Category Archives: Public parks

The Englishness of English policy, English gardening and English gardens

A video clip of a 71-year-old lady using her handbag to stop a gang of thieves robbing a jeweller is being shown everywhere. Ann Timson deserves to be memorialised in a park or garden. She encapsulates a strand in English foreign policy and English garden design. Instead of making a permanent alliance with any foreign power, England’s aim was always to maintain a balance of power and to support the rights of small countries. Burglars had to be fought. Bullies had to be defeated. It was self-interest. Nor was any foreign style of garden design ever adopted in its entirety. Nor is any one plant allowed to dominate a garden. Young plants are cherished like children – and then ruthlessly cut back when they begin to overwhelm their neighbours. A good place for a statue of Ann Timson bashing the burglars would be at the other end of Victoria Tower Gardens from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.

Note: if the Youtube link does not work, the video can also be seen here and here or, with an advert and an American commentary, here.

Getting wet: staying on the edge

As we await two expected tropical cyclones in North Queensland the following questions have a particular poignancy. What is the solution to coast inundation? Are there ways in which we can get used to getting wet and enjoy it as part of the experience – akin to playing in the surf?

While the Israeli port project may not offer the solution to the landfall of tropical cyclones, it might inspire ways to accommodate a slightly less defined and changeable boundary between the sea and land.

Mayslits Kassif Architects urban regeneration of the Tel Aviv Port is a landmark project which saw “the suspension of all the area’s rezoning plans” and set a precedent for “transformation not propelled by building rights, but by a unique urban design strategy.” The project received the 2010 Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize.

Saving the prickly and cute…

…And all creatures great and small.

Having recently experienced the flooding of my city I am keen to help some of the less visible victims as well. Having spotted a dead echidna by a tree next to a usually busy road in a flood affected inner city suburb, and realizing that he was most probably washed there in the flood waters from Toowoomba, I am keen to start an online charity to assist wildlife.

I am proposing an Ark Appeal for Wildlife. Would gardenvisit be happy to sponsor a charity and gardenvisit readers happy to contribute to it?

Style Conscious

In 1730 Queen Charlotte ordered the damming of the Westbourne River as part of a general redevelopment of Hyde Park and Kennsington Gardens by Charles Bridgeman. The Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park is the remnant of the Westbourne River which since 1850 has been diverted into a culvert and runs into the Thames near Chelsea. “The Serpentine Lake was one of the earliest artificial lakes designed to appear natural” and was widely imitated. The Long Water because of its relatively undisturbed nature is a significant wildlife habitat.

Hyde Park and its surrounds has changed considerably since its inception. Contextualising the statute of Achilles by Richard Westmacott which was said to have originated in the classical taste of the Countess Spencer, demonstrates the remarkable changes that have taken place both in the use of the park and in the urban environment which surrounds it. The Queen and Prince Albert are drawn taking air in their carriage as they pass by the statute c1840.

Achilles meanwhile remains a most admired archetypical hero.

Cities in their landscape setting

The landscape setting of cities is a vital component of their character which can often be overlooked. This is particularly so for designers when they are considering contributions to the design of the skyline. Hong Kong with its harbour and mountainous surrounds benefits from the scenic amenity of its setting. And because of the physical and visual strength of these geographic characteristics the setting is able to support a dense tall city.

The relationship between building and landscape is worthy of considerable design attention. The name Hong Kong literally means ‘fragrant harbour’. Victoria harbour is one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. Reclamation projects dating from the late 1842 (1890, 1930, 1960, 1980 and 1990) have progressively advanced Hong Kong’s shoreline.

In Hong Kong they recognise some of the benefits of landscape saying that the landscape is an asset which contributes to well-being, helps define the identity of the city, provides habitats for wildlife and is part of their culture and heritage.

Fitting into tight spaces

The question of urban density seems to keep being asked anew every five years or so. It is said that in 1800 only three percent of the world’s population lived in cities.
That means many of us have become used to tighter spaces very quickly in evolutionary terms. Do we need to tie ourselves in knots to fit into designed spaces? What does this mean for the design of our cities? What is the relationship between green spaces and built spaces?

Has London gotta lotta bottle? – or too many garks?

The Urban Dictionary gives these meanings for ‘bottle’:
1)Transparent Container, usually for liquids that is narrow, circular-based, mostly handle-less and with an ever-narrowing top, where the opening is found.
2) To hit someone on the head with a glass bottle, smashing the bottle in the process.
3) Guts or determination
4) Female with no volouptous features, in comparison to 1)
So ‘Yes’ for its urban space. But ‘No’ for its many garks.

A vacant London gark

Batchelor Life in the Green Age

So what are the essentials of life for the modern batchelor in the Green Age? Is a good view to a natural setting a pre-requisite for happiness in habitation? Should he be provided with a balcony so that he can commune with the outdoors while still ensounced in his pad? Or does the modern batchelor still insist on his own patch of dirt? Perhaps a fast or all terrain vehicle would satisfy a desire to experience the outdoors…afterall what are weekends for?

