Category Archives: green space

Urban food myths and moans: but we need to explore all the evidence

I’m an advocate of local food systems, and worked with CITIES to put together the Farming the City book which explores their potential, but I still believe we need to check out the arguments of the detractors, either so we can iron out problems and improve, or to tackle them on their misinformation. What is the opinion on these pieces from Spiked and SmartPlanet that, roughly speaking, take this view: ‘ ‘the available evidence convincingly demonstrates that long-distance trade and modern technologies have resulted in much greater food availability, lower prices, improved health and reduced environmental damage than if they had never materialised. Indeed, more trade and ever-improving technologies remain to this day the only proven ways to lift large numbers of people out of rural poverty and malnutrition.’

Agribusiness is greener than urban farming

When it comes to food, think global, act global

‘Planning in England is being so thoroughly gutted that it is, in effect, being shut down altogether’

So says George Monbiot, as the row and banderblast over the new draft planning framework and its ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ (a presumption without a definition) continues to rumble. ‘If councils aren’t given proper guidance about sustainable development how can they encourage the type of schemes that should be built – and refuse to allow those that shouldn’t?’ asks Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth. A very, very good question.
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Out of our space: development is removing large parts of the city, including the streets, from a genuinely public realm

As the debate hots up about the viability and acceptability of economic-led planning and development practices, scrutiny about access to truly public spaces is back on the agenda. While cash is king, the impact of developer-led development, especially retail-led ‘semi private’ developments such as Liverpool One.

Writer Anna Minton, a regular speaker at RUDI events and the author of Ground Control, has some interesting new comments to make in the politcal magazine Red Pepper: ‘Removing large parts of the city, including the streets, from a genuinely public realm and handing them over to private companies.

‘These would own and control the entire area, policing it with private security and round-the-clock surveillance. The consequence has been the creation of a new environment characterised by high security, ‘defensible’ gated architecture and strict rules and regulations governing behaviour. Read the full article here

SOS parks and green spaces: take the GreenSpace survey

Times are tough, and anyone who can stand up for green or public spaces gets our vote. So, as we enter the new financial year, GreenSpace is preparing to publish interim findings from its survey on the impact last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review had on the parks sector.

Initial data has already been presented to Parliament, says GreenSpace, as it seeks to argue the case for investment in parks and green spaces. The survey can be completed by green space workers here – thank you to those who have already done so. Continue reading

The necessary evolution of cities: green urbanism

Green urbanism works, at least it does in Holland

As Japan contemplates the damage wrought by nature, we were relieved to come across this article on Canadian e-zine fast forward weekly on the necessary evolution of cities, rooted in the thoughts of Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, USA. Authors Geoff Ghitter & Noel Keough state that modern urban life — at least, the technology that makes it all possible — has made a stranger of nature.

Occasionally nature intrudes into our lives, they say, through weather or natural calamity. And, while some like venturing into the wild to play or relax, after the weekend is over, it’s back to the urban silo. In the magical world of the city, needs are invisibly met. Flick a switch and “presto” night is day. Twist a faucet and clean, drinkable water gushes, seemingly without limit. Flush a toilet and stinky sewage disappears out of sight and mind. At the store, shelves teem with fresh and preserved foods that appear, manna-like, each new day.

And the sheer ease with which all this happens makes it easy to forget that outside the silo lays a vast network of utilities and infrastructures that continuously work to extract raw materials from nature, transform them into useful products to deliver goods to us, creating garbage in the process.
The problem is that our flick-and-flush existence conceals many of the destructive effects our consumption patterns create and the fragile state of the ecological systems that underpin them. And being physically removed from nature fosters psychological detachment. So much so that when confronted with alarming claims that could conflict with our daily safe, healthy and abundant personal existence, we often ignore them, or worse, deny them.

This city-nature rift perhaps explains why we continue to build as we do. A city of far-flung suburbs and drive-to malls is unsustainable and everybody knows it: planners, politicians, people and even developers (although they don’t typically admit it publicly). But things are changing out there and to adapt we’re going to have to change as well.

That’s why building cities as we have in the past is not an option for deep thinkers like Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia. He believes the future of our species is intimately tied with our ability to coexist with the natural world.

