Gyre Island One

Here is Tom Turner’s entry for the LA+ Journal’s LA+ IMAGINATION Island Design Competition (see list of winning entries)

Gyre Island One supports the deplasticisation of the South Atlantic. Straddling a gyratory current, a platform with motion damping will use long floating booms to assemble plastic. The profit on its recycling will help fund similar islands, and/or swarms of smaller islands, in the Earth’s five major ocean gyres – as is being planned by

The landscape design transforms an engineered facility into a Geddesian-McHargian multi-objective platform. Its deck will become an ever-changing exposition, artlab, ecolab, engineering lab, landscape lab, architecture lab and tourist destination:
– Seabirds will rest and breed
– Seeds, spores and substrates will flourish and perish
– Cruise liners will detour, bringing photographers, publicity and sponsorship money
– Parties will be accommodated when conditions are calm
– Artists will learn about ecology
– Ecologists will learn about art
– Engineers will learn about landscape architecture
– Architects will learn about the potential for structures with living skins, so that the world may have greener cities
– Landscape architects will learn about context-sensitive Geodesign
– Humanity will postpone the moment at which it becomes nothing
Gyre Island will be periodically re-skinned with organic and inorganic substrates to develop its fauna and flora. Instead of anti-fouling paint as used on ships, probiotic coatings will be used – in conjunction with flotsam, jetsam and other substances. As with materials developed for the space programme, testing coatings in the harshest conditions will pave the way for other uses. Vegetating the world’s cities will help concrete jungles evolve into green jungles.
The island will be commissioned at 3°S 0°E on the Prime Meridian, south of the Equator and south of Null Island which, at 0°N 0°E°, is marked by a buoy but exists only in Geographical Information Systems with geocoding errors. ‘Gyre Island’ will flourish in counterpoint with ‘Null Island’. Design is destiny. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Posted in landscape architecture

Results LA+ IMAGINATION Island Design Competition

The results of  Upenn’s landscape architecture competition have been announced. Congratulations to the winners! See LAA blog post on the competition announcement. It attracted 180 entries from 33 countries, including 11 from the UK (and 1 from me).  The  Jury Chair, Richard Weller, commented that “The winning entries tell us something about what’s lurking in the unfettered imagination of contemporary design culture: we have monstrous ecological machines, places of melancholy, emergent digital natures, and of course, those old curmudgeons, utopia and dystopia. It’s an amazing archipelago of ideas.”

The five winning entries were from Australia, the USA, and New Zealand:

• “The Island of Lost Objects” by Jacky Bowring
• “Coastal Paradox” by Bradley Cantrell (University of Virginia), Fionn Byrne (University of British Columbia) + Emma Mendel (Nelson Byrd Woltz)
• “United Plastic Nation” by Noel Schardt + Bjoern Muendner (Freischaerler Architects)
• “The Dredge Islands” by Neeraj Bhatia, Cesar Lopez + Jeremy Jacinth (The Open Workshop)
• “Pla-Kappa: A Cautionary Tale of Accumulation” by Tei Carpenter, Arianna Deane + Ashely Kuo (Agency—Agency)

LA+ IMAGINATION Island Design Competition 2017 Winners

LA+ IMAGINATION Island Design Competition 2017 Winners



Posted in landscape architecture

Solving London’s urban flood problem – a landscape architecture approach

Tom Turner’s lecture was given to the London Parks and Gardens Trust on 21st June 2017. This post has an edited version of the text

Summary, Gentle rain, frightening floods and design of public open space

The Woolwich Flood Barrier was built after the North Sea Flood of 1953. But it has to be closed more often each hear and London’s flood indicating that the problem is worsening. We see flooding at Richmond, Strand on the Green, Greenwich and elsewhere. Thamesmead, with a 7m high wall is typical of the engineering solution. Landscape architects favour a policy of low impact development and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). This includes green roofs roof gardens, as with University of Greenwich Stockwell Street Roof Garden. Metering wastewater and giving abatement discounts are also good policies. The Lost rivers of London should be reclaimed by daylighting and channel restoration, as was done for the Quaggy River in Sutcliffe Park and the River Ravensbourne in Brookmill Park. The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a waste of money, as Chris Binney argues. Integrated Catchment Management is a better policy, as Sarah Whatmore argues in response to the Babtie design for Pickering. This is the kind of policy Patrick Geddes argued for in India and Ian McHarg, the best known landscape architect of the 20th century, followed in Woodlands Texas. Lake Dal, Kashmir, and the Gruner See in Austria have inspiring ways managing floods. The Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park could also have a flood detention storage lake. A Londonwide green roof policy should be adopted.

