Forests represent the green lungs of Europe. They can provide an essential resource not only at an ecological level but also at an economic level. The interest among the European community in wooded areas has grown dramatically in recent years, partly due to the contentious issue of global warming. This article sets out an argument for controlled “deforestation”, as an important maintenance tool for the health and vitality of forests. We also present a series of solutions to the issue of uncontrolled forest expansion in order to preserve the forest flora and fauna while encouraging close contact with our environment in order to develop a sustainable rural sector.
Europe’s forests span 182 million hectares or 5% of the world’s forest area. They cover 43% of the EU’s land area and contribute significantly to reducing CO2 levels, preserving biodiversity, and producing wood, fruit, and game. Nationally, their importance varies considerably. For example, Forests cover 60% of the total land area in Finland. While in the Netherlands, forests only account for 11% of land coverage. Contrary to many regions of the world where deforestation continues to be a serious problem, the land area covered by forests in the European Union has grown considerably over the past 10 years, thanks to natural succession. The EU has General Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Forests in Europe, which can be a useful in-depth study on the subject.
The many types of forests in the EU reflect its geo-climatic diversity, range in climates, soil typologies, altitude, and topography. Currently, only 4% of forests in the EU are pristine and have not been modified by man (see for example the Białowieża forest, in Poland). 8% of forests consist of controlled plantations, while the rest (more than 80%) are considered “semi-natural” forests. Furthermore, in most cases, European forests belong to private owners (around 60% in terms of area, compared to 40% of publicly owned forests). This data is significant because a balanced forest control is identified, but is this always the case?
As highlighted in the data above, exponential growth is taking place in a natural and diversified way and not all nations belonging to the European community have the same controlled forest area. In Italy, for example, in the last 5 years, forests have increased by 270 thousand hectares, coming to occupy 40% of the national surface, representing an increase of 75% in the last century. This is largely due to the abandonment of rural areas where natural succession leads to the establishment of the forest as the climax vegetation. Another alarming factor is the variable of climate change. Very strong heatwaves, particularly in western Europe, have led to a great drought in the woods. The lack of water makes the woods deteriorate and exposes them to pests and fire. This also creates an evident displacement of forests in defense of climate change, which unfortunately find it difficult to follow, and this exponential growth will not last long for obvious reasons of space.
Controlled deforestation can be a management tool for the wellbeing of the ecosystem, to create new spaces where the forest is not healthy or improperly grown, or where invasive species prevail. This managed approach aims to bring the ecosystem back to a primordial state. There are various solutions tested over the years by various European countries:
The issue of forest maintenance is at the center of a major European debate. Obviously, there is no one answer or correct way. What emerges is that there are nations facing more difficulty than others in terms of territorial and climatic change. The European community is allocating several billion in favor of the nations most in difficulty, however, we should pause to understand the different needs of the latter, from an increase in the bioeconomy to the preservation of natural parks and forests, up to the introduction of urban ecosystems. Renewing not only guidelines but also collaboration and exchange of information between nations for the improvement or respect of wooded areas. If necessary, intervening en masse as a community and reforming the national bureaucracy.
Article By: Duccio Toti
Lead image: Tree Nature Forest by Pxhere CC0.0
Winter is a season where the contrast between indoors and outdoors is most noticeable. During the winter, indoor spaces are warm, cozy, and bright while the outdoor spaces are cold, wet, and dark. Many people don’t want to spend their free time outside. This causes physical inactivity and may lead to some health problems, but there is a solution to this that lies in urban design strategies of winter cities. In this article, we look at some winter urban design and landscape architecture strategies that will help built environment professionals to design more lively, active winter cities.
These cities are usually cold for most of the year, and health problems such as seasonal depression can occur due to low light exposure and the decline in social and physical activity levels caused by the harsh environment. To compensate for this, it is necessary to focus on creating cozy, bright public spaces with attractive activities. Many cities do not cater well to winter activities, leading to people shutting themselves indoors during the darker months. This is caused by unsuccessful urban design strategies that focus on the use of urban public spaces only in what is perceived as ‘good’ weather conditions. A shift in thinking towards designing for all weather conditions in a 24/7/365 approach can lead to increased public space usage and better physical and mental health outcomes for a wider range of residents.
During the holiday season, when Christmas markets are held, people want to go out to see the attractions and spend time in the markets. These recreational events also affect winter tourism and change the whole vibe of a city during winter. Approximately 85 million visitors frequent Christmas markets in Germany every year. It not only makes a city more lively but also strengthens its economy during cold winter months. We can take these events as an example of a good winter city design strategy. These activities have proven to attract people to leave the comfort of their homes and spend their free time outside. Wintertime markets require not only careful logistical planning but also good spatial planning. A spike in visitor numbers associated with seasonal markets is usually very short-lived. To flatten that curve, and increase the duration of outdoor public space usage, a careful program of activities needs to be created. With this comes the importance of designing flexible, functional public open spaces that can adapt to a changing program.
The correct design of the buildings surrounding public spaces also affects these spaces considerably. Public spaces designed to catch the sunlight as much as possible in the city, prevent wind, and illuminated walkways will make the city feel safe and comfortable while letting it become more enjoyable to be outside in cold and dark winter times. Surrounding buildings also act as natural surveillance, making the space feel safer and more inviting. For a winter city, factors such as snow and ice should be carefully considered. These factors also affect the accessibility of areas, which is one of the most important factors in urban design. Also, shelter systems and canopies can be added to protect crossing points in the city streets. Careful design of routes that offer wind-shielded and rain/snow protected walking and cycling paths encourage residents to navigate the city in comfort. An increase in people visible on the street has a knock-on effect encouraging others to get outside, thus increasing the liveliness of the city streets almost exponentially.
Nordic cities are famous for their winter design. By working with the elements, rather than against them, many Nordic cities create welcoming and comfortable outdoor environments, by encouraging urban skiing for example. This active lifestyle encouraged by activities and events in the winter fosters social interaction to reduce health problems and alleviate stress. Nordic countries are successful in using the opportunities of the winter to their fullest.
The cold weather affecting the city has turned into an opportunity for Nordic cities with various activities throughout the city. They make the existing park features suitable for winter activities such as ice skating, skiing, and tobogganing. Ice skating on ponds and lakes in the Nordic region is a key social activity, bringing people together. Often, these water features are integrated into public parks and designed to be shallow to freeze more quickly, thus extending the skating season.
Another interesting winter activity in the Nordic region is ice swimming – cold days are not an obstacle for this activity. This is something that can also be programmed for in milder climates. Most people in Finland think that it has many physical and mental benefits, and this activity is indispensable for them. Places like Allas Sea Pool and Löyly Sauna in Helsinki are used all year round.
Multifunctional spaces are also key to extending the use of the public realm in winter. For example, running tracks can be illuminated at night to provide ski routes that can be used 24/7. All these features and facilities should be located within walking distance of the city center.
