Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sugar may be the world's worst poison – so the EU subsidises sugar growers through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Sugar is a deadly poison and subsidised by the EU Common Agricultural Policy CAP. So grown your own food!

Prof John Yudkin showed, in 1957 that the consumption of sugar and refined sweeteners is closely associated with coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The argument was presented in a famous book Pure, White and Deadly (1972) which was, of course, bitterly attacked by the sugar and soft drinks industries. This may be why Robert H. Lustig (Prof of Clinical Pediatrics, at the University of California) called his much-watched Youtube video Sugar:the Bitter Truth. He extends Yudkin’s argument and explains how sugar is a major factor in heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers, with most of our sugar intake coming from processed foods and soft drinks. A dangerous consequence of eating sugar is that it stimulates the apetite and makes you put on weight. The food processors’ second favourite additive, salt, may be the world’s second worst poison.
So how does the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) deal with this terrible poison? It gives its largest subsidies to sugar producers, of course. Tate & Lyle Europe is the largest UK recipient of CAP money (T&L has received €828m since 1999). I say ‘of course’ because the CAP is a very bad thing, if not quite as bad as the Common Fisheries Policy (CAF) which has led to the ruination of Europe’s fish stocks.
So what has sugar to do with landscape and gardens? Two things (1) the safest food to eat is food which has not been influenced in any way by food processing or the CAP (ie food which has been home grown in gardens and urban agriculture plots) (2) Europe’s current financial crisis is the best hope for some time that the CAP might be reformed – and when this happens there will be an opportunity to switch some of the expenditure towards rural public goods – and away from such notable public bads as the production and use of sugar in processed foods. Landscape planning for growing vegetables in urban areas has to become a key input to the urban design process. It involves strategic policies for water, soils, air, light recycling, land-use and roofspace-use.
The safest nutritional policies are (1) grow you own food (2) cook your own food. The home-grown tomatoes in the above photograph are so delicious they do not need cooking or flavouring. An interesting thought is that if more people composted household waste and grew their own food then GDP/head would fall, because less food would be sold, transported etc. There would also be less expenditure on health care. So I guess politicans, who are elected for promoting ‘economic growth’ will be against it, supported by their economic advisers.

Garden design for modernist architecture: Le Corbusier and Patrick Gwynne

Gardens at Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye and Patrick Gwynne's Homewood

Le Corbusier cared deeply about greenspace but liked to view if from afar and above. He was not an enthusiast for gardens, as can be seen from the Villa Savoye. It has an attractive roof terrace but is plain old grass at ground level. Many of Corb’s British admirers shared his views and gave little attention to gardens. Patrick Gwynne was a notable exception. The Homewood was designed shortly before the Second World War and its garden was dug up during the war to make space for growing vegetables. This would have made it easy for Gwynne to lay a Corbusian lawn but, over the many years he enjoyed his beautiful house, Gwynne gave much attention to making what is best described as a classic example of the Gardenesque Style. From a theoretical standpoint, it does not seem the right thing to have done. But which of them to you think had the ‘correct’ attitude to gardens? And which house would you rather live in?

Could Hemel Hempsted's Jellicoe Water Gardens be managed by volunteers?

Volunteering to help in public parks and gardens

Would British gardeners volunteer to help with local public parks and gardens? The Americans do!

We observed that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace and that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse. This led to a number of people making contact to say ‘If someone started a Friends of the Water Gardens organisation then I would help’. This, I believe, is the best way forward. As our Prime Minister would say ‘It is a Big Society initiative which would cost Dacorum Borough Council little and make the standard of care much higher’. Jane Austen, however, would have said that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that two old ladies with good skills can manage a garden better than a dozen youths in sweatshirts’. I would caution her against sexism but confirm that good gardens need brains more than they need brawn. A gardener has to know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it and why it is being done.
Britain is a nation of gardeners to a much greater extent than it is a nation of shopkeepers – and to a much greater extent than America. But UK public parks make hardly any use of volunteers. The UK National Trust, in comparison, makes extensive use of volunteer gardeners and in the USA it the normal way of managing public gardens and parks. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, for example has a page for volunteering. So do US gardens open to the public, like Longwood and so do US botanical gardens like Missouri.
My suggestion to Dacorum Borough Council (DBC) is to provide an elegant little building with a verandah where volunteers can keep their tools, wash their hands, make tea, distribute seeds and keep an eye on the gardens. You can see how this would work at Phoenix Garden in London. It is an approach which would soon make the Hemel Hempsted Water Gardens a beautiful place and a social amenity. Old folks would go there to meet their friends and get healthy exercise. The Council might find its social services bill falling as fast as its parks maintenance bill. The lager drinkers one sometimes sees in the Water Gardens might change to a life of tea drinking and hard work. Younger volunteers might find that the skills learned from older gardeners leading to skilled employment. So come on DBC: why not make everyone happier and reduce the Council budget? Isn’t that your job?

