Brodie McAllister FLI reports from the European Federation for Landscape Architecture / ICON regional conference

The waterfront in Helsinki
The waterfront in Helsinki

This international conference was preceded by the general assembly of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (Europe), to discuss progress on and plan action for promotion of the profession, education, communications and professional practice across Europe.

The conference began in St. Petersburg at the Marble Palace on Monday 11 June on the theme of ‘Green Infrastructure: from global to local’, with key note talks and shorter presentations from international practitioners and academics. St. Petersburg itself is a role model in how a city has rapidly progressed to becoming a modern-world cultural destination, with regenerated public spaces and multi-functional green peri-urban areas that serve communities.

A notable speaker, among several, for me, was Zeinab Feisal from a university in Egypt talking about the relationship between community and nature in Egyptian villages, particularly those surrounding lakes. As one of the early and great civilisations connected to nature through water and greenery, it was fascinating to see how Egypt has run into problems today with the decline in traditional farming and migration to urban areas and a researched framework for how to achieve harmony again.

The whole conference moved to Sweden via Helsinki on the Wednesday on the new Allegro train from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Border patrol were confused by the 41 nations represented on one train.
In Helsinki, we were treated to a tour of the city centre, Esplanade and Kaivo Park, as it lead via green wedges down to the waterfront, before catching the overnight ferry to Stockholm, where onboard discussions and some sing songs from the host nations continued into the night.

Having got the time change wrong and risen early I and a group of others were blown away by the beauty of the sunrise as we sailed across the Baltic into Stockholm’s islands. Following a tour that highlighted the amazing transformation of the city, its inspiring new residential community, Hammarby Sea City, and its green infrastructure, we moved onto Uppsala, where the university hosted the second half of the conference.

Following a rather quick tour of this bike-led city and its popular naked man sculptural seat (which is heated, incidentally) on Thursday afternoon, Friday was another packed day of keynote speakers. Notable for me was Jala Makhzoumi from the American University of Beirut talking about the urban hinterland as bio-cultural heritage – applications of an ecological landscape framework to greening Middle Eastern cities. This project research had soul and compassion for less fortunate societies and was beautifully illustrated by hand from sketch books. The conference gave opportunities also for PhD students to present their research progress, for example, Natalie Gulstrud from Denmark talked about green space branding and whether Danish cities are capitalising enough on their open space assets.

Overall, this was a stimulating and fun opportunity to network with so many interesting people and get a bigger picture from such a diverse array of countries. It highlighted that the world is making progress extremely haltingly on the theme of from global to local, but rapidly at the local and regional level. It also highlighted the need not to be content with preaching too much to the converted. but to convince the un-converted.

Brodie McAllister FLI is past vice-president of the Landscape Institute

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