It is very important to support all these with other activities by adding markets and cafes that are located close by, allowing people to stay in these areas longer. The Ice Park in Helsinki located in the Railway Station Square is a key winter-time destination. In addition to skating, there are cafes where people can watch others skate, so they manage to keep people in these areas longer. In this way, social interaction is encouraged and the whole atmosphere of the city changes.
Winter cities should be places where people enjoy going out in winter and spending time in outdoor public spaces. Cold weather is not a reason to stay at home; we should adapt our cities to the opportunities created by the cold weather and create welcoming winter environments. Intermittent but regular events throughout the winter and their support with creative lights will attract people to these public spaces. Good winter design can contribute to physical and mental good health throughout the year.
Lead image: Impulse by Lateral Office and CS Design_ Photo by Ulysse Lemerise
Article Written by Merve Koc and Mert Karaca
In decades past, urban cities have grown at an accelerating pace while overlooking environmental and social needs to gain wealth. Likewise, the increasing prosperity has led to an increase in overall consumption and therefore immense natural resource extraction. Since the industrial age, cities have been expanding and attracting many residents from the surrounding countryside. Consequently, environmental damages are increasing, but they can be reduced by introducing a contradictory movement– degrowth.
Degrowth has its roots in early 2000s France. It is an ideology opposing the existing model of constant city growth for growth’s sake. And promotes producing only what is needed to sustain the city. Degrowth has the potential to radically transform urban cities towards a more sustainable future with help of subtle landscape and urban design. In this article, we take a look at what architects and landscape architects need to know about degrowth and how to maximize the potential of this emerging phenomenon at a time when cities are seeing an exodus of residents for the first time in a long while.
It is widely believed that more urbanization leads to more prosperity. In urban cities, architecture real estate has become the main measure of growth – the grander and more expensive the structures are, the more successful the city is. However, in the process of expanding, urban cities only grow denser. Hence, losing the connection to the natural landscape while putting a strain on its environment. The expansion, therefore, is seen as unfavorable in terms of degrowth. According to its philosophy, modern cities are restrictive and not in balance with nature. Instead of encouraging the overall growth, the degrowth model urges for smart and functional city planning to lay the foundation for the future.
To preserve our planet, the degrowth model proposes thoughtful changes to the current cityscape, restructuring and transforming it from densely built concrete jungles to open, natural, and innovative structures. This reorganization is considered essential for a more sustainable social structure, living and work areas, as well as an associated transport system to grant space for the whole community.
The core value of the degrowth city model is a community, in which residents share a common area for living, working, and recreation. Thus, common areas are crucial for the community’s development and success. In contrast, modern cities are planned to be functional and efficient for an individual, therefore often forgetting society’s need for social interactions and also public spaces. Common spaces are also strongly connected to the well-being of residents. Hence, they need to be the main focus for a prosperous future society and the degrowth city. So, the degrowth model proposes to reform the city’s landscape into a more open, natural, and welcoming environment that contributes to community cohesion.
One area which has been shown to work effectively in this philosophy is Christiania, Denmark. Here, residents are in charge of the community, maintaining and developing the area, while also managing the economy, working, and organizing shared activities. With community living, the welfare of people is improved through collective ownership, generous green spaces, and low-density living.
The reorganization of cities also requires the reconstruction of living areas. Currently, most cities are compactly built and densely populated, allowing only a little space for naturalistic landscape. This is despite the high demand for open green spaces within residential areas. Increasing natural, communal areas in the degrowth model, would mean a switch to low-density neighborhoods. Thus, the overall city will become more accessible. This is done by introducing urban cities to a degrowth-friendly co-housing model successfully pioneered in Denmark.
The co-housing model includes a common house, shared facilities, meeting and playing areas, and even guest rooms, all free to use, and maintained by the community. By introducing green, communal spaces and facilities to the neighborhood, the area becomes more functional and attractive for the residents, while also being more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, a design strategy of low-impact and high-maintenance will be established. It would recognize structures built quickly and with low construction costs. In the long term, buildings would need more maintenance, but they would also be more cared for and more affordable. Consequently, personal living areas will have only the necessary spaces, letting residents benefit from the public facilities by cooking, gardening, and working together.
The present work system requires each worker to have a dedicated office space. In contrast, the degrowth work system believes in communal jobs, where residents are employed in community gardens, farmers’ markets, local businesses, and alternative learning spaces, meaning that the most work is done outdoors, in a natural environment. The communal work allows residents to reconnect with natural ecosystems, providing more meaningful and productive performance. As the work in degrowth is moved from indoors – offices, to outdoors – communal spaces, then the city view will change from busy high-rise building blocks to more open low-rise view, where nature plays the main role.
The city transportation system is strongly connected with city planning. With more communal spaces introduced to the cities, the road areas must decrease. This means having more space for people, but less for private transport. Therefore, the degrowth city model prioritizes a branching public transportation system over personal transport networks, while encouraging broad cycling networks and an active “on foot lifestyle”. By reducing the number of roads in urban cities, as has been done in Copenhagen, the private transportation traffic is diminished as residents find alternative transit options to private transport. As a byproduct of reduced private transport, the cityscape becomes quieter, safer, and cleaner, allowing residents to enjoy the communal spaces more.
We live in times of constant economic growth that is rapidly exhausting our planet. The degrowth model provides a framework to slow down the growth of society and build a new urban city that develops together with nature and the needs of its people. The new degrowth city will be restructured, introducing a community system, new living, and work areas, and diminishing the current high demand for private transport systems. Overall, by reforming urban cities according to the degrowth model, future cities will become more balanced, meaning that nature and man-made structures will play an equal part in the new cityscape.
Are you currently working on any low-density-high public space projects that follow the principles of degrowth? Tell us in the comments.
Article by Ruta Jurgevica
Lead image Regen Villages by Effekt
As a species, we have the impulse to seek stability and permanence, perhaps because we do not accept the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, we are ephemeral, and this scares us. This impulse is reflected in architecture. Indeed, traditional architecture is always focused on permanence. Perhaps landscape architects have a better appreciation for working in four dimensions, as working with living systems requires an acceptance that nothing is permanent. But what is permanent? We oppose change, but change is the one constant in our lives. Everything is destined to come to an end, so why look for permanent solutions to temporary problems?
In this article, we explore the aspects of temporariness. We look at how it manifests today in architecture and the landscape; we examine the implications of when temporary becomes permanent; and finally, we question how temporary architecture and landscape architecture can be the key to a new way of thinking that increases sustainability in our cities.
A temporary architectural installation is a work designed to last a certain period or to change over time. For example, it can be a single-family home, a piece of micro-architecture, or an art installation. Temporary architectural artifacts are defined by the time they occupy the ground, or when they are adaptable to different uses and users. In the social context, ephemeral architecture could be employed in a variety of scenarios. For example: to accommodate specific events, as a lifestyle choice, as a requirement for a society that reveres change, or as a necessity (emergency architecture). In the field of landscape architecture, temporary landscapes are an increasingly popular project typology. Pop-up parks, Parklets, and temporary art installations have been changing notions of open space. Peter Bishop, Professor in Urban Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, describes temporary land use as “an intentional phase” where the “time-limited nature of the use is generally explicit”. Currently, the plethora and variety of projects, and the emerging nature of the typology, has impeded society’s wide adoption of temporary landscape interventions.
