Landscape and Regeneration Symposium

London, 24 & 25 October 2008

Park-led regeneration involves major investment, so one of the first questions tends to be where does the money come from? Elizabeth Goodfellow Zagoroff looked at parks in New York and Boston before focusing on the Millennium Park, Chicago.

A “sculpture park on steroids”, this brownfield site has became a huge attraction with key buildings such as the Gehry Art Institute, the Pritzker Music Hall, the Anne Lurie Garden, the Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate and many more; these were funded by benefactors, who in turn benefit from tax breaks for their generosity. By contrast the regeneration of Paris, through the creation of parks such as the Parc de Bércy, Parc André Citröen and les Viaducts des Arts, involved central and local government funding. In these park-led regeneration schemes the balance between subsidized social and private housing and the area and type of space to be provided was stipulated from the outset.

In London the first impetus to post industrial regeneration came in 1981 when the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up to regenerate the derelict docks and industrial sites; designated an Enterprise Zone, offering very favourable terms to developers. Since then the UK has seen a variety of approaches to the funding of regeneration, many of them inspired by HLF funding for the restoration/regeneration of historic parks. Regeneration is, or should be, about physical, social, economic and cultural change, underlining the difference between it and the ‘clean sweep planning’ of the 1960s & 70s. Alas the term is now tending to be hi-jacked by developers and applied to single use developments.

David Lambert looked at the role of parks in place-making in the early LCC housing estates of the 1930s, at the post WW2 New Towns and the development of Milton Keynes as a forest city in the 1970s; the historic context to present-day park-led regeneration. The creation in 1996 of the HLF Urban Parks Programme sought to reverse the apparent terminal decline of our public parks.

At last the historic, social and economic value of public parks began to be understood; recent developments call into question how much these lessons have been learned.

John Hopkins brought us up to date on the Olympic Park’s design by Hargreaves Associates (involved in the design and long term legacy of the Sydney Olympics site). London’s 2012 site involves the Lea River Park and 2.7 km of greenway. The skilful graphics, where the sun always shines and people stroll about, were very seductive; it was not clear what facilities would be available in the post-Olympics landscape and indeed why people would seek to visit for other than sporting reasons.

Ken Worpole, discussed the East London Green Grid, arguing that networks and parks represented two different worlds; Urban Greenspace (i.e. the Green Grid and Green networks) equals ‘modern’, whereas parks do not. People understood parks, but they did not understand grids and networks and indeed from some of the illustrations he showed, one could quite understand why they did not! The Lea Valley, Mile End Park and Burgess Parks are all linear parks criss-crossed by road and rail links. They are in other words collages, rather than unified landscapes and indicate that we are moving into a world of networks. In discussion, many of the points raised questioned both the Olympics site and the Green Grid proposals. Were they in effect a ‘colonial’ exercise? In the present economic situation many argued for a revised plan for the whole Olympic site, so that sustainability and recyclability were emphasised. Did we really need iconic buildings when wonderful temporary structures were available?

On the second day, Axel Griesinger looked at the contribution of Erwin Barth to park design in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the environmental issues of the 1960s, the influences of the moon landing, megastructures and the development in landscape design of what came to be known as the ‘technological sublime’. This found expression in the Munich Olympics site, 1972 with Frei Otto’s translucent tent spanning the stadia and halls. The aim was to create Olympia in a park, set in a landscape that Grzimek called ‘democratic green’. Other parks were made on sites to have a minimum impact on what was already in existence. It culminated in the creation of a dramatic series of landscapes within the vast area of the Ruhr coal and steel industries:

Landschaftspark Duisberg Nord (Emscher Park) is an astonishing landscape. Indeed to anyone used to the diktats of Health and Safety in the UK it is a wonderfully liberating experience!

When Isabelle van Groeningen was looking for a location to set up a nursery and school in Berlin she came upon the Royal Gardeners’ Training Institute, Berlin, founded by Peter Lenné in 1826 as a gardening school and nursery, to educate professional gardeners. Astonishingly much of the site survived, including a range of glasshouses; it is now the focus for a thriving business. While German Garden Festivals are immensely popular, they do not necessarily provide ideas which ordinary people could translate to their own gardens; flat dwellers do not experience gardens at a personal level, yet they are often passionate about plants, whether on balconies, or indoors. Isabelle and her partner developed strategies here to help people clarify their ideas and this important historic site is now being well used.

In ‘The Garden Festival as Creator of New Landscape’ Patricia White focused on two landscapes created in Thuringia in 2007. The site of one of these was formerly an area of open cast uranium mining. From this hostile environment a new landscape was created with allotments, gardens, an artificial beach, play areas and a gravestone and memorial display; a feature which is very popular! On the other site a new dramatic landscape was created on two sides of a valley, which at the same time retained memories of the past mining activities. This site also features the longest wooden pedestrian bridge in Europe, the Dragon’s Tail. There are cafes and beer gardens associated with both site, but no shops. 1.5m visitors came in 2007.

Garden Tourism is now big business; in the UK its value is estimated at some £200m p.a. Dominic Cole gave us some statistics: there are 150,000 gardens to visit in the UK, which are visited by 64% of the population. It is not just about paying customers; Hampstead Heath has 7.2m visitors p.a.

Allison Wainwright focused on the remediation of a landfill site in Kent, formerly a ragstone quarry and subsequently a tip for household waste; a popular 20ha community park and garden has been created. Much of challenge in such projects lies in raising the funding and many sources went towards the completion of this successful scheme.

By the end of the 1990s the promenade at Hornsea was in a very sad state. Simon Ward, of W.S. Atkins, showed how the investment of £1m for its restoration, had not only provided an exciting new seafront attraction, but was also attracting visitors. Viewing platforms enabled people to look out to sea and along the coast, new lighting meant that the whole area felt safer; strong, simple landscaping and materials gave a modern feel.

Paths crossing the grass alongside the promenade, mirrored the groins below and the grass was ‘sculpted’ into gentle waves which were easy to cut, while at the same time giving a green ‘seascape’.

Discussion then focused on some the fantastic landscapes that had been presented and the skills of landscape architects. Do clients always have sufficient confidence in these skills? Perhaps they also need courses in the possibilities of the subject? Landscape brings together issues of sustainability, ecology, identity and memory and they can be truly amazing.

The seminar was supported by EH, and was expertly organised by Dr Janet Waymark.

Hazel Conway

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith