Worthy but wasted? by Jill Sinclair

January 16, 2014

in Articles, General Interest

Here we are again, after a short break which had you all hammering my door down, demanding a new post. So here it is.

Sustainability is good, yes? And parks are great places to play, sunbathe, take the kids, walk the dog and play football – right? Well, perhaps… Jill Sinclair has been having slightly different experiences..

Anne Wareham, editor 

(Oh – and the first of the new thinkingardens suppers is booked up.)

Parc Monceau, Paris

Parc Monceau, Paris

The Problem of Sustainable Parks:

Jill Sinclair

Christopher Lloyd declared himself unattracted to “gardening with a moral implication.” Discussing the threat of climate change, he worried that people might feel obliged in future to accept dull, sustainable landscapes sponsored by worthy institutions, complete with signs explaining why they looked so awful.

For Lloyd, this was almost a throwaway remark to a friend, an example of his usual wry humour. Yet it captures one of the most difficult questions around sustainability in public parks and gardens. How do you create healthy places that sustain themselves – and still sustain people? Do sustainable parks end up more as exemplars (as Lloyd feared), with signage and warnings, rather than as places people actually want to visit and enjoy?

I’ve been spending some time in public parks that wear their environmental responsibility on their sleeve, to see how they compare with traditional parks – and how far their designers have felt the need to explain or justify their appearance.

First, the public park that was recently proclaimed world landscape project of the year – Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in equatorial Singapore.

Sustainable parks

Here a standard neighbourhood park with a concrete storm-water drainage system has been dramatically converted into what the designers call an “urban sponge” with a naturalistic river and newly created flood plain. There is a big information area explaining all the admirable bio-techniques used (bioengineered soil, biodiversity, bioswales). It’s undoubtedly impressive, but the result didn’t feel like a public park; it felt like restored wetland and, apart from the playgrounds and a few kids dabbling about in the water, its 62 hectares were virtually empty of people when we visited. Indeed it wasn’t clear to me what visitors were meant to DO there.

Sustainable parks Photo: Jill Sinclair for thinkingardens

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park today. Photo: Jill Sinclair

A similar issue arises in the self-proclaimed sustainable park recently installed in the middle of Paris. Les jardins des Grands Moulins – Abbé Pierre is undoubtedly on the side of the angels. Its design seeks sustainable approaches to everything from water and waste to energy, noise and travel. Recycled rainwater flows through its two hectares of recreated natural habitats, while signage dutifully explains the various environmentally responsible processes at work.

Without doubt, its installation demonstrates Paris’s green credentials far more than policy documents and statements ever can. Yet, like the Singapore park, the main role for visitors seems to be to admire how splendidly sustainable it all is. And, in truth, as one commentator on my blog pointed out, “it looks like the City stopped maintaining it four years ago.”

Sustainable parks Photo: Jill Sinclair for thinkingardens

Les jardins des Grands Moulins – Abbé Pierre. Photo: Jill Sinclair

Paris is working hard to make its green spaces more “green.” Some of the initiatives are fun and thought-provoking, like the introduction of sheep as natural lawn-mowers (sheepy video) in the grounds of  the City of Paris Archives. Others are PR disasters, such as attempts to manage the lawns of the venerable parc Monceau (see also) more sustainably. It started with swathes of unmown meadow and small signs explaining how leaving the grass longer was good for wildlife. But, sadly, such gentle pointers soon gave way to stern prohibitions and ugly exclusion zones.

Sustainable parks 4.zones

Exclusion zones at Parc Monceau. Photo: Jill Sinclair

 My final example is the new and little-known Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, being created in the grounds of India’s Jodhpur Fort. This 70-hectare park is a gentle showcase for native vegetation, planted after an invasive jungle of mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) was painstakingly chiselled out from the rocky landscape. The park is hardly showy but, with the help of lots of signs and an excellent guide, we came to understand anew the dangers of introducing exotic species into natural landscapes, and to appreciate the stark beauty and appropriateness of these desert plants. I should stress though that our visit was essentially a guided botanical tour, and did not feel at all like a traditional meander through a public park.

Sustainable parks 3.png

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park. Photo: Jill Sinclair

 None of these places look as awful as Christopher Lloyd feared (well, except those ludicrous exclusion zones at Monceau). But he was right that designers seem to believe these prototype parks need explicitly to proclaim and display their environmental virtue. We are encouraged to admire them, not for their aesthetic values, or for the pleasure a visit might bring, but for the moral high ground they have claimed.