Many projects are self-initiated, from a ‘bottom-up’ approach, and aim to encourage collective and participatory planning. They use short-term and low-cost interventions to achieve long-term change, in line with the goals of Tactical urbanism. Some cultural associations promote emerging initiatives, such as Camposaz labs, that involve professionals from different disciplines who deal with the design and physical construction of installations in problematic urban areas intending to improve the cityscape.
The traditional way of designing often leads to cases of abandoned buildings and lots. Buildings are often designed for a single function, without due consideration to what will happen once the building reaches the end of its lifecycle. In North America, 2000 shopping malls are reaching the end of their service life. It is predicted that in the next decade some 50% of these will be abandoned. Massive amounts of materials and resources will soon be wasted. We live in a “liquid society” as the famous Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman puts it. A society in constant transformation in which everything gets old fast. Commercial spaces open and close in a noticeably short time, in keeping with new market demands.
When temporary structures become permanent, the ephemeral can reflect the zeitgeist. The German pavilion presented at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1929 designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe should have been temporary architecture, and yet went on to become one of the symbols of the Modern Movement.
However, this story is not typical of ephemeral architecture. The Olympic games are an all-too-often sad example of cities investing great resources in structures and installations, only to abandon them later when they cannot be absorbed into the fabric of the city. One example that stands out as a juxtaposition to this trend is the regeneration of the site of the Olympic Park, built for the Olympic games in London in 2012. The park is being transformed into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which has become fully integrated into the surrounding Stratford and Hackney Wick areas. This transformation brings greater visitor numbers and investment to the borough.
Is it possible to think of a new way of designing and building that includes an assembly kit that can be dismantled? L’Architecture est dans le Pré is the house designed by Claas Architectes, located in the countryside of a small village in France. It was originally conceived as a self-build kit – a dialogue between agricultural construction techniques and economic needs. Temporary architecture can also involve entire cities. A stunning example of this is the ephemeral megacity of seven million people, which is built for a Hindu religious festival, called Kumbh Mela. It is a city that sits on the banks of two rivers. Five materials are used to build this settlement: eight-foot tall bamboo, string or rope, nails or screws, and skin material. It is a method that allows disassembly and ecological reabsorption of all the materials. In a few weeks, this entire city emerges, and at the end of the festival, within a week, the entire city is disassembled. And the terrain is offered back to the river.
We can define “temporary” as that which is thought to be easily removed, or that can change over time. We can estimate the duration of temporality based on predictable cycles according to functions needed both now and in the future. Furthermore, we can define temporary within the frame of reference of the landscape and how it will transform around the buildings over time.
It is not enough to use sustainable materials and technologies; we need to start thinking about new approaches and change the traditional way we approach projects. If everything is in continuous transformation, architecture cannot be thought of as static. We should think about cities as living organisms that are transformed over time, adapting to changes in society. We have limited resources, so we need to use them more efficiently. Landscape architects and architects must be ready to continuously reinvent themselves, to think in terms of how installations can be reversible and disassembled at the end of the project’s lifecycle. The key could be to move on from the urbanism of grand visions to the urbanism of grand adjustments. To design for temporary humans and temporary functions, to leave a minimal impact, and to try to extend the expiration date of the planet.
Article written by Marisandra Introna
Lead image: Your Reflection Pavilion by Guillermo Hevia Garcia and Nicolas Urzua Photo by Nico Saieh
What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about biodiverse ecosystems? Probably the hard-paved, concrete, urban environment is not what you have in mind. Though cities are dominated by one species, (which I assume we are both representatives of), they are ecosystems full of opportunities. Urban environments are compositions of prospects and threats. Seizing those opportunities demands from us a new understanding of environmental protection.
Some people might ask why we should care about urban ecology if there is a vast wilderness out there. Yet studies on urban biodiversity show that it is a cause worth fighting for. If you want to know how important urban biodiversity really is, check it out here.
In this article, we summarize 10 methods that will help you create more biodiverse and environment-friendly designs.
This is the first and most important rule. Get to know local ecology and protect it. If you think there is nothing to protect, look at it again, and look closer. If it is an already degraded area, understand its past and check if you can restore part of what was there before. Drawing inspiration from the past will indicate what plant species to use in your design, and any systems that need renovating, such as daylighting rivers.
Some may argue that the urban environment is so drastically different, that some native species may not flourish in it; it is always worth investigating. If you aim to increase biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdoms, native species will support the richest wildlife. And always remember to avoid invasive species or any that may become invasive in your design area.
This method is only applicable in climates where layers are the natural order of growing. Although traditional lawns are one of the most popular landcover approaches, they do not provide much of a habitat for wildlife. More naturalistic planting, like flower meadows, can support butterflies, and bees. Taller tussocky grass may become home to animals that are not satisfied with turfgrass. This meta-analysis study from Germany has demonstrated that biotic factors, like vegetation structure, are extremely significant in supporting wildlife. Here you can check other arguments on whether to banish lawns or not.
Ph. D Sofie Pelsmakers in her book ”The environmental design pocketbook” suggests, that to avoid disease, pests, and to support biodiversity, you should select plants from a maximum of 30% of the same family, 10% of the same genus, and 20% of the same species. If you design a larger area, you should also follow the suggestion of Tan Puay Yok from the book “Nature, Place & People: Forging Connections Through Neighbourhood Landscape Design”, to diversify types of ecosystems.
Every space in the design area should be carefully thought through. However, sometimes it might be advantageous to leave a fragment for Mother Nature to design. Natural succession and preservation of natural vegetation are the most failsafe ways to incorporate all the methods outlined above to increase biodiversity.
We may have an influence over-designed vegetation, yet controlling other kingdoms such as invertebrates, mammals, and birds, is not so easy. Nevertheless, providing food, shelter and nesting places might be our best shot. Always support existing habitats with a respectful approach. Different species might need different methods. For example, a high green roof may attract butterflies but be inadequate for bees. House sparrows appreciate nesting 2m above the ground, while peregrine falcons need nesting sites to be more than 20m high, preferably with a good view for pigeon-pray.
Those two can cause psychological stress in humans, as well as in other animals. Nobody likes to live in a hectic area. Therefore, to not repel biodiverse wildlife, keep light away from their resting spots, like ponds, tall trees, and hedges. According to Ph. D Sofie Pelsmakers, light below 3lux at the ground, ideally 1 lux, is required. Avoid white and blue wavelengths.
If you followed all the previous tips, you have now quite a decent potential habitat! Now is the moment to allow animals to get to it. According to the previously mentioned meta-analysis study connectivity is one of the most significant factors influencing biodiversity. Connectivity in the matrix is crucial because otherwise, you risk fragmentation and the creation of an ‘ecological sink’ for animals to die in, without enough genetic diversity to sustain subsequent generations.