Good landscape architecture reduces the risk of urban floods

Good landscape architecture reduces the risk of urban floods

The urban flooding problem

At 885mm/year the UK’s average rainfall is pretty good. It’s not too high. London has 600mm/year, well below the world average of 990mm. So London should not have a flood problem. But it does and there are several theories about the causes:At 885mm/year the UK’s average rainfall is pretty good. It’s not too high. London has 600mm/year, well below the world average of 990mm. So London should not have a flood problem. But it does and there are several theories about the causes. There is speculation that as a city, London is particularly wasteful and citizens are flushing items that shouldn’t be flushed, such as tampons which lead to large blockages in the drains. If you think that your flooding issues might be caused by blockages, which might be very likely, especially if you live in an apartment, you can navigate to this website for some solutions. Here are some other theories regarding the causes behind the flooding:

  • Too few drains – so that the water can’t get away
  • Too many drains – which accelerate water run off
  • Too many impermeable surfaces – so the water can’t seep into the ground

But we share an ancient Fear of Floods. The world’s oldest literary work: The Epic of Gilgamesh, sees floods as a punishment from the Gods. 2000 years later, in the Bible, they are a punishment from the one true God. I’ve never been in dangerous flood but, though I love swimming, I do have nightmares about drowning. A terrible North Sea Flood hit London in 1953. 307 British people died. None in London. One 1 in Kent. The causes of the 1953 deaths were that dykes had not been repaired during the war and that there was no early warning system. A barrier was built at Woolwich and most of London was protected.Engineers have have responded to fears about flooding with drastic measures. So let’s look at the River Thames flood walls as an engineer might look at them.

Is this bad engineering and good landscape architecture? I think the Thames Path at Richmond makes a valuable contribution to flood storage in the Thames Tideway and that it’s a great place.

Urban flooding in Richmond

A river wall was built at Richmond in the 16th century, when Henry VII built a palace here. Since then, the poor cash-strapped residents have never had enough money for proper flood defenses. At each Spring Tide, we see scenes reminiscent of what happened after the Titanic hit an iceberg. To begin with, the music keeps playing while men, women and children keep smiling.They know nothing of the coming flood. Then, in an instant, the bank sitters have all gone. With traditional British sang froid, the brave folk of Richmond keep on smiling. Some use benches as lifeboats.

Urban flooding in Strand on the Green

At Strand on the Green there are similar scenes of tragedy. Look at the poor doggie. I called the RSPCA. But the horror was too great and I fled the scene before they arrived. That man could so easily have rescued the doggie. Instead, it strides into the waves to meet its maker.Local residents, because of official neglect, have had to put up their own flood defences. You can see glass barriers, raised entrances, and watertight planking across the doors. Footing the bill for the flood defenses has likely reduced the cost of having to consistently call plumbers out like this one that are always helpful in these situations. Look those poor girls. No shoes, as in Dickens’ time. One’s heart bleeds for the residents. Their miserable dwellings are only worth a few million pounds each.

Urban flooding in Battersea

Battersea is a much older settlement than Richmond and the Victorians did a reasonable job of protecting the park from the river. They got rid of the nasty marshland weeds by tipping 3/4s of a million tons of mud (from the Surrey Docks) and protected the beach from the park with a reasonably sized flood wall. Commercial traffic made the beach dangerous in the 19th C and Weil’s disease make it dangerous. Each year 2 or 3 die in the UK. Antibiotics are the only treatment.The River Westbourne shows the safe way of treating a river. It removes water and harms no one. They did this to the in Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Unfortunately, the road was not built properly and they had to replace it with a park.

