Where should Britain’s new housing be built? London?

Where should new houses be built for the UK's 10m population growth? Ask a landscape architect.

Where should new houses be built for the UK’s 10m population growth? Ask a landscape architect.

The UK’s population expected to rise by 10 million in 25 years. This will take it from 64.6 million to 74.3 million in 2039. As Ebenezer Howard asked ‘Where will the people go?’. Birmingham’s population is 1.074m so that’s another 9 Birminghams. Where should their houses be built? I have no idea BUT it is obvious that landscape considerations are key to the discussion (as are the geographical distribution of the housing demand and infrastructure considerations).

So the government should commission a number of landscape architecture practices to consider the new housing problem. The National Character Area profiles are a necessary consideration but they are not sufficient. A UK Scenic Quality Assessment Map is also required – and it does not exist. SQA Maps are necessary because it is easier and better to build on land of low scenic quality than on land of high scenic quality: we should improve what is bad before we destroy what is good. Plus people are often already looking on sites such as getagent.co.uk for property within those regions. Additionally, if we centralize everything then how will people who live outside of London have a chance to get a new home? It seems better to spread out the newbuilds. Personally, I think it would be better to build half a dozen Birminghams in South Essex than on the North Downs or in the Lake District. Should the new housing be in London, because that is where demand is highest? I suppose it doesn’t really matter what I think though. The government will come to the best decision for housing. Hopefully, they will be able to help more people find a home. Of course, some people in the UK have already found their forever home and have been able to purchase it with the help of right to buy mortgages. This helped a lot of people to own their homes. Hopefully, they will do something similar to make sure all of these new people have somewhere to live and call their own.

Posted in housing

Chandigarh 4 (of 4): Pinjore Yadavindra Mughal garden design

Corbusier visited Pinjore’s Mughal Garden when working on the design of Chandigarh – and it is a pity he did not learn more from the experience. Corbusier could also have read Constance Villiers-Stuart’s account of the Pinjore garden (in The Gardens of the Great Mughals) – as Edwin Lutyens did when working on the design of New Delhi. Villiers-Stuart’s book was published in 1913 and this video, marking its 100th anniversary was shot in 2013 (not 2014, as stated in the video). Her book is regarded as the first serious study of Indian garden design. She loved India and she loved its gardens.
Unlike Chandigarh’s Capitol, Pinjore Gardens are very well adapted to the local vegetation, the local climate and local patterns of open space use. The design is attributed to the Emperor Aurangzeb’s foster brother, Fidai Khan.
The name of Pinjore Gardens was changed to Yadavindra Gardens, presumably in honour of a great local leader: Yadvinder Singh Mahendra Bahadur (1913-1974) who was Maharaja of Patiala from 1938 to 1974.

Four posts re Chandigarh urban planning, landscape architecture and garden design


Pinjore's Yadavindra Garden is very well adapted to the genius loci of northern Haryana

Pinjore’s Yadavindra Garden is very well adapted to the genius loci of northern Haryana

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Piano’s Paddington Skyscraper

Renzo Piano has designed a Skyscraper for Paddington. Simon Jenkins calls it the Paddington Pole and comments that ‘Unlike the Shard, the Pole appears to have all the subtlety of a cigarette.’ I see it as the Paddington Pepperpot and wonder if a Russell Hobbs pepper grinder was on Piano’s mood board or on his kitchen table. Apart from the choice of epithet, I am in 100% agreement with Simon Jenkins: ‘How many times do those of us who still believe in planning have to state that the issue is not towers as such — irrelevant though they are to London’s needs. It is about how they fit into the urban landscape. Every civilised city has a policy on siting high buildings. In London the policy was to cluster them in the City and Canary Wharf, not dot them at random wherever a borough planner is feeble. This policy was torn up by Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, with no public debate. Under pressure from the developers’ lobby, it was replaced by “let-rip” or, as Johnson puts it, “high where appropriate” (undefined).’
There are professions which might be expected come up with policies for city skylines:

  • Architects – except that they are trained to consider individual buildings and to treat them as ‘objects’
  • Planners – except that they are not trained in 3D design
  • Landscape Architects – except that they have not explained what they could do for city skylines and so nobody asks them to do it

A London Skyline Policy document is available for download on the LAA website.