What should be done with the Gadaffi Golden Fist Crushing American Jet Statue from his Tripoli compound?

What should be done with the Gadaffi Golden Fist American Jet Statue

What should be done with the Gadaffi Golden Fist American Jet Sculpture?

Delighted to see the approaching end of the Gadaffi regime, and having offered an urban landscape idea yesterday, I am wondering how garden designers could help today. One idea is to invite suggestions for what to do with Gadaffi’s respond Golden Fist Crushing American Jet Statue (the Bab al-Azizyah Tripoli compound, where it stands, was stormed a few hous ago). The thinking behind my suggestion is (1) it was a pity that so many statues of Marx and Lenin were destroyed when the Soviet Union fell (2) I like the way London handled a similar problem, by putting a statue of Charles I at one end of Whitehall and a statue of the man who secured the removal of his head (Oliver Cromwell) at the other end of Whitehall (3) history’s monsters should be reviled but not forgotten.
So my suggestion is to place Gadaffi’s Golden Fist American Jet Statue in a garden, to show it is harmless, and to treat it as a rejected toy viewed by frightened children. They would be adult-size plastic scultpures, to symbolise the fact that dictators are plastic-ey overgrown kids. Other ideas welcome.

Garden image courtesy susan402

Make it extraordinary

What makes the setting of a town extraordinary? What makes a development extraordinary? What makes a garden extraordinary?

Is it the subtlety of colour? Is it the unexpected? Strong formal qualities? A sense of fun? Or a location to die for?

Or the delight of the whimsical? Or recognition of the familiar?

Just what is the X-factor that makes a design extraordinary?

Re-naming Green Martyrs' Square in Tripoli



As a ‘green’ who loathes tyrants, few political events give me more pleasure than seeing one of them preparing to bite the dust, as today. But should Tripoli’s ‘Green Square’ be renamed ‘Martyrs’ Square’ as they propose? Some of the considerations are:

  • It received its present name because ‘green is the colour of Islam’
  • But ‘green’ is now closely associated with ‘green politics’
  • A ‘Martyr’ was originally a witness
  • But the word was taken over by Christianity to mean someone dies for their religion
  • These days one can be a martyr to pretty much anything

So my suggestion is to call it the Green Martyrs’ Square and associate it with (1) the coming together of two Abrahamic faiths: Islam and Christianity, which effected the revolution (2) the political aspect of the green movement (eg wide community involvement in decision making) (3) Libya’s future as a generator of green energy from solar power, when the oil runs out. The present Green Square has been used by both the parties which are struggling for power in Libya today; debate is esssential and it is better done by ‘jaw jaw’ than ‘war war’; there is a need for governmental cities, national and local, to have urban squares dedicated to public debate. See previous discussion of Parliament Square and Tiananmen Square. Debates are sometimes uncomfortable but a society without debate is on one, or more, of the roads to ruin.

Parks managers, parks police and polite gardeners

Expert gardeners should maintain good order among plants and people in public parks and gardens

Expert gardeners should maintain good order among plants and people in public parks and gardens

I had a chat with a gardener in one of London’s Royal Parks this week and he was a nice a man as you could meet anywhere. He loved his work and he loved the visitors who admire his work. Talking about a park user who seemed troubled, and who he tried to look after, he remarked that ‘One thing I know for sure is that whatever you do in this world – you get it back tenfold’. His idea was that she must have treated some people badly and now she was experiencing the consequences. Anyway, he was such a nice man that it made me wonder about the park administrator vixen who shouted at Tian Yuan with the help of a portable PA system. I think it is wrong to have separate administrations for gardening staff and policing staff. Instead, they should give the gardeners more training and more money and more responsibility – and smartphones. If they have serious trouble they should film what is happening and call on support from the real police. The video could be recorded in the police station in real time. The advantages would be (1) the public tend to love and respect good gardeners who make beautiful places (2) there would be less expenditure on parks police – and less aggro to park visitors.