Urban flooding in Greenwich

Here’s the scene of some more horror. The waterfront in Greenwich took its present form at the end of the eighteenth century. Wren and Hawksmoor were OK as architects but through engineers’ eyes they were hopeless at flood defence. Look at the innocent victims being splashed. I have not read of them catching Weil’s disease but the police arrived soon after this video clip was shot and we have to suspect a cover-up. The problem is that the walk is only 4.4m above the Ordnance Datum, compared to 5.8m in most of Central London. And it’s only 1.5m wide – which is why it’s called the Five Foot Walk. Shocking.

Is this good engineering and bad landscape architecture? I think the walkway on the Thamesmead Flood wall is too wide, too high and too crudely designed.

Urban flooding in Thamesmead

At Thamesmead the engineering profession has given us a brilliant example of what should be done upstream. The black and white photographs on the left show the flood wall before and after it was ‘landscaped’. As well as protecting local residents the flood wall has created a ‘charming’ new space and a ‘valuable’ recreational facility. We see modernist engineering combined with modernist design. It could serve as Britain’s answer to Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The video clips show it on a busy day, in warm sunshine, and on a quiet day, in the rain. It’s a 7×7 wall: 7m above Ordnance Datum and 7m wide. This is obviously better than the dangerous and unpopular Five Foot Walk walk at Greenwich. I look forward to a similar treatment for the Seven Sisters (at Cuckhaven) which obviously need a protective wall.

Definition of public open space

Before reviewing how POS can help ease London’s flood problems, I’ll spend a minute on definitions. “Public Open Space” includes:Blackheath Common and Greenwich Park. They are examples of bound and unbound Public Open Space (POS)Greenwich Waterfront has greenway, mentioned above, which can flood periodically and make a useful contribution to the flood storage capacity of the River Thames.Greenwich also has green roofs. The University of Greenwich Stockwell Street building has both extensive and intensive green roofs. And there are private green roofs in Greenwich. Many buildings even have a foam roof underneath to help insulate the building, which means this isn’t sacrificed for the green roof option. It is all green space and it all has an impact on PUBLIC GOODS. So, with little more sarcasm at the expense of 20th century civil engineering, the rest of this lecture is about how the design and management of greenspace can lessen the risk of flooding. 21st century flood engineering is much more enlightened but still does not take sufficient advantage of POS. By ‘Public Open Space’ I mean all the space upon which the gentle rain falleth. I’ll start with four examples from Greenwich.

The Greenwich University green roof is good landscape architecture, good architecture and good engineering. It also lessens the flood risk in London

Stockwell Street Roof Garden in Greenwich

The first example is the University of Greenwich’s Stockwell Street Roof Garden. The original idea was for the whole roof to be extensive. The landscape staff argued that it should become a teaching resource and Dr Benz Kotzen is managing it for wildlife, vegetables, quiet study, aquaponics – and relaxation. If all London’s roofs were treated in this way the city’s flood problem would be greatly diminished. But there are two problems: storms from the North Sea surface waterrunoff from the land. Green roofs protect against runoff but not against storms. The Woolwich Flood Barrier, as mentioned, was built to protect against storm surges. To begin with, this was its use. Now, half its closures are to provide storage for water running off the land. This is because development projects are making more and more of London impermeable to the gentle rain.

A private green roof in Greenwich

This house was built in 1926. Most of the water that falls on the roof is infiltrated in the garden. When it rains after a dry period it is over an hour before any water runs off the roof – and none of this runoff goes into the drains. Greenwich Council used to say this was illegal. Thames Water now gives a ‘Wastewater Abatement’ discount if you do not use their drains. I’m glad they do this but they should meter, or estimate, the use of drains just as they meter water supply. They could send assessors round, as they have just sent round staff to advise on water supply meters. I was shown how to flush a toilet. The engineer could easily have made an assessment of surface water discharge at the same time. This would discourage people from paving their front gardens and encourage them to install rain gardens. Furthermore, environmental experts could also make use of EHS software such as risk assessment software to identify any potential hazards, assess the associated risks, and track any possible controls. By identifying hazards and assessing their risks using software, organizations such as water companies can avoid costly incidents further down the line.

