Loyd Grossman first Chairman of the Royal Parks charity

Here is a short summary of Lloyd Grossman’s talk to the London Society on 17th October 2017, followed by my comments. The Royal Parks Charity was established in July 2017, taking over the roles of the Royal Parks Agency and the Royal Parks Foundation.

Loyd Grossman in St Marylebone Parish Church

Summary of Loyd Grossman’s talk

Every single person in this room will have visited a royal park – or all the royal parks – and some of you use them every day. But their extent and variety is greater than most people appreciate. They began in Tudor times and Greenwich was the first royal park. They were created because kings loved hunting. Zola lived a while in London and said the parks ‘were simply places for recreation and breathing the fresh air’. Rasmussen identified the great English contribution to parks, saying they were for sport and health as well as recreation and amusement. They are London’s single greatest asset. They are the greatest urban parks in the world. The President of Central Park said it would be hard to raise money for the Royal Parks because they are so good already. Bushey Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond Park are SSSIs. Regent’s Park is totally different – it is a great urban landscape. Victoria Tower Gardens is also a Royal Park. The Royal Parks are responsible for No 10 Downing Street, Horseguards Parade, Brompton Cemetery and The Mall. They function as theatres for national events. They are a great collection of works of art. They have 170,000 trees. Regent’s Park has the only breeding population of hedgehogs in Central London (36 of them). Royal Parks are really great places for doing nothing.
The new charity will run the Royal Parks. Previously they were run by the government, though it had a supporting charity. Now we can build up a reserve of funds, attract investment and have an independent voice.  We will promote use and enjoyment, support conservation, enhance biodiversity and cherish the national heritage. We will protect, conserve and maintain.
There are a number of challenges, most of them also faced by other cultural organisations. Declining government funding has been a fact of life for the past 30 years. Royal Parks’ self-generated funding has risen from 5% to 70%. A growing population is another challenge. The Royal Parks have 77 million visitors/year at present, which is a lot more than Disneyland. This means more feet in the parks so soil compaction is a problem. Everyone wants to see the 750 year old Royal Oak in Richmond Park. We cannot and will not ever prevent access to the Royal Parks. They will always be open and entry will always be free.
When a property developer looks at a park he thinks ‘what a great place to put a building’. We are constantly fending them off. We have to protect our parks. We will never allow any loss of greenspace in the Royal Parks. There is also constant pressure for the building of new memorials. The Bomber Command monument was allowed but I hope nothing like this will ever happen again. There are weekly and monthly proposals for new memorials in the Royal Parks. Biosecurity is another challenge. There was no Oak Processionary Moth in the UK 8 years ago and the Royal Parks are now spending £400,000/ year on dealing with them. At present you can bring any tree into the UK – there is no quarantine. Hyde Park may be the single most famous concert venue in the world. Inevitably there are competing interests in every park. We have to try and balance them. Each group thinks it is the most important interest group. We live in a society that has made a fetish of self-interest. The Royal Parks are an antidote to this, by being free, open and immune to development.
There is a big current project for investment in Greenwich Park. It has a different role to the other parks and has had little investment in the past 20 years. We intend to restore the Giant Steps. They will be a better lead-up to the Royal Observatory and what many regard as London’s finest view. It needs a better viewing area.
We need more support from the public because we do not want to hold more events, as a normal business would do.  We have 500 staff looking after the parks and we grow 98% of their own plants, because commercial nurseries can’t supply the quality.
People say ‘what is your vision for the Royal Parks?’ It is simple: in 20 years time they will still be the best urban parks in the world.

Comments on Loyd Grossman’s talk

  1. An expenditure of £36m for 77 million visits works out at 46p/visit. This is good value and it would be good to have comparable figures for other public parks.
  2. I am optimistic that the Royal Parks under Grossman’s chairmanship will be run better than they were under direct control by central government.
  3. Grossman is absolutely right about there being too many memorials in the Royal Parks – and about David Cameron having made a mistake when he gave permission for a Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. There should be a competition to propose sites.
  4. A detailed correction to Grossman’s talk concerns Greenwich Park: is not ‘always open’ – it is locked at night and this is a good policy.
  5. Wherever competent trustees can be found, I would like to see local trusts taking over the management of public open spaces from municipal authorities PROVIDING the authorities continue to fund the parks. Trust management should not be a way of saving money on public services and ownership of parklands should remain with the local authorities. Transfer of the Crystal Palace Park to a trust will be a valuable test of how such arrangements can work. My guess is that trust management will be better management.
  6. The Royal Parks are in urgent need of a chief executive or senior manager with expertise in landscape design (including design history). The Royal Parks Agency was run like a hospital with good managers, good anaestheticians, good nurses and good cleaners but no specialists in treatment or in bringing patients back to health.
  7. Many local parks should be run by landscape architects, either as professional managers or as pro bono volunteers helping their local communities by serving as trustees.
  8. The chair of the meeting said he was not going to mention cycling in the Royal Parks. This was regrettable.  Grossman is right that competing interest groups always think themselves in the right. But this is no excuse for dodging issues and the current Royal Parks policy on cycling is indefensible.
  9. Parks need champions.
Posted in public parks