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A landscape architects’ approach to greening Tooley Street in London

Robert Holden and Tom Turner discuss the landscape architecture of Tooley Street with reference to its history and to the ideas of Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl.  The name Tooley Street is a corruption of ‘St Olave’s Street’ – and its character is being eroded by an monoculture approach to building office blocks with blank facades. Good urban landscape design could make Tooley Street a green street – in the sense of a street which is good from an environmental point of view. Like Exhibition Road, it should be managed as a shared space, with less vehicular dominance and more of the roadspace available for use by pedestrians, disabled people, cyclists and coffee drinkers.

Posted in green streets

Edinburgh’s Waterfront Redevelopment – the need for landscape urbanism

1950s-style Development Plan for Edinburgh Waterfront from Alison Kirkwood's 2015 presentation

1950s-style Development Plan for Edinburgh Waterfront from Alison Kirkwood’s 2015 presentation

Richard J Williams (born in Washington DC and  Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures at Edinburgh University College of Art) is right about the redevelopment of Edinburgh’s Waterfront . He wrote in the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine that  ‘It starts promisingly enough in Leith with warehouse conversions and funky bars, but head a quarter-mile east and you find yourself in a dystopian wasteland of vacant lots worthy of a J.G. Ballard novel. The waterfront reaches its peak of despair at Granton Harbour where a handful of shoddy buildings emerge from a giant mud pool’. But Williams is wrong about the cause of the problem. He writes that ‘The city government lacks both a plan and the ability to stick to it’.  Sticking to a non-existent plan would be hard. The problem is that the City has a really bad plan for the Waterfront. The above illustration is from a presentation on 9 January 2015 by Alison Kirkwood (Majors Waterfront Team Manager, City of Edinburgh Council). Don’t be misled by the word ‘mixed’, which is a fractional nod to post-Jane Jacobs planning, it is a 1950s style land use zoning plan all too accurately labelled as a plan for ‘Development’ (ie a blinkered plan designed exclusively to generate additional Council Tax). The ‘New Green Space’ is badly conceived and new ‘Cycle/Footpath safeguarded route’ is just that.

Calton Hill could lose its role as ‘Scotland’s Disgrace’ to Edinburgh Waterfront – but there are development plans for a luxury hotel on the Royal High School site on Calton Hill which could secure its historic reputation!

Illustrations, from Alison Kirkwood's 2015 presentation, of the landscape architecture character proposed for the Forthquarter on Edinburgh's Waterfront - or is it a plan for Anywheresville?

Illustrations, from Alison Kirkwood’s 2015 presentation, of the landscape architecture character proposed for the Forthquarter on Edinburgh’s Waterfront – or is it a plan for Anywheresville?

Edinburgh City Council should learn from the city fathers who planned its eighteenth century New Town:  major developments should be based on imaginative landscape architectural ideas for the creation of public goods. If you just build some roads, line them with blocks of flats in ill-assorted styles and call the unbuilt land ‘New Green Space’ you will get a dreary ‘estate’ with expansive SLOAP (Space Left Over After Planning). Better to make a public realm which is useful, beautiful and sustainable.

Reports in 2015 suggested that  planning permission for the latest scheme would be refused. This was good news. But the reasoning was flawed. The Council worried that new retail development on the waterfront would damage the city centre. Classical Edinburgh’s city fathers had more wisdom when they advised that ‘It has been objected, that this project may occasion the centre of the town to be deserted. But of this there can be no hazard.’ The quotation is from the  Convention of Royal Borough’s 1752 Proposals for carrying on certain Public Works in the City of Edinburgh written by the Earl of Minto.

The Minto Report laid the ground for a 1766 competition to design of Edinburgh New Town. It begins with the declaration that ‘Among the several causes to which the prosperity of a nation may be ascribed, the situation, conveniency, and beauty of its capital, are surely not the least considerable. A capital where these circumstances happen fortunately to concur, should naturally become the centre of trade and commerce, of learning and the arts, of politeness, and of refinement of every kind.’  Edinburgh’s natural advantages were recognised as ‘The healthfulness of its situation, and its neighbourhood to the Forth, must no doubt be admitted as very favourable circumstances.‘ Sir Gilbert Elliot, 3rd Baronet, of Minto (1722) Minto was a statesman, philosopher, poet and friend of David Hume.  Robert Walpole declared he had  ‘powers of eloquence, art, reasoning, satire, learning, persuasion, wit, business, spirit and plain common sense’.