If a true corridor is not possible, try steppingstones. They might not be as successful as corridors, but they may be a good compromise of cost and ecology. A nice idea for this approach might be pocket parks.
Assuming you already considered providing shelters, another aim could be to reduce bird mortality. Birds often fly directly into the glass as they confuse reflections with reality or try to fly through the building. A lot of them die. If you want to avoid this pointless animal death, you can avoid planting new trees near the large glass surfaces and corner windows. Probably the best approach would be to not use big surfaces at all in the first 23m from the ground or use glass safe for birds. You can find other guidelines and information here.
According to a recent international report, there are four management activities that you should avoid. The report reinforces the point made in method No. 3 above, that short turfgrass lawns and the simplification of habitat structure can have detrimental effects on biodiversity. Another interesting example is not being too tidy. One Australian example from 2010, demonstrated that just leaving leaf litter increased bird species richness by more than 30%. Hedgehogs and other small animals would also appreciate this technique. Lastly, it is important to consider pesticide and herbicide applications, as they usually cannot recognize “good living beings” from “bad living beings” and indiscriminately kill. By design, they reduce species-richness of plants, therefore repel animals.
Biodiversity is reducing across the planet. It is neither the time nor the place to ignore biodiversity in our designs. Taking species diversity into account might look challenging, but even these simple methods outlined above will help. Firstly, respect what is there. Then consider diverse, native planting, that will attract animals. Then make your designed habitats as hospitable as possible with prescriptive maintenance.
Are there any other methods to increase biodiversity you would like to share with us?
Feature Image: Vancouver Land Bridge (Confluence Project)
Article by Agnieszka Nowacka
We all know biodiversity is important. Much has been written about it in both scientific literature and public media. But how important is it? What role does biodiversity have to play in our cities?
To answer those questions, we must differentiate the arguments for environmental protection. Differing arguments result in different approaches. For example, depending on if you want to protect local ecology, provide ecosystem services, or climate-proof an ecosystem, you may choose to use only native plants or also add those from outside of your region.
According to research by Ph.D. D.C. Dearborn and Professor S. Kark, there are 7 main motivations for conserving urban biodiversity. In this article, we examine the most important motivations for protecting and increasing biodiversity in cities.
Cities have historically flourished in areas of high productivity, such as seashores, riverbanks, and deltas. Areas that were usually characterized by their high diversity in animals and plants. According to research on urban biodiversity from Arizona, it may be an effect of the rich geology in these areas. Over time, we have eroded these ecosystems, leaving behind only what was useful to us, with disregard for the indigenous wildlife that relied on these ecosystems. We may never be able to restore what was lost in those areas. However, we may be able to create safe havens that can accommodate local species.
Connectivity in active ecosystems is key to sustaining any population. Even if animals will not feed or breed in the urban area, they may need to pass through it. Stripping them of this possibility might destroy not only the ecosystem in the city but also the surrounding, interlinked ecosystems, by creating fragmentation and ecological sinks. The population will either quickly become locally extinct from the lack of resources or will be able to survive there only a few generations, lacking enough genetic diversity to survive long term.
The long-term goal of preserving a biodiverse planet is to allow lifeforms to build climate resilience. Species-rich ecosystems are more likely to adapt safely to the changes happening around them. Moreover, the research from Israel previously mentioned suggests that green areas in the urban matrix can help ease the transition of species to accommodate these new, man-made environments. As observers, we can survey this amazing process and document it, expanding our knowledge about evolution.
Environmental protection does not need a few active individuals as much as it needs considerable numbers of people playing their part. Yet people are spending less and less time outdoors. With this lack of connection with nature comes a decrease in environmental empathy. Access to nature can be increased by designers providing naturalistic environments closer to home in the urban environment.
One great example of environmental intervention and education might be the story of Austin, Texas (U.S.A.), where the renovation of the Congress Avenue Bridge led to its colonization by free-tailed bats. Before then, the colony was banished from one place to another. Now, the renovation and subsequent environmental education resulted in a bat-paradise and an annual gathering of thousands of people, who come to see the flying spectacle adding to the local economy through eco-tourism.
What is a more effective area to place human-helping services, than where the density of population is highest? In cities even small, but well-planned designs like pocket parks can improve the way of living. Greenery can ease the urban heat-island effect, suppress noises, improve urban hydrology, and more. The Urban wetland in London created in the area of a former drinking water company eventually became an important biodiversity point on the map of London.
If your aim is fulfilling the moral obligation we may have as humans, the first thing should be to talk with local people, as every culture differs in what matters to them. Community environmental action can have a positive effect on a community and a sense of belonging.
Proximity to green environments is well known to have positive effects on physical and mental health. Research by PhD. Roger S Ulrich from the Chalmers University of Technology proved that even as little as looking outside the window on green spaces may lead to a quicker recovery. Moreover, ecosystem services, like the reduction of air pollution, add significant value to the quality of life in cities.
Although this point is not mentioned by researchers D.C. Dearborn and S. Kark, the European Environmental Agency (EEA), in their report “10 messages for 2020” noted, that making life in the city more connected to nature, thus more attractive, may prevent urban sprawl and therefore save space for wilder areas outside the city.
If at least one of those arguments got to your heart, we may agree that taking care of urban biodiversity should be our priority. Although it may not be so glamorous as wild seashores, plains, and mountains, its proximity to a dense population makes it more effective in solving some more immediate local challenges. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if your priority is fulfilling our responsibilities towards the environment, or improving the quality of living, increasing biodiversity in our designs is a good way to achieve many goals.
Featured image Gardens by the Bay 83 – OCBC Skywalk by Steel Wool_CC2.0
Article by Agnieszka Nowacka
Built environment professionals have an opportunity to influence not only the physical environment but also the societies that use the spaces we create. Much has been written in recent popular media regarding social segregation of play spaces in developments. Developers have been accused of creating play spaces that exclude certain portions of residents in their designs. In this article, we look at what landscape architects and architects can do to increase social integration through play provision.
Arguably, segregation has been a significant problem for a long time. Who can forget the appalling racial segregation in South Africa under apartheid that lead to whole urban areas being declared off-limits to black South Africans? While such stark examples may be unthinkable to the majority of people today, the rise of gated communities in North America and council estates in the UK has accentuated and perpetuated an age-old trend for social segregation that probably even predates the castle keep and peasant villages of the days of yore.
Many planning restrictions and building codes require developments to have a certain amount of affordable or social housing within a development. The idea is that people from under-resourced backgrounds should have access to well-designed accommodation in the same area as people from more wealthy backgrounds. However, developers usually receive a greater return on more exclusive owner-occupied units. This places commercial pressures on developers to maximize higher-cost housing, often at the expense of social housing. This has been highlighted in recent years through the ‘poor door’ scandal, where residents of social housing are provided with a separate door. The fundamental aspect is the social segregation of what’s perceived as two types of people – the “haves” and the “have nots”. This is exemplified in the idea that privately-owned housing is literally made more exclusive by excluding the social tenants from the main door. The Altitude scheme in London drew particular criticism for placing the entrance to the affordable housing down a back ally primarily used for garbage collection.