The restoration of the Quaggy River in Sutfliffe Park, designed by NRA and EA landscape architects, lessens the downstream flood risk and has transformed a dull patch of gang-mown grass into a beautiful, ecological and enjoyable water park.

Sutcliffe Park river restoration and flood storage lake

Sutcliffe Park used to be a ‘classic’ municipal park with green railings and muddy grass, used by a few dog walkers most days and by a few footballers on Saturday mornings. The National Rivers Authority (which became the Environment Agency) was assaulted by complaints about flooding in the lower Quaggy River. It wanted to build flood walls through Lee and Lewisham. But was talked out of this by a group of local residents, and decided instead to use Sutcliffe Park for occasional flood storage. Congratulations to QWAG, the Quaggy Waterways Action Group.A former Greenwich landscape architecture student, Kevin Patrick, did the original design for Sutcliffe Park and I was cross at the time because Greenwich Council tried to block the project. It said the problem only affected residents of Lewisham. Then it demanded compensation for loss of football pitches. On reflection, I believe that the Council was right to ask for money but that it should not have been a one off payment for loss of football pitches. It should have been an annual payment for mitigating floods. I see flood management as a great role for parks and a great source of income for hard-pressed park managers.

Restoration of the River Ravensbourne in Brookmill Park, Lewisham

The River Ravensbourne was channelized in the 1950s & 60s. The first clip shows one of its more attractive sections – because you can see vegetation. As everywhere, this kind of flood defence passes the flood risk downstream. In the 1990s, when the DLR was extended to Lewisham, they identified part of this channel as an ideal location for a light railway. So a short section of the River, through Brookmill Park was ‘daylighted’. I think Atkins’ landscape architects did the design and apart from the bagwork, which must be an engineers’ idea, it’s very good. Brookmill Park makes a valuable contribution to flood storage upstream of the Woolwich Barrier.
Now let’s leave Greenwich and look at five other solutions to the problem of urban flooding

The Thames Tideway Tunnel

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is being marketed as a project to lessen sewage pollution. It will do this. But sewage gets into the Thames only because of London’s 19th Century shared sewers. If you took the surface water out of the old sewers there would be sufficient capacity for the foul sewage. Chris Binnie, the Chairman of the committee which proposed the Tideway Tunnel now thinks it’s a waste of money. The owners, who are an international group of investors, disagree. I can’t think why. But every household in London is going to pay £25/year to the investors for the rest of our lives. That’s why the UK is a great place to invest. I’d rather the money was spent on the approach called Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) in the UK and Low Impact Development (LID) in the US.

Integrated catchment management as a solution to the flood problem

Sarah Whatmore, an Oxford geographer, has given several lectures of Living with flooding – a very good title. Her interest began with a 2007 flood in Pickering (south of the North York Moors).She worked with what became the Ryedale Flood Research Group. It persuaded the community to accept upstream detention instead of Babtie’s ‘imaginative’ proposal for Thamesmead-style flood walls in the midst of a historic town. The engineers, Susan Whatmore reports, had used off-the-shelf data and off-the-shelf software. Garbage-in>Garbage-out, is what the old proverb tells us. Water-in>Water-out was the proposed engineering solution. The Ryedale Group supports the flood policy landscape architects have been advocating for over a century. Geddes, when working in India, wrote that ‘Drains are for cities, not cities for drains’Ian McHarg (in Woodlands, Texas) wrote that ‘there is no better union than virtue and profit’.Here’s my version of Integrated Catchment Management, written in 1998. In all the industrial countries, ‘Forest clearance took place on the hills, in the valleys and on the plains. This accelerated water runoff. Ploughing and drainage took place in agricultural areas. This accelerated water runoff. River channels were deepened, widened, straightened and fixed. This accelerated water runoff. Large new urban areas were rendered partially impervious, with roofing and paving materials. This accelerated water runoff. The capacity of washlands and flood plains to accommodate peak volumes was diminished by building upon them.’ (Turner, T., Landscape planning and environmental impact design UCL Press, 1998 p. 294). Basically, engineers want to get water off the land and landscape architects want to keep water on the land.

