Should we be asking for a ‘soiled city’ rather than a ‘green city? Read our roundup of the Landscape Institute’s debate at the Garden Museum

Christopher Woodward introducing the debate at the Garden Museum
Christopher Woodward introducing the debate at the Garden Museum

The ideas and optimism that fuelled the Garden City movement of the 20th century are still very much alive, said Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum, as he introduced the ‘Realising the Green City’ debate on 16 November.

But the concepts and the language we use to describe those aspirations are still very much in question, according to the panelists.

Chaired by Alastair McCapra, LI chief executive, the panel consisted of landscape architect Kim Wilkie Hon FLI of Kim Wilkie Associates; Chris Young, editor of The Garden; and landscape architect Annie Coombs FLI.

For Wilkie, the battle to get public and private sector developers to accept the need for a greener city is “already won”, but the specifics of what constitutes – and indeed, what we want, from a green city – are yet to be defined.

Developers know that greenery makes money, he said, but current visions of the green city lack a thorough understanding of what function the greenery will have. “How will we use the city? We need to be specific. “What kind of food do we want to grow? What type of soil do we need?” he said.

Such specifics will vary from city to city depending on its needs, said Coombs, and suggested that development of the green city could be done incrementally so that there is local engagement, as opposed to masterplanning. “What is important are the concepts,” she said.

However, she emphasised the need for good communication around the concepts of the green city, as “not everyone is interested in getting their hands dirty”.

Young argued that the concept of retrofitting the city was a particular challenge. “On a small scale it works, but how we do that on a big scale is not yet clear,” he said.

Part of the challenge is in redefining the perception of cities from grey to green, and finding an approach that unifies the grey and the green, rather than sets them against each other, he said.

Wilkie said: “In my experience, most local authorities want to do the right thing [with regards to landscape in the city], but they are under an enormous amount of pressure.”

He said he was “optimistic” about the future of a greener city, but that it meant being determined with local authorities and developers, and providing them with specific, technical arguments about how it should be created.

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