Or in the Green Age has the batchelor become a totally urbanised creature? Is access to a good coffee shop, a waterfront promenade and urban night life the essential accessory for a good life?

Another modernist housing estate in London bites the dust – the Ferrier Estate

After years of deliberation, they have begun pulling down the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke (London Borough of Greenwich). The estate looks decent, many of the external spaces are good and many of the residents were very happy living there. SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
See what the Ferrier Residents Action Group thinks. The London Evening Standard summarizes the situation as follows: “The Ferrier Estate is seen as one of London’s worst examples of Seventies planning, and its concrete towers were allowed to run down over three decades. Unemployment among its residents has been as high as 75 per cent. The estate was also plagued by crime and violence.” But unemployment, crime and violence (and drug-dealing) are not design problems and, as the Evening Standard‘s illustration shows, the morphology of the new housing is uncannily similar to the housing one can see being demolished (on the left side of the photograph).
I remember working on a number of projects like the Ferrier Estate during the 1970s and on one occasion the project team wanted to reduce the external works budget. I told them that ‘The oak trees on my drawings will be approaching maturity when they come to demolish your trashy little boxes’. On the evidence of the Ferrier Estate I might have added that ‘if you give me some money to spend on garden walls it might evey prolong their life’ (let’s hope they keep the good courtyards on the Ferrier Estate). If more musical, I should then have sung Pete Seeger’s Little Boxes:
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same
Listen to Pete Seeger

The nicely treed courtyard in the photograph should have been (1) overlooked from the surrounding flats, as a traditional London Square would be (2) accessible to residents only (like the London squares around Ladbroke Grove). As presently managed, it should not be called a ‘yard’ or ‘garden’ – it is merely a public open space (POS) with no evident use. Bad management by Greenwich Council should not be used as an excuse for destroying the space.

Just around the Corner

The Architectural Association in describing ‘Landscape Urbanism’ says what Landscape it is not. It is NOT:

“…understood as a scenographic art, beautifying, greening or naturalising the city.”

And then what it IS;

“…scalar and temporal operations through which the urban is conceived and engaged with.”

Thus, Landscape Urbanism prioritises the phenomenological experience of the city, while distancing itself (perhaps defensively) from the visual aesthetic. Perhaps an ironcial realisation of this preference for the non-aesthetic is the prediction by James Corner of the disappearance of the city into the landscape. Perhaps this prophecy will be realised quite differently than the romantic post-industrial ruin?  Corner, typified by the high line project, focuses on the rehabilitation of the abandoned elements of the city and post-industrial landscape.Can landscape urbanism be artfully conceived? 

Perhaps the city of the future will afterall disappear under the advance of the landscape, but once again capture something of the beauty which is now itself abandoned by its favourite profession?

Parks now?

It is interesting to see parks within their urban setting to start to understand the relationship between urban fabric and parkland. Apparently Olmsted‘s Central Park faced something of a crisis in the 1970s and was revived in the 1980s through a major restoration project.

So the times change and people demand new things of their parks? After the French Revolution fortuneately the true value of Versailles was recognised…So hopefully designers and the public will be able to recognise the value of the past when refurbishing green spaces for the future.

Social use of space in public parks and gardens

Social use of space in public parks

In public parks, things ain't what they used to be

The public park, as we still know it, was a nineteenth century invention. The aim was to give tired industrial workers an opportunity to enjoy fresh air, flowers and music – without being tempted by booze and girls in beer gardens. But times have changed. Most workers now spend most of their time in sedentary occupations. When they have spare time, they want exercise instead of rest. This is giving benches in public parks new uses. The photograph was taken on a hot day in Rome. Even the pigeon is going for a walk.

Brilliant design for public safety in London's Finsbury Park contrasts with horrific design in Germany

Safety conscious park design in London

Wonderfully safety conscious park design in London

Here are two great ideas for protecting the public from the natural hazards of life in parks. The left photograph is of the New River. It is more than 150mm deep and therefore a considerable risk to public health and safety. Trees can also be very dangerous if one tries to climb them and one has an accident. Thank goodness for London’s vigilant park managers. Sadly, the Germans have no idea how to protect the public from danger. As the below photograph shows, Germany has so much to learn from England. We hope and expect that the 2012 London Olympic Park will show how the 1972 Munich Olympiapark should have been designed. It was such a good idea to assess the quality of English landscape design – and then hire an American landscape architect to oversee the project. The Germans had to make do with local talent back in ’72. Phew. And isn’t it disgusting that nudity is permitted in German parks? One might as well start putting beer gardens in parks and allow people to have BBQs and eat sausages. It makes one so proud to be unenlightened – but I am not that “one”.
Dangerous behaviour in Munich's Englischer Garten