Flooding in Kashmir

Lake Dal is famous for the houseboats used by tourists. They were popularised by the British, because the Donga King would not let them buy immovable property. It was traditional for lotus gatherers, fishermen and those who tended floating gardens to live in doongas. Those who cultivated the rich land on the shores of the lake live in 2-story houses. When the flood waters rise, maybe 1-3m, they move to a higher level. As we saw at Strand-on-the-Green, some Londoners have already learned to live with floods. It’s a cost-effective and attractive solution.

The Green Lake (Gruner See) in Austria is a brilliant example of a public open space being used to detain flood water.

Flood storage in the Green Lake, Tragoess, Styria, Austria.

The Grüner See (Green Lake), like Lake Dal, it is surrounded by mountains. The water level rises when the snow melts. It is 1-2m deep in Winter and can rise to 12m in spring. This made it popular with scuba divers – until scuba diving was banned. The water is exceptionally clear and the lake’s name comes from its colour. Park managers are good at bans. Is there a London park might be suited to this treatment? The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a possibility. I think Londoners would enjoy seeing the area flooded once or twice a year. And more flood storage capacity in the Lower Thames means less flood risk in the Upper Thames.

The City of London should adopt a strict Green Roof Policy for all development projects – as a contribution to reducing the flood risk in London and for many other reasons

A green roof policy for the City of London

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that Green Roofs can REMOVE 50% of annual rainfall runoff and DETAIN the other 50%. So this is my proposal for a Skyscape Policy to diminish the risk of flooding in London. The idea is to detain and evaporate most of the Gentle Rain at rooftop level, so that the old sewers can be used for foul sewage only. Also, and in line with one of the key principles of landscape architecture, it’s a multi-objective project. It would:improve biodiversity by creating new habitatslessen air pollution by catching particulates save energy by insulating buildings create a quiet and sunlit world for office lunching capture carbon, and, of course save the planet Economists, I hope, would see these as positive externalities resulting from a flood management policy.

Conclusions on London’s flood problem

I’ll finish with two points illustrated by a clip from a 1958 British film: Floods of fear. First: we all understand that flooding is a serious problem. We may poke fun at engineers but we must all feel deep sympathy for flood victims Second: we all need to remember that much of London’s ‘flood problem’ is man made: all the scenes in the clip were shot in Pinewood Studios, as Howard Keel relates in his autobiography. I can’t imagine how they did it but am confident that implementing a Green Roof Policy for the City of London would be whole lot easier.

Posted in flood prevention, flood protection, green roofs, public parks Tagged with:

Air pollution in London – how to solve the problem

solve London's air pollution problem

Good urban landscape design can solve London’s air pollution problem

King’s College London Air website has made a great contribution to surveying and analysing London’s air pollution problems but hangs up its gloves when faced with the question: CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT THIS? King’s say ‘a long term problem that has not been easy to solve’. Fair enough: they are scientists. Solving the air pollution problem requires the vision and imagination of  urban landscape designers. I’ve taken advice from a few of them. London should:

  1. Make every street a greener street, with more vegetation, more space for cyclists, more space for pedestrians – and less space for air polluting vehicles
  2. Remove on-street car parking in Central London, except for disabled people
  3. Increase the level of investment in cycle lanes, between two-fold and ten-fold.
  4. Make car-share of electric vehicles the most financially attractive choice in the suburbs
  5. Assess a sewerage charge for each dwelling, to encourage green roofs and sustainable drainage in gardens
  6. Follow Oslo’s example and set a target for making the Central Business District car free.
Posted in urban design

Burgess Park 1943-2017 landscape architecture review

Burgess Park in Southwark, South London, was identified as a good site for a major new London Park in the 1943-4 Abercrombie County of London Plan. Sir Patrick Abercrombie, who was on the Council of the ILA (which became the Landscape Institute) had two reasons for choosing the site (1) many of the houses which then occupied the land had been damaged during the Blitz, making it an area of opportunity (2) it created one of the links in his brilliant proposal for a Londonwide web of open space.
Progress was slow in the 39 years until the lake was opened (in 1982) and the results were disappointing. This was because of the difficulty of clearing the land: the owners of the surviving houses and businesses did not want to move. Another problem was that four of the landscape architects involved died young: Simon Rendell, David Ashmore, Adrian Brunswick and Michael Norton.