The problem of social segregation goes beyond dividing entrances. For example, in London, several schemes have come under fire for making different provision of outside spaces for privately-owned residences and social housing. The Baylis Old School mixed residential development in South London boasts 149 homes featuring “huge windows looking out over the lovely gardens”. The Guardian reported that the developers marketed the scheme as having “common areas” that are “there for the use of all the residents”. However, after planning permission had been granted the plans were altered to block social tenants’ access to some communal areas. Henley Homes, the developer, has countered that the development has subsequently been split in two with different management companies looking after the owner-occupied and social housing areas, resulting in different play provisions for each area. This case is not unique. Many examples from across London have been revealed where social tenants and mixed ownership apartments do not have access to play areas and facilities.
Criticism of segregated play areas comes from both sides of the divide. While families in social/affordable housing lament the poor provision for play, residents of owner-occupied housing regret that their children are not able to play with their school friends in the same play spaces within the development.
Social segregation has well-documented impacts on health and longer-term inequality. By segregating facilities at such an early age, children are made aware of the inequalities in society. Growing up in these conditions helps perpetuate that inequality.
Dividing provision for residents based on income inequality also impacts upon other discriminatory areas such as race. People who identify as coming from a visible minority background statistically have lower incomes. Therefore, segregating play provision between income backgrounds can have knock-on effects for social and cultural integration. More diverse neighborhoods have greater tolerance. Allowing children of all backgrounds to play together stimulates greater tolerance for the next generation.
Many architects and landscape architects already appreciate the intrinsic benefits of inclusive spaces and design for the needs of all residents. Policymakers also often understand these issues. However, developers argue that the inclusion of social housing has negative impacts on the profitability of market housing. In cases such as The Baylis Old School, plans are altered after planning permission has been granted. One solution might be to better legislate the equal and inclusive provision of play spaces for all residents and then following up post-planning to ensure these measures are implemented. Another approach might be to insist that all developments include social housing and inclusive provision for all children. This might create a level playing field that removes the competition from exclusive developments that puts commercial pressure on developers to compete with these developments.
As built environment professionals, we can adopt best practice design solutions that foster social inclusion and insist that they are utilized in our projects. Well-designed paces might include:
• Communal play spaces that are designed for both owner-occupied and social/rented accommodation
• Locating communal play spaces centrally to avoid implied ownership
• Designing out barriers between different areas
• Locating access points equally between all types of housing within schemes
• Incorporating diverse play equipment and providing open spaces for interactive and team sports/play
• Participatory design – hosting consultation and design events amongst all stakeholders and facilitating discussion
• Precise yet inclusive rules for engagement, use and maintenance
• A program of events to create interest in the play are and foster social cohesion
We should also adopt a firmer stance with clients and developers who might request changes to plans that have already obtained planning approval or building permits. It may also be appropriate to inform local planning authorities where schemes have departed from the consented plans.
As landscape architects and architects, we have a duty not only to our clients but also to society. We are aware that we should be designing inclusive spaces, but there are often pressures from developers to design separate areas for owner-occupied and social/rented housing or to alter drawings post-planning to place boundaries in areas cutting off access to play areas. There needs to be a change in the planning process and better provision for post-planning follow-ups to ensure what has been granted permission or issued permit is actually built. However, we also need to ensure we adopt best practices for designing inclusive play areas within housing developments.
Feature image: Unnamed CC0
Gentrification is a term that emerged in the mid-1960s to explain the demographic and social changes that some neighborhoods in the London were experiencing. Since then, a vast number of articles and essays on urban transformation have sought to explain this phenomenon.
In this article, we shall explore how to detect areas that are likely to be affected by this process, how to identify those that are already being affected and how to prevent this from happening to preserve heterogeneity, social inclusion, and sustainability in our cities.
The word gentrification coming from the English syllable “gentry”, refers to the British rural nobility. Gentrification was originally coined to describe the emergence of middle-to-higher-income social groups in neighborhoods that led to the displacement of the working classes that originally inhabited these areas. This resulted in a loss of local identity and fragmentation of the community. However, gentrification is no longer restricted to urban centers or first-world metropolises. As Jason Hackworth and Neil Smith wrote in their essay titled ‘The Changing State of Gentrification’: “Gentrification is the leading edge of the urbanization of human evolution‘.
The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman coined with the term “Liquid Modernity” which refers to a phenomenon that leads to the creation of egalitarian consumption patterns, a loss of cultural diversity, and an uprooting of identity. In this paradigm of a lack of personal commitment to long-term local goals, there is a contradiction between the search for freedom, the desire for change and the fear of not knowing what will happen.
The ephemerality of current values that were highlighted the global economic crisis in 2007 and the ongoing environmental and migration crisis can be understood to be a particularly western perspective problem. Historic values and traditions are undermined, generating a false identity that temporarily binds these communities but is built on weak foundations, causing uprooting of populations.
As we can see in this image, the traditional local shops in London’s Carnaby Street have been replaced by international corporate companies resulting in a neighborhood that lacks a strong local identity and affordability.
Fortunately, the notion of ‘use and throw away’ that consumerism has given us is changing into new movements. A responsible action considering the global trend towards urbanization and the effects of climate change with proposals such as promoting the circular economy can add value and improve the sustainability of the neighborhood. Thus, globalization is one key precipitator of gentrification.
Although each area has its unique circumstances, these broad factors can mark the potential for financial speculation that drives property prices, pushing out existing populations through increases in rent, inflated offers for their properties, or as a result of the rise of the cost of living. This marks a phase of expulsion, investment, and marketing.
The demand for more green spaces by the inhabitants of Chicago sparked the idea of reusing an abandoned railroad line as a linear park. The 606 (named after the Chicago ZIP Code prefix), was opened in 2015, with community support and consultation forming part of the design process. They wanted a path for people who lived there. Given the recent economic crisis, no one expected home prices to rise. However, the investment in the area leads to increased interest from investors and higher earners, leading to a degree of gentrification. But important lessons were learned, and steps have been taken to mitigate this, including a recent push for affordable housing in the area. The experience gained is being applied to other parks projects in Chicago.
It is important to be aware and consider the responsibility that comes with urban intervention and its social impact. Every urban planning project must involve the local community and contemplate the area in relation to its context, seeking a socio-economic balance in a sensible and measured way and never as economic policy.
The Mission neighborhood in San Francisco has always been a neighborhood of immigrants and minorities. In the 1980s it became a hub for the LGBTQ+ community, being a marginal but inclusive area. Now, because of a range of factors including, a rise in population and the attractive (and relatively affordable) Victorian houses in the neighborhood, there has been an expulsion of current residents due to the increasing rental prices.