In their different ways, these examples feel like rather bossy lectures on how naughty we have been in using up resources and trying to impose our human will on nature, and how we must just learn to love clover and cactus and marshland. Maybe that is right. But I would also love to hear of examples of sustainable parks that don’t shout about their environmental credentials – pleasing parks designed for people to enjoy today, without any moral implications.

Jill Sinclair  website  

Jill Sinclair portrait on thinkingardens

 

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Katherine Crouch February 19, 2014 at 11:18 am

The trouble with sustainable landscapes is that they might not need, er, sustaining and therefore provide future gardening / landscaping workers with employment. I hope there will still be room and budget for entirely unsustainable and wacky carpet bedding displays in seaside resorts and Victorian parks, despite them being unfashionable, and often in really bad taste. If I cannot smile occasionally at a life size rearing elephant studded with moss, sedum and echeveria the world will be a poorer place

john lord February 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Well said, but the Sustainistas might not be happy.

Diana Studer March 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

Really? There will always be wasteland for guerilla gardeners to work. Perhaps even food gardens for hungry people? Wacky smiles can be nurtured at Chelsea and Hampton Court etc.
Sustainista Diana

Amy Murphy February 19, 2014 at 3:16 am

Jill,
As usual, a post to give us something to think about. I don’t think sustainability and beauty need to be mutually exclusive. As with anything worth attaining, good planning and management are needed. Your example at Parc Monceau demonstrates the lack of either planning or management, or both. Although I haven’t seen them yet, the wildflower meadows at London’s Olympic Park are acclaimed to have achieved beauty and sustainability. Of course, the London Olympic Park is a brand new park and so was able to be designed within the current parameters of what sustainability is. I often look at gardens from an historical perspective. While is it commendable, and increasingly necessary, to achieve sustainability in public parks, it is also necessary to be sensitive to the historic characters of parks. It’s often difficult to retrofit current sensibilities onto existing landscapes. The most successful examples you give of sustainable landscapes are new. Should historic characteristics be sacrificed in pursuit of sustainability?

Jill Sinclair February 27, 2014 at 6:28 am

It’s an interesting question (and the very topic of my dissertation a few years ago!). Of course gardens from before the Industrial Revolution would often have been managed originally in a pretty sustainable way – little or no mechanisation, no fossil fuels for transport or maintenance, no manufactured chemicals, no concrete… Much of the work would simply have been done by a great deal of manual labour, which the owners of most historic gardens can no longer afford.
My personal view is that (in the face of the changing climate, floods, drought, the spread of pests and diseases to new areas etc.) increasingly historic gardens will have to be managed to sustain their characteristics and atmosphere, rather than scrupulously trying to maintain all their historic fabric and original materials. Great Dixter is a good example of a historic garden that is being run on increasingly sustainable lines and is keeping its character while making some pretty dramatic changes to its planting and management.

Amy Murphy March 6, 2014 at 2:46 am

I want to be politically correct and agree, but I have this nagging thought that like other arts that cost a great deal to preserve – architecture, for example, historic houses – some things, like important historical gardens (we can debate the definition of “important historical gardens” and who gets to decide what is an important historical garden) should be preserved “as is” for prosperity.

Diana Studer March 10, 2014 at 11:27 am

Prosperity IS the target. Which is why the Great Barrier Reef is being trashed for a coal terminal. We know what we want to preserve …

Jill Sinclair January 30, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Just saw this article in the Guardian newspaper today, which discusses some of the same issues: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/jan/30/high-line-park-green-cities-industrial-pastoral

It’s a slightly rambling, confused take on the topic (in my opinion), but does helpfully describe previous attempts to make cities ‘greener’ and challenges some of the easy assumptions about the benefits of introducing urban parks.

Amy Murphy March 6, 2014 at 2:52 am

I read this and agree. When I first heard about the Highline, before it opened, I thought it quite a stupid idea. Who plants trees and shrubs in shallow soil that needs to be constantly watered and watched? Silly me – I was thinking like a gardener and not an urban planner. The success of the Highline has stunned me, and others, but rather than praise it as a sustainable landscape, I think it should be viewed more as an example of the intense longing people have for gardens. I have visited the Highline twice and have been enchanted by it – by it’s tangible self and by the incredible volunteer organization that keeps it running. By the way, the Highline is also a very new garden, designed and planted by those who throughly understand the need for sustainablility, so it is not a good example to use when discussing historical gardens and sustainability.