Two problems with CS4 cycle superhighway

Two suggested additions to the proposed CS4 route

TfL are consulting on CS4. The video (below) shows the route in spring 2017 . Here  are my comments on the now-published proposal

  • the proposal would be greatly strengthened by negotiating a daytime route through Southwark Park.  It is fortunate that peak usage of CS4 (by morning and evening commuters) does not coincide with peak usage of the park (lunch time, afternoons and weekends)
  • CS4 should be extended at least to the east side boundary of Greenwich Park. Greenwich Town Centre is dangerous and unpleasant for cyclists and there is already a heavy flow of cyclists from Creek Road into Greenwich Park and from Greenwich Park to Central London. Many of these cyclists use the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and then CS3. This route is slow and awkward for cyclists while also causing conflicts with pedestrian use of the tunnel.

I appreciate thatTfL does not have authority to build cycle superhighways in parks but it can argue the case for such a route with Southwark Borough Council.
Apart from these two points I am fully in support of creating a superhighway on the A200.

Posted in cycleways, London cycle network

2017 facts about London Cycling – and a question

The just-published report Street Smarts: Report of the Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets contains facts about cycling and leads me to ask: do cyclists have their fair share of (1) London’s road space? (2) London’s investment? I guess you can guess my answers.

  1. p.14 Increased competition for carriageway space is illustrated by the rapid growth in cycling (133 per cent in the years 2000-15),3
    with cyclists now making up over a quarter of all rush hour vehicle traffic in central London.
  2. p.19 Cyclists (464,000 trips per day) Need safe roads and parking
  3. p. 19 Taxi and private hire passengers (294,000 trips per day) Need journey reliability and waiting bays
  4. p.21 While most school children live within walking distance of their school, less than half (43.7 per cent) actually do walk, while only 2.6 per cent cycle. Yet, nearly half of car trips made by London residents could be cycled in around 10 minutes and more than a third of car trips could be walked in under 25 minutes.
  5. p. 22 The Greater London Authority (GLA) estimates that there is potential for the proportion of travel time spent walking or cycling to more than double to 60 per cent. If this is achieved, it would deliver a health benefit of 61,500 life years and an economic benefit of
    £2.2bn per annum
  6. p.41 A recent TfL assessment of cycling potential identified 25 corridors across London for investment priority.

These facts support (p. 42) Recommendation 1: TfL and the boroughs should continue to reallocate space in line with a clear road space hierarchy, using intelligent street design to prioritise the most efficient and appropriate modes by providing a combination of: adequate pedestrian space, new segregated cycling lanes and Quietways, priority bus lanes and rapid bus transit services, and  consideration of where emerging shared mobility services sit in this hierarchy.

See also 18 LAA videos about cycling in London.

East Central London Cycle Network 18 videos

18 cycling videos made as part of a landscape architect’s survey-analysis-design for an East Central London Cycle Network

Posted in cycleways, London cycle network Tagged with:

The attrition of vehicles by cities is good for cyclists and pedestrians

With surpassing brilliance Jane Jacobs advocated ‘the attrition of automobiles’ in cities ‘by making conditions less convenient for cars’. I write this as a London car driver (and cyclist).

Posted in cycleways, urban design

Farming, wildlife, Michael Gove and landscape architecture

Farmers kill tortoiseshell butterflies, bees and other insects

Great to hear a  UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declare that (EU) farming policy has been environmentally damaging and socially unjust. Gove says: ‘The number of farmland birds has reduced by more than half, pollinators such as wild and honey bees have suffered a drastic decline in numbers, and our rivers and chalk streams have seen fish stocks decline and small mammals disappear.’  But I can’t see farmers, who have such influence in the Tory party, allowing him to right the wrong. They are specialists who specialise in making money but are not very good at it. The countryside needs the influence of landscape architects with a focus on public goods. IF Michael Gove delivers on his promise to pay farmers for the delivery of public goods this will raise farm incomes.

Posted in landscape planning

Crystal Palace Park Trust and landscape architecture history

Are public parks best managed by local authorities on not-for-profit trusts? Bromley Council is about to find out. It took on the management of the Crystal Palace Park when the GLC was wound up. I think it did a better job but it was nowhere good enough and the Council has taken a bold decision.

When sited in Kensington and used for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the park was a popular and commercial success. After the move to Sydenham, the Palace and the Park were both aesthetically successful and commercially unsound.  The 1937 fire destroyed the Palace and removed the Park’s raison d’être.

Bromley has done a particularly good job in commissioning landscape architects. There have been proposals for re-designing Sir Joseph Paxton’s park by Kathryn Gustafson, Peter Latz and Lynn Kinnear. But the only result has been a little conservation work. Our conclusion, in  the above video, is that the establishment of a non-profit Trust is probably the best way forward.

Showing a classic disdain for context, the LCC architects department plonked a modernist building slap in the middle of the park.  Both the National Sports Centre and the Crystal Palace Park are Grade II listed. Perhaps the National Sports Centre should be retained as a classic example of what happens when architects work without landscape architects on major buildings projects.