Dangerous behaviour in Munich's Englischer Garten


The River Thames in London may soon have safe swimming beaches

A brave girl going for a swim in the River Thames near St Paul's Cathedral in Central London

A brave girl going for a swim in the River Thames near St Paul's Cathedral in Central London

I guess she is going to be OK. If wild swimming takes place in the River Thames upstream, as it does, then the biological hazard should be less in the tidal Thames – because the water is salty and salt is a disinfectant. ‘The discovery of a colony of short-snouted seahorses (Hippocampus hippocampus) living in the Thames means that the London river is becoming cleaner, conservationists said…Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have discovered five seahorses during routine conservation surveys in the Thames estuary in the past 18 months, evidence which they say indicates that a breeding population exists.’ The River Thames Website explains the position as follows: ‘The water quality is very good and in fact the tidal Thames is now acknowledged to be one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world’. Thames water is pleasantly warmer than sea water with about 75% of its ‘thermal pollution’ coming from power stations. One man’s thermal pollution is one girl’s heated water. There is also a good supply of mud for her fair skin and she will be able to save money on spa treatments and make a sustainable contribution to combating climate change. One thing which does worry me though is whether she has a sufficient layer of Factor 30 sun screen. If the brave girl is poisoned there will be a public outcry and the River Thames Cleanup, underway since the 1960s, wll then be driven by a popular outcry. I regret that it takes a tragedy to effect reform but as Tertullian remarked, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’.

The snowball effect

Tom once the winter is over you will be free of snowball throwing teenagers! Then perhaps, given your recent acquisition of expertise in the art of dodging snowballs through firsthand experience, you can give lessons on snowball etiquette in urban and rural areas and advice for the unwary…

I found this description of teenage snowball warfare that might be of assistance in compiling the necessary advice.

Here are several scenerios with which to contextualise your advice:

Scenerio One: A seventy year-old was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun at snowball throwing teenagers.

Scenerio Two: The police and hoodies engage in snowball fight.

Scenerio Three: A man kidnaps a teenager for throwing a snowball.

Scenerio Four: Girl throws a snowball at a boy.

Scenerio Five: Police hunt teenagers throwing snowballs at traffic.

Here is some helpful opinions from the general snowball fight interested public. Overzealous teenagers, snowballs and transportation seem to be a particularly potent mix.

Marking the prime meridian of the world in Greenwich

There was a time when the meridian line was neglected in Greenwich Park. This changed for the 2000 millennium celebrations and snow brings out the best in the markers. The green laser beam glistens when it snows and the sculptor who represented Queen Victoria (I assume) as a snow queen deserves a prize. I like low impact and temporary public art.

“My name is Ozymandium, queen of queens:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

The most popular, permanent, meridian marker is 2.5 meters below the above pics. People like to be photographed with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one foot in the western hemisphere – but it is a terrible place for taking photographs: narrow, north-facing and ugly. I’d like to see a design for a Photographer’s Balcony so that people could photograph one another gazing, with the green laser, towards the North Pole. The Chinese are very keen on photographing each other in memorable locations and a really well designed facility would probably double the number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK, if not Europe.

Urban parks, POS and landscape architecture

The Skateboard park on London's South Bank is a specialised POS, created by and for its users - in defiance of the authorities

The Skateboard park on London's South Bank is a specialised POS, created by and for its users - in defiance of the authorities. It involved no capital cost and nor is there any maintenance cost.

Too many park managers have a horticultural training. To few park managers are trained in landscape architecture, garden design, event management, community leadership, economics, public accountancy or social entrepreneurship. The consequence of the imbalance is that too much public open space is managed as ‘parkland’: ‘green deserts with lollipops’, shrubberies, flowerbeds and a few facilities for young mums, sporty youths and old age pensioners. We have too much generalized public open space and too little specialized public open space.

Urban forestry and landscape architecture

    In addition to being beautiful, the trees and gravel in the Place des Vosges are good for microclimate, wildlife and hydrology.

In addition to being beautiful, the trees and gravel in the Place des Vosges are good for microclimate, wildlife and hydrology.

All good foresters know that tree planting must serve multiple objectives: beauty, timber production, habitat creation, water management, public recreation, carbon cycle re-balancing etc. Urban landscape architects, on the whole, are less enlightened. Too often, they think of tree planting as decorative activity akin to the placement of public art in cities. Urban foresters should broaden their horizons, as rural foresters claim to have done.

Image of Place des Vosges courtesy of cripics

Pioneering spirit

landscape-and-dance1It is said that the landscape architect Lawerence Halprin “worked closely with his wife, whose experiments with movement – in conjunction with a circle of avant-garde composers – informed his user-friendly designs.”

Halprin was keen to design participatory spaces rather than spaces that were merely aesthetic.

It is surprising, given his background was in plant sciences and horticulture before studying landscape architecture at Harvard, that he is best known for his work on public spaces. Although it is possible to surmise that his formative architectural interests and Bauhaus teachers influenced his sense of formal spatial design. and and