Careers and jobs for landscape architects in an expanding profession

Brochure for the American Soceity of Landscape Architects ASLA 2011 Annual Meeting and Expo

Jonathan Mueller, as President of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2011, writes that ‘As a profession, we are entring a time of unparalleled opportunity. One of great promise. One where the fruits of our collective efforts have begun to be realized. In July 2009, Engineering News-Record ran a cover article titled “Landscape Architecture Rising,” citing the ascent of landscape architects to the forefront of major engineering projects. Speaking at the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting last year, architect Andres Duany declared, “Its not cool to be an architect. Its cool to be a landscape architect. That’s the next cool thing.” The Architect’s Newspaper featured a cover story in March about the surge in major commissions goint to landscape architects, stating, “Traditionally, the architect was the master builder with landscape designers as mere ancilleries. Today that relationship is fast being reversed.”‘
They used to say that ‘When America sneezes, Britain catches a cold’ and I would like the UK to join the US on this path. It should be a great time to embark on a career in landscape architecture. I remember reading, in a British journal in the 1970s, that ‘50% of job advertisements for landscape architects fail to attract any applicants’. Given the immensity of the opportunities facing the landscape architecture profession in almost every country, the employment prospects for landscape architects may well return to this level – worldwide. However: the landscape architecture profession needs to do a great deal more to explain itself and to promote itself. The Summer 2011 issue of the LI Journal, Landscape, suggests that one of Britain’s best-known architects is helping with his remark that the day of the architect is over and ‘the day of the landscape architect is today’. Stansfield Smith would have been nearer the mark if had said that the green cities imperative makes it necessary for architects and landscape architects to work ‘hand in glove’.

Social surveys for recreational use of public open space and parks

The orange sign reads: Danger. Do not go into the water. Do not allow dogs into the water. Parks Police 020 8871 7532

Park managers use very sophisticated social survey techniques to find out what people want to do in parks. I have noticed this in many countries: they discover what people want to do and then they ban the activity.
Or should we view these photographs of Battersea Park on a hot day as evidence of:
– sinful people damaging the innocent water by bathing in it?
– gross negligence by the sinister Parks Police?
In the good old days there were no Parks Police – there were Park Keepers with responsibility for both gardening and public order.
London’s Victoria Park still has a Bathing Pond but its use for bathing is no longer permitted. You can, however, swim in The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park – demonstrating that neither health nor safety is the reason for prohibiting bathing in most of London’s public parks. The underlying problem is that parks managers are not responsible to park users: they see themselves as owner-managers, as masters and not as servants of the public.

Illegal water fun in Battersea Park

It is hard to know whether this couple is breaking the law

Healing hurts: past

The big picture of the London Riots is very disturbing. The burnt out shell of the 140 year old Reeves furniture store is symbolic of the losses London has suffered. “It is now likely that the damage which was ‘worse than the blitz’ would force the ravaged building to be demolished and rebuilt.” How to explain the mindless and pointless destruction and the reckless endangering of life supposedly by a twentyone year old?

So is it social division, or a bizarre new form of recreation to relieve ennui, the result of political correctness, a new phenomenon of virtual gangs or some other cause?

More importantly, how should London rebuilt to heal hurts past and with a renewed confidence as the Olympic city? And what lessons does the experiences in London hold for the sustainable urban design and planning of other complex global cities?