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Reclaim the fields: a fight for the landless generation

Ian Fitzpatrick’s comments on the Ecologist blog caught our attention this week. He writes: Following in the footsteps of attempts to open up car-dominated city streets to the public again, activists behind ‘Reclaim the Fields’ want to gain public access to agricultural land.

Earlier this month around eighty urban food growers, farmers, activists and thinkers from around the country came to Grow Heathrow, an abandoned nurseries site in the village of Sipson – marking the first UK gathering of Reclaim the Fields.

Activists in Sipson are turning a previously derelict site into a successful market garden producing local fruit and vegetables and a site for the local community to share skills and knowledge. It is this tale of returning unproductive land to the public that Reclaim the Fields hopes to repeat across the UK and Europe, with a camp get-together planned in Romania later this year.

At present farmland in the UK is almost entirely in the hands of a tiny percentage of the population. Industrial farming techniques have taken hundreds of thousands of people away from farming. Even those who want access to land are restricted by inflated land prices. The issue is only been made worse by the pressure on local authorities to sell off their farmland, which provided more than one-third of the farm tenancies that came onto the market in 2006.

Despite the phenomenal success of food-orientated community groups and charities in the UK over the past decade this issue of access to land has never really been addressed. In the view of many this is a permanent impediment for people hoping to develop land-based livelihoods.

The Diggers movement

The actual roots of this loss of access to land goes back further than the advent of industrial farming. It can be traced back to the enclosure of common land in England in the 13th century, which accelerated during the 15th and 16th centuries as sheep farming became more profitable than arable farming. The gathering pace of these enclosures in the 17th century, combined with widespread food shortages resulting from crop failure, provided fertile soil for political turmoil. It was during this time of crisis that the Diggers emerged as a movement to cultivate food on common land. Their chief spokesperson, Gerrard Winstanley, said at the time that ‘Propriety and single interest divides the people of a land…and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed’. As an experiment in land reform it was short-lived; but thanks largely to Winstanley’s prolific writings, the ideas lived on.

Echoing the Diggers movement, ‘The Land Is Ours’ emerged in 1994 as a campaign for a more equal and inclusive distribution of land – with particular focus on the issue of unused land and housing. Their campaign began by occupying a disused airfield close to the site of the Diggers’ first experiment on St George’s Hill in Surrey. A number of sites were occupied over the years (the recent Kew Bridge Eco Village in London was inspired by it) and ‘Chapter 7’ was developed to focus attention on planning and low-impact housing.

With the founders becoming absorbed by other campaigns, ‘The Land Is Ours’ receded from the spotlight in the late 1990s. While the issue of access to land for housing was broadly adopted by urban squatters and planning campaigners, the issue of access to land for agriculture had been left with no clear movement or campaign.

It was out of this vacuum that Reclaim the Fields emerged, growing out of a series of meetings in 2007 and 2008. The first was a youth assembly at the anti-G8 demonstrations at Rostock, Germany in June 2007. A group of younger members from various small farm groups decided to organise a gathering the following summer with the ‘youth branch’ of the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and Young Friends of the Earth Europe, to coincide with the European Social Forum in Malmö, Sweden. In November 2008, a smaller group within the ‘youth branch’ of Via Campesina decided to split off and form a fully separate group called ‘Reclaim the Fields’, a deliberate nod towards the anti-road and anti-capitalist protest movement ‘Reclaim the Streets’ of the 1990s and early 2000s. While many members of Reclaim the Fields agreed with the aims of Via Campesina, the split resulted mainly from differences of political organisation and culture. Via Campesina – a huge international movement with an estimated 150 million members ranging from peasants and landless people to indigenous communities and migrants – was considered too hierarchical, bureaucratic and lobby-oriented. Members of Reclaim the Fields wanted to create a more autonomous and non-hierarchical space centered on young people’s experiences of contemporary peasant issues.

Future plans

Over the past two years the movement has grown steadily with national groups forming, and gatherings and political mobilisations taking place across Europe. Although links had been forged early on between mainland Europe and the UK, it was after a group of UK-based urban food growers participated at the European Assembly in Graz in October 2009 that a UK national Reclaim the Fields group was formed.

With increasing concern about Britain’s – and indeed the planet’s – capacity to feed itself sustainably, compounded by an aging farming population, rising rates of unemployment, and the continued rise in the price of land, Reclaim the Fields acts as a network for sharing ideas, experiences and skills, and for collaboratively researching and campaigning around issues of access to land and food sovereignty.

