Monthly Archives: September 2010

Urban trees and benches should be aspects of urban forestry and urban design

The placing of benches and trees seems to bring out the worst in public authorities. Having created good SLOAP (= Space Left Over After Planning) they try to ameliorate the problem by calling up the landscapers and asking them to stick in a few benches and trees. Damn them! The correct policy is to treat urban trees not as ‘ornaments’ but as part of a multi-objective urban forestry programme. The objectives could and should include:

– improving the microclimate (eg by providing shelter and shade)
– improving views
– creating spatial containment
– helping to combat global warming
– producing fruit
– creating habitats for wildlife and increasing biodiversity
– producing firewood for local residents (eg from coppice trees)
– managing surface water (SUDS LID)

The below photograph shows Bryant Park in New York City. It was re-designed in the 1980s using ideas drawn from the greatest landscape planning theorist of the twentieth century: William H Whyte. The photographs shows urban seats which are NOT fixed in position, paving which is NOT sealed and trees which deserve the accolade ‘urban forestry’.

Top image courtesy RP Norris Lower image courtesy Ed Yourdon

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?

Should London's Tower Bridge be painted red?

Probably not, but (1) London can be a grey old place (2) red is London’s emblematic colour (3) Tower Bridge is one of the best-known London icons (4) the colour would appeal to Chinese tourists (5) from time to time, one should ‘paint the city red’ (6) I had a red toy model of Tower Bridge when I was 5 years old have always been disappointed by its present colours.

The London Tower: Home and Away.

Designing a city is a complex business. There are commercial and development pressures to be considered. But a city is more
than just a continual investment of capital and occupation of new space. It has an identity. Sometimes only a local one. But sometimes
a global one.

Sometimes a remembered one.

What gives a city its identity? Consider how much of your city can you change and still have your city recognised for the qualities that others
currently value. Ask yourself what attributes are different to other cities and what are the same.

Is going higher the best option? How should it be done? Why should it be done? And when should it be done?

If the skyline was to change which buildings would you miss?


Paris goes green

The French farmer’s protested their financial plight in a charmingly French manner by greening the Champ-Elysee.

Another unusual example of the trend towards green is the Lost House of Paris. The occupants literally live within a greenery covered house. To travel green in the city of romance you simply phone a ‘Vectrix’ taxi.

As Pierre Patel’s 1688 painting of Versailles (below)  shows, axes can be green and they can be canals. And canals can be used for transport.  Civic leaders need courage, imagination, wisdom – and a wealth of ideas from the design professions.

Planning an urban landscape for London's economic and financial future

London has had many economic roles over the centuries and now hopes to settle down as a cultural capital and somewhere between ‘Europe’s financial centre’ and ‘the world’s financial centre’. This requires a planning and design response which is likely to include
(1) more large green buildings, because big firms have big space requirements
(2) more homes for young, rich and mobile people
(3) more urban public space of the highest quality and greatest variety: busy and quiet, large and small, glazed and unglazed, soft and hard, wild and cultured, space at ground level, above ground and below ground, space for shopping and space for prayer, space with quiet water, bright water, dark water, swimming water, boating water and living water, biodiversity, socially diverse space for each cultural group (listeners to Radios 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 etc) and social space for the particular interests of ethnic, work and leisure groups.
London’s new amenities could be provided on a spatterdash basis – or London could have an urban landscape plan. The Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs was a key project. It points to what should be done, to how it should be done – and to where it should be done. London’s traditional rival is Paris, which has a bold plan, now over 300 years old, for projecting the axis of the Tuileries westward – to the Place de la Concorde, to the Arc de Triomphe, to La Défense and beyond. London has a modest plan for projecting Crossrail into the Thames Gateway. But London landscape planning lacks spatial imagination – and axes were a baroque idea.
London will require many new buildings. They should be of the best available quality – and they should be grouped to ‘define and contain’ new urban space of the best quality and variety. The urban space should be designed before the buildings. A great new urban landscape should be planned to run east from the Isle of Dogs. Olympia and York made a significant start when they commissioned Laurie Olin to plan Westferry Circus and the Canary Wharf central axis. Before this, the Isle of Dogs was being developed with small cheap buildings and a pitiful lack of long-term vision. The Hanna Olin plan was much better – but it was more of a plan for Visual Space than for Social Space or Ecological Space. The present period of relative economic stagnation is an opportunity to take a broad perspective on the eastward projection of London and its financial future. There should be a 3-year plan, a 30-year plan and a 300-year plan.
London should remember that ‘He that the beautiful and useful blends, Simplicity with greatness, gains all ends’. Urban designers, architects and landscape architects should plan a multi-functional urban landscape with the highest visual quality and as much sustainability as can be planned at this point in time, with conceptual principles prioritised over design deails.

Jean Nouvel Serpentine Pavilion and Garden 2010 persuaded the Serpentine Gallery to persuade Jean Nouvel to include a garden! persuaded the Serpentine Gallery to persuade Jean Nouvel to include a garden!

Jean Nouvel’s design models for the Serpentine Pavilion (& see below) were attractive but ‘parked’ on the grass like a se of London buses. As built, the pavilion is better related to its context. It must be that the organizers have taken heed of the Gardenvisit blog’s comments on the 2010 Serpentine Pavilion. We remarked that ‘the Serpentine Gallery has a better opportunity to promote garden and landscape design than any other gallery in London‘. It is great that the Serpentine Gallery is moving in this direction – but I think they might have replied to my letter or left a comment on the blog to say ‘thanks a bundle’.