Hunter Davies (famous as a biographer of the Beatles and editor of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement) wrote in 1983 that ‘no one, anywhere in the world, has ever bulldozed the urban landscape on such a scale, just to make a bit of open space’. The quality of the that ‘bit of open space’ declined in the next decade. But when Southwark Council took ownership from the GLC the park’s fortunes began to revive. The creation of Chumleigh Gardens was a great step forward.

In 2008 Boris Johnson announced a funding competition for London parks. Burgess Park won £2m. Southwark chipped in another £6m and LDA Design were commissioned to replan and redesign Burgess Park. Though not fully implemented, their work transformed a sad and neglected space into a very well-used public park. Their concept was bolder than the scheme that was built. But the key structuring principle, of two axial paths following desire lines, was adopted and must have a central role in making the park so much better used than it used to be. The planting, mounding and facilities were also greatly improved. As generous managers, Southwark Council allows cycling and BBQs. Let’s hope the Royal Parks managers follow its example.

The LDA redesign has made Burgess Park much more popular

Posted in public parks Tagged with:

Landscape Architecture ideas competition: design an island

Design an island – $10,000 to win!

ISLAND design ideas competition

There is still 4 weeks until the submission deadline: 1.59pm Eastern Time on Friday, June 2, 2017. The requirements, for an electronic submission, are: a name, a location, 500 words of text and three sheets with imperial dimensions (approx 2 No. A4 and one No. A3). The organisers are the University of Pennsylvania and the prize money is $10,000. See LA+ IMAGINATION Design Ideas Competition. There are no professional qualifications for entry. All you need is design imagination: 

Paradisiacal, utopian, dystopian, heterotopian – islands hold an especially enigmatic and beguiling place in our geographical imagination. Existing in juxtaposition to what’s around them, islands are figures of otherness and difference. Differentiated from their contexts and as much myth as reality, islands have their own rules, their own stories, their own characters, their own ecologies, their own functions, and their own forms.

Posted in landscape architecture

For want of a landscape architect London’s Garden Bridge was lost

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.

Remembering Benjamin Franklin’s version of an old proverb, I invite landscape architects to write a new version. For the penultimate line I suggest:
For want of a landscape architect a Garden Bridge was lost.
As discussed two years ago, the problem was that the Garden Bridge was in the wrong place.

  • It should have linked a pedestrian origin to a pedestrian destination
  • It should have linked a cyclist origin to a cyclist destination
  • It should not have been located in a section of the Thames with Very High Scenic Quality
  • The designer’s perspectives should not have ‘cheated’ by representing the scheme with birds-eye views. It should have been done with eye-level views from Waterloo Bridge

That said, I am sorry to see the Garden Bridge pass into the history books as a failed project. The Garden Bridge Trust and its designers showed real imagination, talent and drive. They just needed the help of an urban landscape designer.

Posted in urban design

Competition: Social Design Award 2017: Good Ideas for Green City Oases!

DER SPIEGEL is seeking entries for the 2017 Social Design Award. It is being offered for the fourth time and is very well suited to entries from landscape architects. The 2017 competition theme is: Ideas for improving life in our public green spaces. The submission requirements are answers to the following questions:


  1. What aspects of your idea fulfill the social criteria of the competition?
    (max. 1,000 characters, incl. spaces)
  2. What is it that makes your idea innovative?
    Please describe what it is that differentiates your design from similar ones that have already been implemented. (max. 1,000 characters including spaces)
  3. Which part of community life in the park or in public green spaces do you aim to improve with your idea?  Is there a specific problem that your idea is meant to solve? Or is there a particular aspect that is key to your idea? Please describe how your idea improves coexistence in parks or in green spaces and for whom. If the idea has already been implemented, please outline its impact. If it hasn’t been implemented yet, please explain which outcome you are hoping for. (max. 1,000 characters,including spaces)
  4. Is there anything else we should know about your idea? You can use this space to share details about what has motivated you personally to develop this idea, relevant anecdotes, personal statements or any other interesting details you would like to tell us about your idea. (max. 500 characters including spaces)
  5. Images. Please include 2-5 photographs of the competition entry. These can include plans, sketches of the design or photographs of the completed idea. The images should illustrate how the competition entry will look.
Posted in landscape architecture


A lecture by Robert Skidelsky on Keynes (gosh he is so sharp at the age of 79) prompts thought of eco-economics, which he mentioned as one answer to the post-2008 slump critique of mainstream economics. Maynard Keynes of course had a wider view than many mainstream economists.


