A green and pleasant land: landscape after coronavirus

Friday 26th June 2020

As architects switch their focus to imagining what post COVID 19 architecture might look like, with more spacious internal spaces and circulation areas, lower density offices, a move away from open-plan and the introduction of openable windows, I think, in contrast, we should be first looking outside.


Of course, I would say that wouldn’t I, after all I’m a landscape architect! But if you stop and think for a moment after weeks, and it might be months, of being cooped up, many people are taking a renewed interest in the value of parks and urban green space. It seems that every day there is another new article published online by the BBC or the mainstream press on the importance of green open space and contact with nature to peoples’ health and wellbeing.


Even the government acknowledges that “people need parks” (Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick 18 April 2020). He “made it clear” that all parks must remain open emphasising that lockdown measures were harder for those without gardens or access to green space and that they “are needed…for the health of the nation”.


Many years of research shows that urban green space, such as parks, playgrounds, and residential greenery, can promote mental and physical health and reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, stimulating social cohesion, supporting physical activity, and reducing exposure to air pollutants, noise and excessive heat.


So, are we at that tipping point or even pushing at an open door? Epidemics and pandemics have their own temporality, panic dissipates very quickly, and people rarely follow up on the opportunities for fundamental change. The current crisis could be a once in a generation opportunity to take a step back and reassess fundamental assumptions about how our towns and cities are structured. This is the best time ever to think of a green and walkable city.


Barriers to imposing car-free streets are being lifted following a government decision to enable key workers to walk or cycle more safely. Normally, streets closures must follow procedures that can take weeks to implement but now councils can now cut red tape governing temporary road closures. These measures will also promote healthy walking and cycling - and tackle climate change and air pollution. While traffic has dropped around the world, with it so have nitrogen dioxide levels.


The landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who once worked as a sanitary officer, was inspired by Joseph Paxton and his design for Birkenhead Park. Olmstead went on to build New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks. Britain once led the world in increasing networks of green spaces to improve the health of urban communities through a mix of municipal leadership, private philanthropy and voluntary endeavour. Can we do it again now, by valuing them for the 21st century?


Jane Findlay is a Landscape Architect, the founding director of Fira and President Elect of the Landscape Institute.

She is an experienced masterplanner and designer of the large and complex projects. Jane is particularly experienced in the design of the healing landscape for healthcare. She has delivered some of the largest and most complex healthcare projects in the UK.

Jane is passionate about promoting the psychological and physical benefits that quality landscape design plays in all aspects of the public realm. She is a pioneering exponent of ‘place-making’ and the importance of health and wellbeing in the way that people experience buildings and the spaces we create within, around, and connecting places. She is a leader in the field of the concept of the ‘healing landscape’, which is reflected in all her work.

Jane has also developed a specialism in symbolism and remembrance through landscape design. She continues to advise the National Memorial Arboretum in South Staffordshire.


To register for the Birmingham event where Jane will be speaking about 'Healthy Places, Healthy People: An evidence-based approach to designing urban landscapes to improve public health' please click here.

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