Instead of an enlightened vision for the creation of a new landscape, the developers appear set on making  ‘a New Pilton’.  Old Pilton, beside Granton, is a  post-1945 council estate with a geometrical road layout, high crime rates and, as Wiki puts it, ‘anti-social behaviour especially young joyriders stealing powerful motorbikes and cars, driving them recklessly round the scheme’. It looks as though the Fourthquarter will have enough desolate ‘hard landscape’ to host bike or car races.

Edinburgh City Council should commission an urban landscape design strategy based on the principles of landscape urbanism.


Posted in landscape urbanism, urban design Tagged with:

Landscape architects appointed for Ebbsfleet Garden City in Kent

Ebbsfleet landscape urbanism

The Ebbsfleet Garden City Masterplan would benefit from a landscape urbanism approach

Congratulations to Spacehub on being appointed as landscape architects for Ebbsfleet Garden City. I hope they will be able to follow the landscape urbanism principle, that urban design should be led by landscape architects. A possible problem with this is that a firm of master planners (Aecom) and a firm of architects (Maccreanor Lavington) have also been appointed. Let’s hope the landscape architects will be doing more than the planting design.
The Wikipedia entry on Landscape Urbanism opens with the statement that ‘Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urban planning arguing that the best way to organize cities is through the design of the city’s landscape, rather than the design of its buildings.’

Posted in landscape urbanism, urban design

Urban population statistics

Demographia have an  interesting website.

  • which is an annual world-wide listing of urban areas by Largest Urban Areas in the World,
  • Urban Areas by Geography (Including Selected under 500,000 Population),
  • Urban Areas by Land Area (Urban Footprint) 84
  • Urban Areas by Urban Population Density

published by the US planner, Wendell Cox, based in St Louis. Cox to quote his profile on his website is ‘Demographia is “pro-choice” with respect to urban development. People should have the freedom to live and work where and how they like’. So this can be taken as arguing counter to planning controls and public mass transport and in favour of cheap land, no state control of development and private car use, typifying “The American Dream”. The Demographia website is http://www.demographia.com/

A more authoritative source of international urban area statistics is the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects database: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/ which is biennial,UN city size and growth 2014-2030

map source: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Maps/CityGrowth/2014_2030GrowthRate.pdf

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Pro bono publico landscape architecture

May I underline Tom’s page on pro bono landscape architecture by referring to the example of the American Bar Association whose ethical rules require members to contribute 50 hours of pro bono work each year, to quote their website:
” Thus, all lawyers should aspire to render some legal services without fee or expectation of fee for the good of the public.” ref. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/pro_bono.htm and from their model rules of conduct Rule 6.1 “Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service”.
In England the relevant statement (no hours defined) is on the Law Society website: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/practice-management/pro-bono/
and the National Pro Bono Centre aims to support the legal profession in the provision of pro bono services, and assist looking for pro bono services, see
The RICS also promotes pro bono work, see its web page for its Charity Property Help which offers “charities and voluntary organisations a minimum one-hour consultation with an RICS-regulated firm free of charge”, ref.

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No till farming and conservation tillage

No tillage means avoiding ploughing and the consequent disruption of soil structure, increased run-off and soil erosion. It raises albedo and retains soil water.

No till farming involves direct drilling of seed without disturbing the soil, at small scale it can be extended to techniques such as permaculture.

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Ruderal planting at the Tate Modern art gallery

Empty Lot by Abraham Cruzvillegas

This year’s installation at the Tate Modern is an exercise in geometric natural regeneration. The Tate Modern is 1 of the 3 galleries you must see and this new exquisite piece of art really embellishes this fact. 23 tonnes of soil fill 240 triangular planters made of rough timber on a support of scaffolding poles. The triangles reduce in number to form a prow like triangle jutting through the Turbine Hall. The soil has from 36 sites around London, from Buckingham Palace, to the Lea Valley, to Kew and Wisley. The planters are lit by lights mounted on poles lashed together from junk found in builders’ skips, and the planters will be watered regularly. Abraham Cruzvillegas’s idea is to allow natural regeneration to happen and some spindly growth was evident this week. Maybe visit with a packet of poppy seeds? The artwork was opened 12 October and will remain until 3 April 2016.

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