The UK Heritage Lottery Fund tells us that Parks are for People. I agree. Parks should be managed by the people,  for the people and with the people.

As the below photographs of the Crystal Palace Park sculpture demonstrate, public management by the GLC (after 1952) and Bromley Council (after 1986) did little good and much harm. Only the sphinxes and dinosaurs have been cared for – which tells us something useful about local government management of public parks in the UK.

The sculpture at the Crystal was in good condition when the park was taken over by public authorities and is now derelict

Posted in public parks Tagged with:

TfL consult on CS4 A200 cycle route – see video

Excellent news that TfL is going to consultation on CS4, from 28th Sept to 29th Nov. The above video shows the hell of cycling as it is on the A200. TfL have, I assume, been so embarrassed that LCN 183 is not shown on their cycle maps. Quite right. To give your assessment of the A200, please use this link. As of today, readers have given it 3 stars, which I find very high.

Regarding TfL’s proposals, I have two regrets (1) they are not even discussing the possibility of routing CS4 through Southwark Park (2) CS4 is not being extended from Deptford Creek to Greenwich – this is like stopping the M1 at Watford

Cycling conditions on the A200 LCN 183 are not ideal!

Posted in cycleways, London cycle network

Last day to get free LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE eBook

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who and What Next?

£0.00 to buy

Kindle Edition by Tom Turner (Author)
Be the first to review this item
This title and over 1 million more are available with Kindle Unlimited

Posted in landscape architecture

ESRI origins of Geodesign

Geodesign – for landscape architects

Professor David Maguire, as Vice-Chancellor of the University Greenwich gave a short talk on Geodesign at the opening of the 2017 ECLAS conference. He worked in Geographical Information Systems for 25 years before coming to Greenwich and much of the time was as ESRI’s Chief Scientist. About 15 years ago they started to build design tools into the ArcGIS software (symbology, visualisation etc). The tools were easy to create. The conceptual work was more difficult. Before that GIS had been about representing the world ‘as it is’. But users kept saying “we don’t work in the past – we work in the future”. At that time there was no place in the ArcGIS software for the incorporation of future scenarios. Geodesign was born as a sub-discipline of GIS. ESRI’s founder, Jack Dangermond, was trained as a landscape architect. The ESRI book: Introducing Geodesign is available as an online pdf.
See also: blog post on Landscape Urbanism  – and Geodesign.
This eBook places Geodesign in a historical theoretical context as a layered approach to design:

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who and What Next?

£0.00 to buy

Kindle Edition by Tom Turner (Author)
Be the first to review this item
This title and over 1 million more are available with Kindle Unlimited

Posted in landscape planning, landscape urbanism

Johanna of J&L Gibbons ECLAS lecture on Second Nature

J&L Gibbons are the landscape architects for Smithfield Market

Jo gave a most interesting lecture to the Greenwich ECLAS landscape architecture conference in September 2017. It had three themes.
First Urban forestry. Many of the principles of sustainable design come from forestry practice. When we have No Trees we will have No Future.  Second, Soil. It is so sensual. We should pick it up and smell it.  Third, Community. We made the Earth our habitat and have a responsibility for all life within it. Landscape architecture is surely the profession that is the best placed to deal with it.
Jo then spoke about three J&L Gibbons projects.

J&L Gibbons design for Canal Park in Lea Valley

First the Lee Canal Park beside the QE Park. The community was invited to go on a ramble with the designers. You need to walk and talk and listen to clients. It was planned as a patchwork of habitats linked to biodiversity objectives. The canal park exists because of the water supply to Canary Wharf. They hired a big barge and invited members of the community – and the design team to cruise up and down the navigation. They also cycled and walked with them and it was very fruitful. Subprojects emerged out of the event. Biodiversity and play were integrated.
Second, the Dalston Eastern Curve, which was part of All London Green Grid. “It’s an extraordinary project”. One aspect was to make space in Dalston. “We said we needed 6 months to talk to people and set about mapping existing assets in collaboration with MUF. It became a disconnected park, which is right because you need open space near to where people live. We did proposals for 76 projects and presentations to get funding.  The Eastern Curve was one of the largest and we were lucky to have people supporting us. We drew in energy from the community. The proposals were for longer-term temporary use. It created lots of apprenticeships. We wanted it to be intriguing so created keyholes to see in, rather than banners. It became a community social enterprise, built on trust between stakeholders and the community
Third, Smithfield Market, which was won in open international competition.  At a public inquiry it was found that the developers who wanted to destroy the market had not considered the historic buildings. The inspector threw it out and the Museum of London had the idea of moving there.
Jo set up Landscape Learn last year to help people understand landscapes and share knowledge to explore the nature of nature, culture and stewardship. “We should be communicators. If we’re not communicating we’re not doing the job. Its incredibly important to realise that landscape design is not a linear process. We need constant feedback loops, going forward and back”.   I agree, 100%
Posted in community gardens