However, residents are still struggling with art, community, and activism to preserve the cultural environment of the minorities who reside there, seeking social justice, and resisting the financial interests north of Market Street. They have been able to take advantage of their problems with activities such as the creation of tours where local artists explain the history of the neighborhood in murals. The quality of the streets has improved, and citizen security is ensured by social control.
It is important to keep in mind that it is not about looking to blame social groups that move in because of their economic advantage or deride artists who open shops attracted by low rents. What is troubling is the distribution of land ownership, land speculation, and the vulnerability of the population exploited in favor of financial gains. The rest are consequences. As designers, we are committed to creating spaces that solve the needs of their end-users, with the greatest possible satisfaction and the best possible user experience.
Careful planning of green spaces in consultation with the community, for example, can avoid a pocket park from becoming an attractor for gentrification, while adding positive effects to the health and well-being of the existing local residents.
While urban design and landscape architecture may not be able to entirely solve the problem of gentrification, as designers of cities, we can make sure that our projects do not compound the issues of disenfranchisement of minority and vulnerable communities, loss of local identity, and increased land speculation that can lead to gentrification.
Article by Ana Muñoz
Lead image by Jack William Heckey
Public open spaces are vital for understanding cities. They are the main environments for citizens’ interaction and stimulation. While cities create the physical environment for social life, public spaces work as the stage and catalyst of social interaction. Therefore, well-functioning public spaces are crucial for any urban environment due to being physical spaces for civic participation, sense of belonging, and social integration. Likewise, a lack of common space results in the decay of the social structure of the city by limiting possibilities for simple communication and interaction. However, urban public space tends to be more and more exclusive due to top-down planning and standardized practices with limited adaptability. This is further compounded by market forces leading to the privatization and commercialization of public spaces.
The journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs refers to the “crisis of planning” as top-down planning tools which don’t give enough flexibility to urban and social changes. With these practices based on functionality and efficiency, cities began to be more exclusive and interactions between people have started to loosen. Therefore, this situation not only results in unused and unpleasant urban environments but also diminishing social interaction.
If we compare mediaeval cities with modern cities, we gain insight into the decisions we make which create more and more exclusivity in our cities. Mediaeval cities were a product of a continuous process almost devoid of intentional design, allowing spontaneity with no division between different functions. Modern cities, however, are often based on functionalist concerns which aim to solve problems with land-use practices, without considering social impacts. While the mediaeval city gives opportunities for social interaction; the modern city tends to segregate the different user groups in different areas of the city. In this case, the existence of designed public spaces does not become an opportunity for social interaction between different social groups as it does not create any commonality of daily activities targeting the different groups. The famous example of the Brasilia Plan designed by Lucio Costa draws a significant picture of how the basis of modern architecture and land-use practices failed to create a dynamic city structure while aiming to create a well-functioning ideal living environment.
To maintain a healthy and well-functioning urban environment responding to residents’ social and physical needs, the existence of public spaces is crucial. Architectural and planning decisions can contribute to the social and cultural patterns of the city by limiting certain activities while creating opportunities for others. Therefore, an urban environment which is suffering from the drawbacks of the planning practices mentioned above can be reactivated through specific interventions of well-considered public spaces by stimulating interaction between residents and inclusion in the city pattern. However, several key factors can contribute to the viability of public spaces in the long term; maximizing the usability of an area to achieve the ideal of a “city for all”.
To enhance the positive outcomes of public spaces and sustain usability through maximizing integration, it is crucial to consider them as parts of a continuous matrix. The importance of different types of well-functioning public spaces in different scales is a key factor of an open, inclusive city.
For instance, pocket parks have greater effects on residents and commuters at the neighbourhood scale, due to their relative easy implementation and proximity to living environments. Bigger recreation and sports parks contribute to public life at the district scale. Also, the continuity between different public spaces affects the viability of each space individually and the quality of the living environment across the whole city. This situation derives from the fact that each small scale intervention is a product of a greater planning strategy that forms the dialogue between residents and the decisions being made about their environment. Also, when the actual physical environment is considered, the continuity of public spaces affects the experience, the interaction between residents, and the walkability in the city etc.
When designing inclusive spaces, the idea of diversity becomes crucial since integration relies on the existence of different activities and social classes together. The most important factor is the coexisting of varying urban functions and different types of built environments contributing to the usability of the public space by maximizing the possibility of interactions, synergies, and stimulations between different functions and user groups. Integration comes from the diversity of the events and activities that the public space is providing a platform for.
A contemporary example of diversity can be seen in Superkilen in Copenhagen which shows how the diversity in physical space can encourage different activities, resulting in people from different backgrounds coming together.
Since the social, economic and cultural patterns and needs of a city are not static entities, the public spaces which host these values should be adaptable to the changes in social life. When public spaces are rigidly designed as areas on which every activity is meticulously planned, public spaces become insufficient when new needs arise. Therefore, either they become vacant areas in the city or they are demolished to make room for something else as new demands become apparent. In other words, public spaces must provide opportunities for the activities created by residents and ensure spaces are capable of adjusting to different needs. The project of DeUrbanisten is a great example of how public space can be designed to be flexible and effective in minimizing the risk of becoming redundant.
When it comes to the viability of public space, it is very important to have a bottom-up approach to allow people to become active participants in the development of the space, rather than being passive users. When the community is involved in the process of decision making, their engagement with the public space becomes much higher. Also, it maximizes opportunities for identifying particular problems regarding residents’ needs. While doing this, it creates opportunities for interaction between residents by creating a common ground. The well-known example of the High Line shows the opportunities created with a bottom-up approach and the success of public participation in the effectiveness of the project.
It is undeniable that public spaces contribute immensely to creating healthy, well-functioning urban environments. Landscape architects have a great responsibility to create socially sustainable places. By adopting a bottom-up approach and keeping inclusivity in mind, it is possible to ‘re-stitch’ fragmented urban environments by creating platforms for diverse social interactions.
Article written by Sila Efil.
Lead image: Superkilen by Topotek 1, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, and Superflex. Photo by Iwan_Baan
The circular economy seeks to move beyond traditional manufacture, use, and dispose culture to build resilience into systems, products and services throughout their lifecycle and beyond. In this article, we look at the circular economy and how it can be used in urban design and landscape architecture to improve sustainability.
Our current approach to consumption is largely a linear process. We purchase products, use them for their useful lifecycle, and then discard them. Often this waste is not recycled or reused and simply ends up in landfill.
In nature, very little is wasted. Often the faeces of one organism goes on to feed another, which in turn creates waste products that add humus to the soil. The nutrients from the humus ultimately fertilize vegetation in a closed loop that is self-sustaining.
Our cities can be a major source of circular systems. The global population is expected to reach 9.8 Billion by 2050; some 66% of whom will be living in urban areas. That represents around 6.5 billion consumers living in the cities we create. As designers of the urban fabric, we are uniquely placed to influence the future of consumption in cities.