Jean Nouvel pavilion - inspired by London's buses

London's gay and liberal landscape welcomes the German Pope

Big Ben and I would like to ‘speak for England’ in respectfully reminding the German Pope that England is more important as the home of Europe’s political passion (liberalism) than as the home of the world’s most beautiful game (football). England is the country in which Hobbes and Locke wedded Latin and Germanic ideas of freedom to create the philosophy of political liberalism. Olde England & Merrie England were anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic. Modern England legislated against these attitudes. Our land now has rights to religious freedom, sexual freedom and gay rights – with the classic constraint that there can be no freedom to harm others except in self-defense. Unlike Charlemagne and Pope Benedict XVI, I respect the right of Catholic priests to engage in consensual homosexual acts, as they have always done, providing they do no violence to others with their Priapic revelry. It is deeply troubling that ‘Roman Catholic priests in the United States are dying from AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than the general population and the cause is often concealed on their death certificates‘ I therefore invite His Holiness to get a good practice idea from Big Ben. As Big Bob sang, ‘the times they are a-changin‘. The Pope should speak the truth, respect the life sciences, study the social sciences – and provide free condoms for the everlasting relief of his priestly bretheren. And even if he is queasy about women he should have due regard for their protection from AIDS and other STDs: London’s landscape demands action – now! We welcome you to London so that you can learn from London: condoms are good for the health of the clergy.

Gay pride celebration 2010 in the urban landscape of London's Trafalgar Square - the battle of Trafalgar let Europe become liberal

Gay pride celebration 2010 in the urban landscape of London's Trafalgar Square - the battle of Trafalgar let Europe become liberal

PS: it is not all good: the statue on the southwest plinth is of General Sir Charles James Napier (1782–1853) whose conquest of Sindh province, in what is now Pakistan, led to the famous Latin telegram pecavi (‘I have sinned’). Since Napier confessed, the Pope may want to forgive him. Napier had commanded the 50th (Queen’s Own) Regiment of Foot during Napoleon’s Campaign in the Peninsular War – so the Pope may be grateful that Germany and Italy are not part of a Napoleonic French empire?
PPS re ‘the times they are a-changin‘: click to enter the site and you can you can read the lyric and listen to different versions of the soundtrack.
PPPS Greenberg, D.F., The construction of homosexuality (1990) p.253 ‘Several of Charlemagne’s capitularies concerned sins against nature, sodomy, and homosexual relations among monks’. So Charlemagne knew what the brothers were up to – and this has not changed in the past 12 centuries.

Top quality home grown organic Charlotte potatoes, seaweed-fed, flavoured with wild mint and dressed with parsley

The world's best potatoes?

The world's best potatoes?

Here are some of the world’s best potatoes – and I grew them! They are organic Charlottes, seaweed-grown, flavoured with wild mint and dressed with fresh organic parsley. No chemical fertilizers or herbicides or pesticides were used. So if the local supermarket can charge £5/kilo for their best spuds then mine must be worth £10/kilo – making the above 1.5kg worth £15. Oh, and they are photographed on an experimental roof garden, with Clematis ‘Bill MacKenzie’. Sumptuous. Delicious. Yellow. Waxy. Wholesome. Sustainable. Wonderful. Free!
But a little over-cooked, sadly.

Safety for sustainable green cyclists in London

My 19th escape: the cycling accident I nearly had in London

My 19th (?) escape: the cycling accident I nearly had in London

I picked up this helpful leaflet from the London Cycling Campaign and modified it a little to show an the occasion on which a truck driver nearly killed me – about two years ago. He behaved exactly as illustrated and knocked me onto the footpath. Lying between the wheels of his turning truck, I screamed. He heard me and stopped. Then he told me it was my own silly fault – and drove off leaving me too shocked to claim for damage to my bike. Limping home, I remembered my Mum’s poem:
“Oh dear Mama
What is that mess
That looks like strawberry jam”
“Hush hush, my dear,
That is Papa,
Run over by a tram”

Cyclists need to be sustained if we are to have sustainable cycling in London.

Socrates, chives, tomatoes and biodiversity on my London roof garden

Tomatoes and chives on a sustainable green roof in London

Tomatoes and chives on a sustainable green roof in London

Socrates looks pleased to see that my chives are doing well but misty-eye puzzled that I have let weeds grow when the space could perfectly well be used to grow tomatoes. I tell him that while my wife grows the excellent tomatoes I am contributing to London’s 2010 Sustainable Green Roof Biodiversity Action Programme. See below post on beautiful food gardening.

Beautiful food gardening – for fruit, vegetables, honey, mushrooms and eggs

Beautiful food gardening in Culross Palace Garden

Beautiful food gardening in Culross Palace Garden: for apples, figs, herbs, berries and chickens

‘Food gardening’ is a good American term for what the British tend to call ‘vegetable gardening’ – which is an inappropriate activity because it excludes fruit, fungii, honey, chickens, eggs, berries etc etc. But it would be better still if we could have an agreed name for what may have been principal activity in the world’s oldest garden and has certainly been carried on for a longer period than any other type of gardening: the combination of aesthetic and gastronimic objectives in enclosed and cultivated garden plots. Growing food was a major objective in Europe’s Medieval and Renaissance gardens – and may well (according to Craig Clunas) have been important in the pre-Qing classical gardens of China. In modern Europe and America food gardening is already showing signs of being the ‘next big thing’ in the design of private gardens and public parks. So we need a good name for this good activity. It is illustrated by photographs of Culross Palace Restored Medieval Garden.

I propose BEAUTIFUL FOOD GARDENING as a name for aesthetic-gastronomic horticulture but would welcome suggestions for alternatives.

A beautiful food garden - the re-created medieval garden at Culross Palace in Fife, Scotland

A beautiful food garden - the re-created medieval garden at Culross Palace in Fife, Scotland