The profession understands the value of landscape but it needs to get its message across and learn to lead
The sixth and last in the current series of Landscape Futures debates acted as a rallying cry for the profession, with both the main speaker and the two respondents calling for the profession to make its voice heard and spread the message of the importance of landscape and the difference that landscape professionals can make.
Tom Armour, the global leader of landscape architecture at Arup, said, ‘We have to make it clear that what we do is essential. There are new techniques to measure and evaluate what we do. We need to understand what we have got. Our time is now.’
The landscape professions are really important, he said, because they can address the big issues facing cities. He referred to the recent report by the Arup Foresight team called Cities Alive which looks at how GI-led design can contribute to solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing today’s urban landscapes. He cited examples at all scales, from the smallest intervention to Madrid’s bold decision to put its ring road underground and Hamburg’s proposal of a car-free city.
Armour produced a slew of statistics that showed how intelligently designed landscape could improve well-being and the environment in ways that were reflected in hard commercial figures. For instance, Copenhagen estimates that a 10 per cent growth in cycling has saved its health service £12 million because people have become healthier. And mapping of green spaces against hot spots in London showed how green infrastructure can mitigate the urban heat island effect.
It is arguments like these, coupled with the fact that the public likes green spaces, that should help landscape professionals promote their cause – provided they are willing and able to do so. Armour led the team of landscape engineers on one half of the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park where, said Phil Askew, project leader for parklands and public realm, the changes to the water regime had prevented flooding to 4,500 homes on nine separate occasions in the past wet spring.
Equally important, he said, was the demonstration that landscape architects can lead large teams, with successful results. ‘A strength of the profession is the enormous toolkit that we have,’ he said. ‘We are and should be very good at organising large teams of people.’
But, he warned, ‘Landscape architects are not natural leaders. We often complain that we are being ignored. This is daft – it is because we don’t sell our wares strongly enough. We need to be at the top. The Olympic park demonstrated that.’
Askew criticised a weakness in the education system which was not, he said, ‘teaching students how to talk to people who aren’t landscape architects. If we get it right we can say that we can also save vast amounts of money.’
A call to arms
Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute, started her talk by describing it as ‘a call to arms’. She said, ‘If we are to grow in the future and take up challenges, we have to learn how to speak. I have found that there is an audience that is very willing to listen. We have to demonstrate the value of what we do. We have to be prepared to stand up and shout about what we have achieved. Creating places that are environmentally responsible and sustainable is at the heart of what we do. We should be prepared to stand up and shout about what we have achieved.’
Starting in schools
Illman also talked about education, particularly in the light of the Farrell review, which recommended a common first foundation year for all built-environment students before they decide in which way they want to specialise. ‘I haven’t heard a single voice disagree,’ she said. ‘A number of universities have already said that they interested in setting up courses.’ She also talked about the importance of taking the message to schools, to encourage bright children to pursue a career in landscape.
The public instinctively loves much of what the landscape professions can do, and professionals know just how much they can achieve. The great need is to get that information out there – to show that places can be more pleasant, healthier and, in all senses, greener. And that investment in landscape is not a cost but actually a way of saving money. The profession needs to communicate to the public and to public policy makers. And it will not do this, as the speakers showed, by being quiet and self-effacing.