London recreational looting in August 2011

Hozinja took this photo and made this comment ‘Caught in the middle of rioting on my way home last night. Fortunately the trouble was brief on Walworth Road and no buildings were set alight. Just young kids sensessly looting. These two girls stormed out of Boots with a few pickings as the police were making their way down the road.’ The two girls are wicked but they are not ‘senseless’. They are looting a shop and they know that they are unlikely to be arrested. If, as elsewhere, a large group is involved then it would be riot (‘A violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd’) and I agree with Christine that the Riot Act should be read and enforced. This act was a British statue from 1715-1973. It may have been in need of modification but it should not have been repealed. Our forebears were right to involve a non-policeman in the decision. Typically a magistrate would read the Riot Act and anyone who remained at the scene would be guilty for that reason alone. The wording was ‘Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!’
But how to deal with the riot is less important than the prevention of future riots. I agree with John Bird (founder of the Big Issue magazine) that every person who receives unemployment benefit should do something in return for the money. But what could they do? My suggestion, thinking about my area of interest, is that 20% of the greenspace in London could be used for urban agriculture and that the work could be done by the presently unemployed.
Straying outside my professional interests, there are many elderly and infirm people who could stay on in their own homes, instead of being brutalised in ‘care’ homes, if they had personal helpers.
The underlying truth is that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ – assuming he counts looting a Boots shop as ‘work’.

Olympic 2012 Park landscape and architecture

In 2005 I made my predictions and stated an intent to monitor the progress of the 2012 London Olympic Park. I took 500+ photographs of the site and hoped to follow the changes. This did not work, because they had to close off public access to the site, but I was kindly invited to view progress on 22.7.2011. The first point to strike me, on the jaw, was the total inability of the architects to work together. There is no relationship of any kind between the sports buildings. What, one might ask, can one expect of Zaha Hadid (Aquatics Centre), Michael Hopkins (Velopark), Populous (Olympic Stadium) or MAKE (Handball Arena)? This is an easy question to answer: I expected them to TALK to each other and to create a whole which is more than the sum of its parts, more than a bag of Liquorice Allsorts. I also expected the client to ensure that this conversation took place and had a fruitful outcome. But they didn’t. The landscape architects could have done the design co-ordination, had they been asked. Instead, they have designed a swathe of greenspace which can be expected to help in unifying the outdoor landscape. The underlying principles are ‘Bauhaus’: the outdoor form of the buildings reflects their internal function. The buildings have an outdoor setting which is more nature than garden (like the Meisterhäuser in Dessau). Someone, as yet unidentified, had the excellent idea of having acres and acres of wildflower meadow flowing around the buildings and along the river. It will be colourspace instead of greenspace and it will help distinguish the 2012 Olympic park from a 1980s British Garden Festival.
A very disappointing aspect of the Olympic 2012 Park is that the general public will have NO ACCESS in 2012. We Londoners have paid for many of the facilities. We will have our city greatly disrupted during the games. But there are no plans to let us see our park. Only the ticket holders will have this privilege – and a great many more people applied for tickets than have received tickets. A friend bid for £3000 of tickets and got none. After the Olympic Games end the plan is to keep the park closed and set about the task of transforming it for public access some time in 2013. I urge a re-consideration. They should open the park to FREE PUBLIC ACCESS FOR AT LEAST TEN DAYS AFTER THE END OF THE GAMES.
My 2005 comment on the prospects for the 2012 Olympic Park gave reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism. In July 2011 the site looked like a road widening scheme near an airport, so I can’t say. My guesses are (1) the wildflowers will be wonderful (2) the buildings, as individual objects, will be handsome (3) there is a risk of the end product resembling a collision between an airport and garden festival. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
The below photograph, also taken from outsidethe park, shows what might have been achieved inside the park if more of the vernacular Lea Valley could have been retained. My belief is that it could have been done and that it has not been done.

The future is blossoming

The stained glass windows of Josef Albers (1920-33) demonstrate the remarkable advances that were made in glass art in the period between 1885 (with the Tiffany glass Company) and 1933 (with students from the Bauhaus), and the increasing links between emerging art movements and gardens (hinted at by Filoli ).

Art Nouveau began a remarkable period in the history of art, when designers inspired by nature and natural forms, began a creative transformation which would lead to the pure abstraction of Modernism, perhaps most typified in the work of Gustav Klimt.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the third generation of successful American entrepreneurs. His father founded the jewelry company, Tiffany & Co, while his grandfather had been a leading cloth manufacturer.

Mirroring the emerging emancipation of women which typifies the age, the daffodil lamp, designed by one the ‘Tiffany Girls’ Clara Discoll, is considered among the most famous of the studio’s designs.