Top names debate key reasons to invest in landscape - and urge professionals to think big

A cross-disciplinary forum of top professionals met in London on Wednesday to discuss the question - why invest in landscape?

Panel members Mark Davy of Future City, Clive Dutton OBE, executive director for regeneration and inward investment at Newham Council, Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute, Jonathan Smales, executive chairman of Beyond Green and director at hosts Patel Taylor, Andrew Taylor, each had six minutes to outline their answer before opening up the subject for group discussion.

The speakers at Patel Taylor’s office in Clerkenwell,  shared examples of inspiring urban landscape projects from across the world, including the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Patel Taylor’s own Eastside City Park, Birmingham and Thames Barrier Park, built ten years ago in London.

They also spoke about the importance of good public realm on health, wellbeing and happiness and its role in mitigating climate change.

Chair of the Landscape Institute Sue Illman said: "While landscape professionals can’t change the world, we have the ability to make a major contribution to addressing these problems by planning, designing, building and managing with the environment."

She called for "joined-up thinking for policy from national government down to the local level."

One of the most passionate speakers, Clive Dutton OBE, who worked on the transformation of Birmingham city centre and Newham in east London in the build up to the Olympics, urged practitioners to think big, citing a plan to turn Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction into a massive light art installation which could be seen from space – a story which went viral and was on the front page of the Miami Herald in 24 hours.

"Let’s go crazy," he said. "It’s about creating something beautiful from something that already exists."

In general attendees agreed that ambition was key, although funding issues were acknowledged and some warned that in a move towards improving our cities, the suburbs, where most urban dwellers live, were in danger of being forgotten.

However it was clear that the importance of public realm was appreciated from local authorities to commercial developers.

Guy Dare from the Canary Wharf Group, who was involved in designing the original masterplan for the area, summed up the mood.

"Public realm is addictive," he said.

The forum was held by Patel Taylor in association with the Landscape Institute and was chaired by the editor of Landscape, its journal. Patel Taylor plans to hold a similar forum every six months.

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