The goal of using circular economy in urban design is to create systems and products that not only reduce consumption while reducing waste but also create economic and social benefits.
Including circular economy principles in urban design requires collaboration between public and private sectors in a non-competitive approach.
Implementing circular economy into projects can be undertaken at all scales. Firms like Circular Landscapes are using the circular economy to create projects that bring economic, social, and environmental benefits to their neighbourhoods and beyond. From more strategic level cases such as Climate-active Cities that outlines climate strategies for various types of cities, to projects like Springfields that looks to make agricultural irrigation more sustainable and circular; Circular Landscape’s projects illustrate the power of the circular economy thinking at the project level.
There are several ways in which built environment professionals can add value to the circular economy and improve the sustainability of the projects we work on. In Hiedanranta, a new 25,000 inhabitant urban district in Tampere, Finland, Jolma Architects is working with a team of international architects, landscape architects, and transport specialists to implement circular economy thinking at the structure plan and master plan levels. For example, we are preparing for a reduction in private vehicle ownership in the future by specifying parking buildings that can easily be adapted for other uses as demand for car parking spaces reduces. These parking buildings also act as material collection points that encourage people to recycle their waste by making it as easy as possible. Waste organic material is used as fertilizer for local food production with low food millage. A heavy focus on renewable energy ensures that the infrastructure of clean energy production is implemented from the start and is easily adaptable for the future.
One specific example of waste to energy in Hiedanranta is the Tampere University of Technology’s trial of urine to create power. Urine is collected and processed to provide nutrients with which to grow algae that is then used as biomass fuel in energy production.
By specifying recycled and reused materials throughout the supply chain, we can reduce waste and energy consumption, and often save money in the process. Gamle Mursten is a company that upcycle materials by collecting used bricks, clean them using vibration techniques, and sell them on. Thus, ensuring a waste product of the demolition industry is reused for future generations. Similarly, the Danish company RGS90 recycles waste porcelain products and insulation into reusable and recyclable building insulation such as ROCKWOOL.
Another project we are involved in investigates how sustainable circular economy principles can be applied practically in an architectural project. Together with Evolving Symbiotic Cities (ESC), Jolma Architects is working on the circular economy project, Circular City Blocks, in the North Bank area of Hiedanranta. The project is the brainchild of Cireco. “Cireco works with partners to create… efficient and high-quality projects that are based on producing zero emissions, clean materials, and resource-conserving design in accordance with the principles of circular economy.”
Several options for North Bank have been investigated, from a single circular economy tower to a sustainable street, and even a whole circular economy city block. The project utilizes principles such as:
North Bank Hiedanranta was presented at the World Circular Economy Forum 2019 by Cireco in Helsinki in June.
Landscape processes can also add value to the circular economy. In traditional water management, wastewater is treated and then discharged into watercourses. This water is not always adequately processed. A 2017 United Nations report states that globally an estimated 80% of wastewater is discharged into watercourses without adequate treatment.
Constructed wetlands offer opportunities to harvest wastewater and clean it by means of phytoremediation. This creates an economic benefit in providing a product (cleaner water) as well as environmental benefits through habitat creation and social benefits in amenity space.
Much has been written about the ecosystem services of urban forests; from mitigating the urban heat island effect, stormwater management, and managing the pollution cycle. Urban forests can provide locally sourced products and amenity space while providing these ecosystem services.
By changing our thinking from a linear economic modal to a circular one, built environment professionals can facilitate connecting waste products and processes in the city. Circular economy results in local economic, social and environmental benefits. Whether it’s designing better, more circular, neighbourhoods, incorporating circular technology and processes into our projects, or influencing the supply chain to bend an existing linear economy to make it circular, we are uniquely placed to make substantial long-term impacts upon our cities. We would love to hear how you are using the circular economy in your work. Please share some examples in the comments section below.
Tampere (Finland’s second city) is the largest inland city in the Nordic region, serving an area containing over 505,000 inhabitants. With a long and productive industrial heritage, Tampere is the fastest growing city region in Finland with a projected increase in population of 23% by 2030. With this rapid expansion and internationalisation comes a staggering estimated €6 – €10 billion investment in the city. In this article, we take a brief look at how some of that €6-10 billion is being invested in the urban design of this prosperous city.
One of the major investments currently being implemented in Tampere is the new 14-mile (23 km) tramway, which connects the city centre with Hervanta to the south, the university hospital to the east, and in the second phase Hiedanranta and Lentävänniemi to the west. This smooth and seamless transit network connects with local buses and cycle routes to provide sustainable public transport options. Each tram will carry 240 passengers or the equivalent of three buses or 185 cars. The first phase of the tramway will be completed in 2021, with the second phase due to be completed in 2024. The design and construction of the tramway will be undertaken by Tramway Alliance made up of the City of Tampere, Tampere Tramway Ltd, YIT Construction Services, NRC Group, and Pöyry Finland Oy.
In addition to the benefits to public transit, the tram project will include upgrades and benefits to the public realm. For example, many new green areas are planned along the route of the tram, including the planting of over 200 trees. The main street in Tampere, Hämeenkatu, will also receive upgrades in the hard landscape materials and street lighting.
The new tramway will feed a central transport and service hub in Tampere, where all modes of transportation will come together. The international ideas competition to design this centre was won by Danish architects COBE and Finnish architects Lundén Architecture with their proposal ‘ReConnecting Tampere’. Detailed plans for the transport hub are due to be completed in 2019, with the first phase of construction already underway. Cobe and Lundén Architecture’s vision for the area includes a new Central Park which will act as a green lung for the city. The recreational landscape will provide year-round activities for local residents and visitors and will include a vibrant commercial arcade, acting as a link between the upper deck area and the lower level park.
Above the railway tracks, there will be a new downtown centre accommodating a world-class ice hockey and entertainment venue with a capacity of 13,000 people. The area will also house a 21,500 square foot (2000 m2) casino, and some 1,000 new apartments. The Deck area has been master planned by Studio Libeskind, together with project architects AIHIO Arkkitehdit oy, structural engineers Ramboll Finland, and zoning by WSP Finland Oy, with SRV as the main contractor responsible for design, development and construction.
Hiedanranta is a new district to the west of Tampere that, when complete, will accommodate 25,000 inhabitants and create around 10,000 new jobs. In 2017, the international ideas competition was jointly won by two proposals: Innovaatiolahti by Mandaworks of Stockholm, and Schauman & Nordgren Architects of Copenhagen; and the Reflecting TRE proposal by Arkkitehtuurityöhuone BUENAVENTURA (Later Jolma Architects, TUPA Architecture and Architecture Studio NOAN) of Tampere, Finland. The structure plan for the district was adopted in December 2017, and the master plan will be completed soon. The adopted structure plan features a new downtown city centre built around a historic refurbished and repurposed factory and three large islands on the lake. Hiedanranta will be connected to the city centre via the new proposed tramway. Green and blue infrastructure networks wind throughout the proposed development connecting places and offering passive and active recreation opportunities. A large central green corridor integrates the existing city block structures of two areas and accommodates new recreational parks and green spaces, acting as a large central park for the district.
