could look like if it incorporated more than bricks and mortar in an approximation of a concrete jungle!

    Otherwise we may have to be satisfied with the return of the mural!
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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I remain a great admirer of the parliamentary roof garden in Canberra – while continuing to regret that it is a dreary lawn. But maybe its justified. It always surprises me that Canberra’s rainfall is similar to London’s. Its average temperatures are about 10C higher. When London is in the 20s everyone lies on the grass, if its sunny. Does this happen on the green roof?
      Sucre is said to be a great city for graffiti. It would be good if cities could find a way of controlling walls where graffiti is welcome/unwelcome.

  5. Christine

    Yes. Melbourne has turned street art into a virtue in the laneway galleries which are vibrant café and small retail hub. It relies the promotion of small grain development, maintaining the Victorian heritage character and respecting the potential of the Hoddle grid. But the result is magical!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Melbourne’s street art is wonderful.
      In my lack of knowledge about Australia, I would have guessed it would be classified as an un-Australian activity. Is the artwork done by the owners? or with the permission of the owners? – or is it the kind of thing you discover when you get back from a a few drinks, wondering if someone put something extra in them?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Melbourne’s policy is terrific. They should offer consultancy to other cities. But I wonder what happens if neighbours object. I can’t imagine my neighbours (or me!) being happy if one household decided to convert its London stock brick to an a Tarzan and Jane mural. In fact they might object if I wanted to paint my house white!

  6. Christine

    According to some commentators Melbourne’s street art puts in on the tourist map (alongside Berlin, New York, London,Los Angeles and SaoPaulo) enabling it to compete with Sydney and the famous harbour and Opera House. Perhaps you could post the London street art policy so we could compare policies? Perhaps, like Melbourne there are some areas where street art is actively welcomed (Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick and St Kilda) and some areas where it is discouraged?

    It has taken the Victorian government some time to come to this policy position and the situation is still evolving on whether to conserve particular pieces. (Ie a Banksey piece was provided with a perspex cover but was vandalised nonetheless). Likewise, preserving the lane way buildings within Melbourne’s CBD from demolition and redevelopment is a challenge. So the issues of heritage and conservation are live in Melbourne too.


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