Landscape editor George Bull introduces a special edition of the journal that charts the changing fortunes of the Garden City movement.

Autumn 2011 issue of Landscape
Autumn 2011 issue of Landscape

For masterplanner Raymond Unwin, landscape was not just a background to lives lived, it was a weapon of social change, says David Davidson, architectural adviser at Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust. Unwin’s vision was the communal landscape, one that promoted social interaction at every turn. In creating the Hampstead Garden Suburb, he realised the democratic landscapes the Garden City movement espoused.

Davidson was the first speaker in the Landscape Institute’s autumn lecture series Urban Landscapes in the Twentieth Century. He is also the first of our essayists in this special edition of Landscape, which takes as its starting point the ideals of the Garden City and pits them against the great 21st century challenge: realising the green city.

Programmed by Susannah Charlton of the Twentieth Century Society, the lecture series accompanies the Garden Museum’s From Garden City to Green City exhibition. The five speakers agreed to pen a series of essays for us, so, following a foreword from Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum, we dedicate 15 pages to what we can learn from more than a century of urban landscapes.

Projects adviser at the Prince’s Regeneration Trust Roland Jeffery tackles housing landscapes, and the new towns in particular. Their landscapes, he says, have still to find a comfortable role that is somewhere in between the private garden and the public highway.

Ken Worpole, writer and senior professor at the Cities Institute, suggests that the British still have a problem in thinking about designed landscapes as places of pleasure. He asks whether now is the time for us to rediscover the purpose of
our leisure landscapes.

“If you leave people to live in a lousy, unhealthy, un-green and depressing environment that indicates that society at large, their local authority and the government don’t care about them, then why should we be surprised when they act without care themselves?” This is Sarah Gaventa writing in the wake of August’s riots as she asks how communities can possibly be expected to interact when they have nowhere decent to commune.

And finally, Landscape’s honorary editor Tim Waterman explores our relationship with food and the urban landscape. Are taste and appetite our biggest barriers to realising sustainable design?

But just how relevant are the ideas of the Garden City to those nations currently in thrall to urban revolutions of their own? We asked Ruth Olden to get behind the images of verdant green cities and see what’s happening in India, China and Mexico.

With large-scale investment on the backburner for the foreseeable future, the Landscape Institute’s latest publication Local green infrastructure: helping communities make the most of their landscape, seems particularly pertinent.

The guide presents eight case studies that show how local people and businesses can make their towns, cities and villages more attractive, healthier and better for wildlife.

So why have we put Stefano Boeri’s 27-storey Bosco Verticale on the cover? Billed as the world’s first ‘vertical forest’, each apartment will have a balcony planted with trees, creating a green forest rising above the city. It is the first element in Boeri’s proposed BioMilano, in which a green belt is created around the city. This seemingly fantastical concept is actually under construction in Milan and serves, perhaps, as a stark reminder that nothing quite so green and ambitious seems to be going on in the built environment in the UK.

Or is there? After all, there is unlikely to be one solution to the green city. Rather, the question is whether our attempts to realise it, in all its manifestations, will be resigned to the drawing board as utopian ideals or will the 21st century see them finally succeed at scale?


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