Hervanta is an existing district located to the south of Tampere comprising a mix of 1960s and 70s architecture and university campus. In 2017, BST Arkkitehdit Oy, together with Sito, Hartela, and artist Karoliina Suonio won first place in the ideas competition to design new blocks for the northern axis of Hervanta, including 930,000 square feet (86,400 m2) of residential space, and 368,000 square feet (34,200 m2) of business and commercial space. The proposal integrates the new tram line, while providing green roofs, and active ground level functions organised around public open spaces.
Vuores is a new sustainable district located to the south of Tampere surrounded by unspoiled nature. The area is already under construction, featuring a downtown area arranged around the Vuoresakio central square, and several suburban neighbourhoods. Once such neighbourhood, Isokuusi, will become a beacon of sustainable industrial wood construction, and incorporate renewable energy and smart solutions. The master planning has been undertaken by B&M Architects. The area will eventually form the largest wood-constructed area in Finland. Single-family homes and multi-storey apartment buildings will be built from new, innovative, and sustainable wood products.
Access to nature and green spaces is a key feature of the Vuores master plan. The central park in Vuores acts as an outdoor living room for residents to meet and relax. The park will also perform ecosystem services through stormwater management with stormwater basins, water routes and flood meadows. Several allotment gardens are planned and will include accessible raised-bed style planters, ensuring all residents have the opportunity to grow their own sustainable food.
The secured investment of €6-€10 billion in Tampere represents an ambitious plan by the City of Tampere and its partners to reinvigorate the city’s urban fabric. The strategic planning of the city as a whole enables new areas to be connected via the new tramway that will stimulate urban redevelopment in existing areas. Proposed developments like the Central Deck, with its casino, hotel, and multi-purpose venue will attract visitors and businesses alike. New mixed-use and residential areas such as Hiedanranta, Hervanta, and Vuores will ensure the sustainable growth of the city in the future. Sustained growth of cities is difficult to achieve. However, by carefully planning ahead, integrating phased development, sustainable public transit, and taking advantage of ecosystem services provided by green and blue infrastructure, Tampere is set to become one of the most attractive cities to live and work in the Nordic region.
Lead image: Tampere Travel and Service Centre by COBE and Lundén Architecture
Crime is a perennial problem facing many inner-city areas. Antisocial behaviour and crime are major factors affecting urban decay, property prices, and quality of life. In this article, we investigate how landscape architecture and urban design can mitigate, reduce, and control crime in the urban environment.
Crime can relatively easily be defined as acts contrary to the governing law of that area. For example, the same act of recreational smoking of marijuana is legal in the US state of Massachusetts but is currently illegal in the state of New Jersey. Antisocial behaviour, on the other hand, is less easily defined. The Home Office in the UK recognises that the definition of anti-social behaviour is influenced by context, location, community tolerance, and quality of life expectations. The UK government has adopted the following definition: ‘Acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons, not of the same household as (the defendant).’ (Crime and Disorder Act 1998). Therefore, antisocial behaviour can range from the somewhat innocuous acts of ‘loitering’ or ‘hanging around’ through littering and vandalism, right up to intimidation, sexual harassment and violent crime.
While public open space is recognised as having positive impacts on local residents, research by CABE Space indicates that community groups estimate that 31% of parks suffer from unacceptably high levels of vandalism and behaviour related problems.
Antisocial behaviour can particularly affect women and children. For example, the Guardian reports that 43% of women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. We know that when we design spaces to be welcoming to women and girls, then those spaces will be occupied by more people in general. The UN has published guidelines for creating spaces that are safe for women and girls. Key points include:
The process of creating safe spaces for people who identify as female results in spaces that are safe for all. The guidelines from the UN are very similar to those proposed in the Safer Design Guidelines for Victoria, in Australia. These guidelines emphasise the importance of good visibility and visual connection.
Visibility is a key factor for designing out crime. A study by the College of Policing notes that while Closed-circuit television (CCTV) has been proven to reduce premeditated crime, there is no discernible effect on spontaneous antisocial behaviour and opportunistic crime. CABE Space raises concerns that ‘adopting …CCTV and …without considering the overall design and care of public space will result in the creation of ugly, oppressive environments that can foster greater social problems.’ So, adopting CCTV as a cost-effective means of controlling behaviour can encourage poorly designed spaces, without necessarily mediating violent and opportunistic crime.
A good way to decrease crime and antisocial behaviour is to increase visibility. One of the best methods to do this is through natural or informal surveillance. Natural surveillance refers to the concept of increasing visibility between places and user groups.
For example, a damming 2007 report into the Green Man Lane area of West Ealing in London pointed to problems either exacerbated or caused by the architecture of the area. The local authority took a proactive approach. Architects Conran and Partners used the principles of ‘‘Secured by Design’ to design out the multiple escape routes, aerial walkways, and open access undercrofts that disconnected users from each other and replaced them with more traditional streets that have greater natural surveillance from passing traffic, other pedestrians, and homes that front the street. Research shows that homes designed to the Secured by Design principles have a 50% lower risk of burglary, while car crime can drop by 25%.
Spaces that are designed for people to spend time in should be defensible (i.e. seating areas should have good visibility so that the users feel they can see potential threats coming). They should also be sheltered enough so that they do not feel danger can sneak up on them. Nodal spaces that are designed with prospect refuge in mind are generally more attractive to users.
Good access and circulation at all levels increase safety. A study has shown how projects like The 606 in Chicago, which includes an elevated greenway, can reduce crime in adjacent neighbourhoods. The New York Times notes that The Highline also experiences lower than average crime. Access should be legible and easy to follow without the need for signage. It should also include multiple routes to give users choice and make it harder for criminals to predict potential victims’ movements.
Urban designers can not only boost the economy by creating cities that are used around the clock, but can also reduce night time crime at the same time. Since 2012, violent crime in Sydney has been reduced through focusing on the night time economy. Increasing the diverse mix of functions, such as cafes, 24-hour gyms, and shops, increase pedestrian movement and natural surveillance.
These principles are now being adopted at a strategic level. The City of Los Angeles has invested $25,000 in publishing ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ (CPTED) guidelines and training staff in how to assist developers and built environment professionals design better environments that discourage crime. The programme aims to ensure all residents are safe, whether they live in luxury apartments or affordable housing.
Principles such as ‘Secure by Design’ and ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ include many strategies that may seem common sense to landscape architects and urban designers. However, with pressures from budget, client expectations, and existing conditions, these principles can easily get lost. Some key issues to consider include:
By considering all the above tools for creating safer spaces we can reduce crime in our built environment. What other measures do you use in your designs? Do you have any particular success stories you would like to share with us?
Lead image: Athens night time economy CC0
Article written by Ashley D Penn with research by Emanuela Roascio