How should a city meet its landscape in the twenty-first century?

The separation between City and Landscape was very clear in the Middle Ages: the city stopped and the landscape began, as in Carcasonne. This was the relationship in Europe, India, China and elsewhere. Twentieth century cities learned to sprawl. The city centres were dense enough, but the suburbs often had too much wasted land and the surrounding countryside was littered with so many lumpy buildings that it came to be called Nowhere Land.
So what should we do in the twenty-first century? Some of the problems are (1) putting limits on city size has proved impossible (2) poor people always want to move to cities from the countryside (3) rich people, in Europe and America want to move from city centres into the countryside.
My answer to the question at the head of this post is: define greenspace as ‘landscape infrastructure’ in advance of city expansion. McHarg-type landscape assessments should be made of the land around cities and long-term designations should be made to create an extensive web of land on which no building will ever be allowed. My guess is that the web will be based on (1) the existing pattern of rivers, streams and ditches (2) skyline ridges. Urban edges should be defined on the margins of this future greenweb and these margins will become the future equivalent of medieval city walls.
The IFLA student competition on Urban Boundaries is a welcome contribution to the debate.

Photograph of Carcasonne, courtesy John Wesley Barker.

The Earl of Moray's Pleasure Ground, in Edinburgh is an excellent example of a greenway with an urban edge (just visible on the skyline)

Image of St Bernards Well in Edinburgh courtesy Jonny Ho

16 thoughts on “How should a city meet its landscape in the twenty-first century?

  1. christine

    I wonder if there is a distinct border condition where it is possible to say definitely ‘I have now left the city of London’? I suppose it is easiest to think this on an aircraft having walked through the departure gate. This was also probably true of ancient and medieval cities like Carcasonne which also had gates at their boundaries.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    Aircraft gates are a good analogy but one also gets a sense of leaving London when many of the exit roads cross the M25 eg M2, M20, M11, M23. In fact I am more aware of this with London than for other large UK cities. Does Australia operate green belt policies, or is it thought that with land in such abundance there is no need for them?

  3. Christine

    Different cities have different strategies. My current understanding is:

    Darwin – no green belt.

    Brisbane – there was a one mile wide green belt proposed in the 1944 to mark the city edge. It was never implemented. The 2020 plan for Brisbane proposes a green belt lining the river.

    Sydney – around 1948-51 a green belt was proposed for Sydney however the Commonwealth Gvt forced the County of Cumberland to relinquish its plans to meet housing demands due to postwar immigration.

    Canberra – retains an effective green belt to protect its landscape setting under the hills, ridges and buffers open space system.

    Melbourne – green belt set up in the 1970s. “They were originally set aside to protect valuable agricultural land, landscapes, resources such as sand and stone, environmental features and to provide for recreational uses.” In the Melbourne 2030 legislation they are captured under the concept of green wedges.

    Hobart – no green belt.

    Adelaide – Adelaide’s central business district is encircled by the Adelaide Parklands following the plan initiated in 1837.

    Perth – is promoting a greenbelt strategy under its Green Plan.

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you. Are the greenbelt strategies set up at national level or local level? The puzzle for me is that if they national then I do not see why policies differ. But if they are local I do not see how the cities get the necessary powers, unless they purchase the land.
    In the UK we use fudge. There is a supposedly national policy, of protecting agricultural land from development, but in practice there is a slow release of land to development. This makes some farmers on the urban fringe very rich people! A grant of planning permission converts the value of land from perhaps £10,000/hectare to over £1,000,000/hectare. Their children do not need to work for generations. They spend the money on drink and drugs until it has all gone.

  5. Christine

    The green belt strategies are local strategies implemented at [city] council or state level. Councils are the legal creation of the states. Land is owned either by the state or federal government (Australia is a federation of states and territories) with a portion of the land being alienated from the crown under freehold title.

    Tom you paint a very bleak picture for the future of the children of farmers on the urban fringe!

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    The land which constitutes UK green belts is not in public ownership. The development rights to this land are ‘owned’ but then gifted to private owners, thus enriching them and their descendents. I agree with Warren Buffett that this is not good for the kids, who should have enough money to do anything but not enought money to do nothing. The Onasis and Getty children provide good examples of what can go wrong. People need something nice to do even more than they need somewhere nice to do it.

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    I see growing vegetables and sweeping up leaves as sufficiently noble purposes to make life enjoyable. The curse of wealth is inactivity. Templeton had two great interests: making money and then spending the money to obtain a scientific proof of the correctness of religion.

  8. Christine

    Tom can I suspect you of harbouring an inner Cisterian monk?
    [ ]

    Sufficiently noble purpose? What would be an insufficent noble purpose (so that life was not enjoyable)?

    What is this inactivity that you speak of? Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying “Much success can be attributed to inactivity. Most investors cannot resist the temptation to constantly buy and sell” and “Lethargy, bordering on sloth should remain the cornerstone of an investment style.”

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    I wonder if the monk would be my Ego or my Alter Ego? [Not sure if you have the intended link]
    Insufficent nobility? I think trying to keep hold of Libya comes into this category, but then again one perhaps needs villains to inspire works of art. See Zenga Zenga Song – Noy Alooshe Remix. There are both girl and no-girl versions and nothing has done as much to bring Arabs and Israelis together.

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    Unsurprisingly, as the UK begins its third ‘intervention’ in an Islamic country, the media are dominated by events in Libya. This made me think it must be the same everywhere – so I am glad if it is not the case. There is always support for stopping bullies in the UK but, as always, it is really better if the people being bullied can stop it by their own efforts. My favourite approach to dealing with dictators is making fun of them. Charlie Chaplin did this to Hitler (in The Great Dictator) without, unfortunately, achieving much. (No thoughts of the secret service for me).

  11. Christine

    Yes the media is dominated by events in Libya at the moment. (I have only given it a sideways glance.) From a theoretical perspective perhaps a considerable appreciation of history, culture and politics amongst other disciplines would be needed to entangle the situation?

    With the hindsight of history it is easier to understand the problem posed by Hitler who it is said was initially involved in the democratic process before the ‘effective’ end of democracy in Germany.

    “The next day, Heinrich Bruening handed in his resignation, effectively ending democracy in Germany.”

    One of Hitler’s campaign promises in the runoff for the presidential elections, for which he increased his vote but was ultimately unsuccessful, supposedly was ‘In the Third Reich every German girl will find a husband.’
    [ ]

    It is possible to suppose the problem finding a husband in Germany at the time was linked to the huge (male) unemployment problem.

  12. Christine

    I have some vague memory that Libya was somehow involved in the Lockerbie bombings [ ] so it seems that whatever is happening in Libya it has a very long history. [ ] and [ ].

    Not sure Al Jazeera is a good source for knowing what was happening in Libya prior to the human rights protests. Is this an Islamic viewpoint? [ ] How is Knud Valdemar Gylding Holmboe and his life story is considered by the Cisterians, the Danes and by his family?

    Is it possible that the children of Gaddafi are the genesis of the current situation within Libya? [ ] And there will probably be more than a few disappointed and ‘unemployed’ architects with the cancellation of projects in Libya.
    [ ]

    Hope you don’t mind Tom if we take Adam’s advice and lighten the mood a little and perhaps consider the cave art of Tadrart Acacus instead? [ ]

  13. Tom Turner Post author

    The story is Knud Valdemar Gylding Holmboe is new to me – and amazing. I need to read the book.
    Re the shores of the Mediterranean, I often wonder whether the future of the region Roman (ie for it to be incorporated with Europe). Its whole history is linked to the norther sea, not to Africa.


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