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Landscape Institute Exhibition: Rethinking the Urban Landscape

18 February 2015

Richard Summers

I was pleased to attend the opening of the exhibition on behalf of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and to meet Noël Farrer, President of Landscape Institute, and Paul Lincoln, one of the joint curators of the exhibition, as well as several friends from my work in planning over the years. I was also pleased to look round the various exhibits amidst the crowd of attentive and animated guests.

Overall messages of the exhibition

The Landscape Institute and the Building Centre have put together an inspirational exhibition about the challenges facing contemporary society and the objectives of sustainable development. “Rethinking the urban landscape” features a series of case studies to illustrate the themes of community, water, saving lives, finance, orchestration, beauty and potential. It is well worth a visit if you haven’t seen it yet.

“Rethinking the urban landscape” aims to “highlight the importance of landscape in shaping our cities” (Landscape Institute website). It also “argues the case to commit investment to 'green infrastructure' in the early stages of city and regeneration planning” (Building Centre website). These approaches combine to present some examples of landscape design as part of the wider process of urban place making.

LI

Eastside City Park. Image: Tim Soar.

The role of landscape in place making

The exhibition showcases many examples of nationally significant landscape projects and demonstrates the role of long-term landscape planning in cities to help create healthier, safer and happier places for people to live, work and play. It mentions the garden cities and new towns where the landscape and landscape design have been successfully integrated into the overall urban environment.

Many of our historic cities show how landscape design and urban design have combined to create memorable environments. Many other towns have adopted green infrastructure frameworks into their local development plans and encouraged good landscape design to help create distinctive town centres, local neighbourhoods, city parks and business parks that function well together and also look good.

Negative messages about planning

So I was dismayed to see some generally negative attitudes to planning which I know are still held by some landscape architects. This is unfortunate because it undermines the mutual respect and positive understanding that I think is shared between our two professional institutes. It seems to me that all the built and natural environment professions believe that working together is the way forward.

Perhaps the most striking example of these negative attitudes to planning was in the “Start Here” panel at the beginning of the exhibition. It proclaimed that "planning has often left landscape to be a by-product of development." What about something like, “Planners and landscape architects help to integrate the landscape and good landscape design into urban development”? Could this panel be amended ?

Conclusions

So I congratulate the Landscape Institute and the Building Centre on this excellent exhibition. It will do much to promote landscape architecture and the achievements of landscape design. But can I suggest that the wider roles of landscape and planning are emphasised and the negative messages about planning are amended before it goes on tour? I would be happy to join one of the regional discussions.

About Richard Summers

Richard Summers BA (Hons) MRTPI, is a Past President of the RTPI (2011), a Past Chairman of the RTPI International Committee (2012 to 2013), a continuing member of the committee (2014) and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire (from 2013). He has spoken at various international conferences in Wuhan, China (2013), Bogota, Colombia (2012), Boston, USA (2011) and Nicosia, Cyprus (2011). He studied at the University of Manchester and has worked in the USA (early 1970s) and in the Baltic States (early 1990s) as well as in England.