Ecological economics has quite a history. The current interest dates back to the 1980s. This led to Ecological Economics: energy, environment and society: (1990) by the Spanish economist Juan Martinez-Alier. Although one can trace some ideas back to E.F Schumacher’s Small is beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered (1973) or beyond to the likes of the Austrian economist Karl Polanyi.

Eco-economics is characterised firstly by recognising an economic system has both an impact on the ecology and is in turn influenced by it. For example, different ways of organising production and consumption affect our natural environment in ways which differ, and similarly the response of the natural environment also differ. Secondly eco-economics uses thermodynamic theory and ideas of entropy to examine the relationships between economic and ecological activity. Key to this is the idea that natural systems cannot be monetised as a set of commodities. Rather energy flows, use of renewable and non-renewable resources and the use of the planet as a sink for waste should each be monitored separately and in physical terms. Thirdly eco-economics is used to argue that the potential costs of inaction are so severe that a democratically approved course of action should be pursued.

Eco-economics differs from environmental economics in this respects, it rejects the notion that natural capital can be substituted by human-made capital. And this argument can be extended to the notion that there is not necessarily a technological fix for all environmental problems.

Malte Faber (of Heidelburg) in his lecture How to be an Ecological Economist argues that mainstream economics lacks adequate concepts of nature, justice and time and he argues that “interest in nature, justice and time are the essential characteristics of Ecological Economics” He also argues that:
A successful politician, a wise judge, an effective manager and a good
       scientific adviser all have in common that their decisions and counsel cannot be deduced entirely          from scientific concepts. What distinguishes them is the quality termed in the German philosophic          tradition “Urteilskraft”, in English “power of judgement”, “prudence” or “practical wisdom” (i).
And as the Wikipedia article on ecological economics argues “issues of intergenerational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation” (ii).

The earth’s carrying capacity is a fundamental concern of eco-economics, and this was a key issue of the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth 1972. And this leads to concern for sustainable agriculture, fishers and energy production. Some economists forecast a crisis and unrest if energy growth is not contained (iii) and this is increasingly echoed in military academics and defence think tanks.

There is much in this which is of interest to landscape architects. Water to drink, air to breath, soil to produce food, biodiversity to maintain ecosystems are all of interest to us.

(i) Malte Faber. (2008). ‘How to be an ecological economist.’ Ecological Economics 66(1):1-7 p. (accessed 15.4.2017) p.3.
(ii) Ecological Economics: ((accessed 15.4.2017)
(iii) Nicholas Stern Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change HM Treasury: 2006 (accessed 15.4.2017)

Posted in landscape architecture Tagged with: , ,

London. There is no better place in the world than this wondrous city

City of London skyline landscape

City of London skyline landscape

In writing about London for Der Spiegel  Christoph Scheuermann starts with three problems to which the landcape architecture profession can make a contribution. The crap weather, the traffic, the noise, the obscene amounts of money, the horrific rents, the Central Line during rush hour, the greed, the indifference, the Russians in Mayfair, the French in Notting Hill, and the price of a pint has long since risen above six euros: There are, of course, a number of reasons to hate London. But then the sun peaks through the clouds for a second, the woman sitting across from you in the subway smiles and you are given a ticket for a theater premier — and all the aggravations are forgotten. In such moments, it becomes clear: There is no better place in the world than this wondrous city. Nowhere is more exciting or more polite, nowhere else gives you more, despite terror, despite Brexit and despite the constant chaos. Landscape architects can:

Scheuermann then argues that Brexit could kill the golden goose. I completely disagree. London’s destiny is to be, as it has since the renaissance, a world city as well as a European city. Like Venice, it became great because of its separateness. But it does need more and better landscape architecture.

Posted in urban design