Although still in its infancy the movement reflects the growing gap between a rising number of landless citizens who yearn to create sustainable land-based livelihoods and the mounting difficulties of gaining access to land. In that sense their struggle is no different to those of countless peasants, indigenous peoples and migrants around the world.

The next Reclaim the Fields European Assembly will be in Romania in September. For more information go to the website:

The presumption in favour of development: will it work?

There have been plenty of comments being bandied about recently regarding the future role of planning. A bunch of lawyers from Mills Reeve have put together a reasonable summary that we thought we’d link to FYI: With the aim of making the UK one of the best places to start, finance and grow a business the Chancellor announced “radical changes to the planning system”. The primary change is the introduction of “a powerful presumption in favour of sustainable development”. He went on to say: “The default answer to development is ‘yes’”. This is a big change. First, it is not just a presumption, but a “powerful presumption”. That suggests it will be given a lot of weight. You can argue convincingly that the presumption is now in place – Government policy is what ministers say. We currently have a statutory presumption in favour of the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Surely this is such a material consideration.

The next question will be “how does this work with localism?”. The CLG website may carry a clue on this – a ministerial statement from Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps. While it decries the current system “plagued by conflict and appeals” it fleshes out the “twelve month guarantee” that planning applications will spend no more than twelve months in the system where the appeal is timely. That suggests that local choice will not be predominant (else why would one appeal?). The Secretary of State and Planning Inspectorate will surely have to apply the new “powerful presumption”.

Cultural planning: can community development work?

It’s common, in the placemaking field, to hear complaints and criticism of major development plans, frequently for an over-emphasis on soulless retail and non-affordable housing projects as key delivery drivers. Such megaplans can, and do, miss out on opportunities for maximising existing place and cultural assets, and frequently leave local communities cold.

But in Leith, Scotland, alternative approaches to a major city-driven regeneration plan have been actively and passionately developed over several years, based on a series of creative and cultural interventions designed to use the selected areas of the existing space to maximum potential, and to involve local communities.  A group called JUMP (Joined Up Master Planning) has been pioneering a series of ‘critiques & suggestions’ based on the City of Edinburgh Leith Docks Development Framework (LDDF) and live Forth Ports Outline Planning Application (OPA).

The aim is to influence, through arts-led regeneration, cultural planning and the delivery of social enterprise businesses, the development of key parts of the Edinburgh waterfront regeneration project.

Currently, acting with the Granton Community Partnership (JUMP: Joined Up Master Planning, NET: North Edinburgh Trust, CLU: Community Land Use, AiA: Art in Architecture and Community Regeneration Plan for Granton) JUMP is developing plans for an international garden festival featuring artist/gardener collaborations that will open six months of every year, an artist/artisan village made from turf roofed sea containers, and a pop-up lido on the Forth waterfront.

JUMP formed in December 2007, at the time comprising a voluntary (unpaid) core team of design professionals supported by a wider field of professionals of mixed background and members of the public. JUMP was set up in order to contest the Outline Planning Application (OPA) submitted by Forth Ports Plc and also to question the process supported by the City of Edinburgh Council that has led to the current Planning Application. JUMP is ‘not against development but is concerned simply with the quality of development,’ it states.

JUMP is now working on building community support in the Granton area. Several opportunities for projects are considered around an area of the waterfront, along with ideas for preserving the integrity of the historic walled garden at Granton. Proposals for the site, now being referred to as Granton sur Mer, will deliver a community development consisting of an annual art and horticultural festival; an artist / artisan village made from recycled sea containers and a beach front Lido. All projects will be self-sustainable, with their own green energy plant. All projects will train and emply local people. All projects will run as social enterprise business models with profits going back to the community.

Artist Shaeron Averbuch is one of the drivers of the plans, which focus around a programme of art- and design-related activities created to act as stepping stones for Granton sur Mer and the continued cultural development of the Edinburgh waterfront – or at least the parts we can have influence on, says Averbuch.

The successful approach taken by JUMP and its partners will be examined at A Place for Creativity, an event exploring ways in which creativity in placemaking can be unlocked, enabling the development of urban environments that are both inspiring and interesting can have a positive impact on economic and civil wellbeing. Feedback and multimedia will be posted after the event.