Diana Studer January 20, 2014 at 9:53 pm

It’s late and I’ll come back tomorrow to read the comments – but Cape Town has a sustainable park which is used with great enthusiasm. School kids, babies in prams, yuppies with Personal Trainers, yoga classes, the frail in wheelchairs – and us.
http://eefalsebay.blogspot.com/2013/03/biodiversity-garden-green-point-urban-park.html

Diana Studer January 23, 2014 at 9:21 am

PS having caught up, about those ‘preachy de haut en bas’ signs?
Readers from the four corners of the earth have downloaded the picture I took of the sign – how to build a biodiversity friendly garden pond.

Diana Studer January 23, 2014 at 9:56 am

PPS proving my point yesterday – a reader from Birmingham ;~)

Jill Sinclair January 24, 2014 at 9:36 am

Diana
Thanks for the interesting comments (including the one you posted further down this chain). It’s good to hear about the success of Green Point Park. I’m still trying to tease out from all these comments and examples what makes some sustainable parks feel welcoming to visitors, while others seem self-righteous and uninterested in people. Clearly the prevailing view of visitors on arrival is a factor, but not the main one, I suspect.

Helen Seal January 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Thank you Jill for your thoughts on ‘Worthy but Wasted’.

Have you been to Northala Fields in Ealing, West London? http://www.ealing.gov.uk › … › Parks and open spaces › Parks in the borough?
I visited three or four years ago when they were new and raw and I was making a little study of new urban parks.

Although it was still so young, the park was already sustaining many people (as you hope) walking and cycling the through routes, hanging out, fishing, playing and landscape viewing. I just loved the idea that other places’ rubble waste and hardcore were used to create hills, really quite large hills, which kids could bmx up. It’s sustainable credentials seemed excellent.

I don’t think the park had pretensions to intricate beauty, but it is a well-designed landscape with pleasing simplicity. The meadow mixes on some of the hills must be well-established by now, and the utilitarian gabons mellowed a little perhaps? The planting merged into the nature reserve area well and would certainly not be a maintenance burden to the council.

I didn’t get the impression that the tick in the sustainable box was more important than the tick in the beneficial to the local community box. It seemed an integral aspect of trying to fill the remit of a good park.

Maybe other readers who know the park better think differently!

Incidentally, why are Parks thought of as Green Space – it’s just a coloured negative description rather than a positive notion.

Jill Sinclair January 21, 2014 at 3:11 am

Helen, thanks for the reference to Northala Fields, which I have not visited (it’s in Greenford, for anyone trying to find it from the link above). It does look interesting and less evangelical than some other examples.

Its earth mounds remind me a bit of Northumberlandia http://landscapelover.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/northumberlandia/ – an example of land art in the northeast of England, created from clay and soil waste to mitigate the effects of a coal mine, with little or no planned maintenance, and increasingly popular as a novel public park.

Both Northala and Northumberlandia seem good examples of Kate Kruesi’s point below about ‘re-envisioning’ the role of public parks.

Don January 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Thanks Jill for this post.
I have been wrestling with many of these ideas. I do think we need to change but there is this silly high moral ground that makes me crazy at times. I came of a age as a gardener and designer where the vogue was building gardens around exotic collection of plants. I have been shifting to using more native plants because it makes sense: Right plant right place- a very old idea (140 years) William Robinson. The whole grass craze I am not sure about. I am surrounded by meadows with natural grasses- do I really need to make a Piet Oudolf garden as well? What about all the shrubs and trees that have provide shelter for wildlife and berries for food- do I ignore those plants for the grass craze? I think public or private gardens should reflect their habitat and region- not imposing some international style onto everything! I do think that Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is an improvement and its still a young garden. Gardens reflect our culture and times. Clearly we are in flux!

Jill Sinclair January 20, 2014 at 8:44 am

Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments appearing here.

I’m surprised how many commenters resist the whole idea of trying to make parks more sustainable. I guess it is easy to think that that we garden-makers and park-users are already on the side of the angels. After all, we work with the very stuff of nature – plants and water, earth, air and sun. But it is difficult to claim that we don’t need to change, unless we feel OK about pollution, resource depletion and the big problems caused by soil disturbance. Yes, there may be bigger culprits – someone mentioned large-scale conventional farming – but my sense is that if nature-loving gardeners don’t want to find ways to be gentler on the planet, how can we expect others to do so?

The article was hoping to identify ways of introducing people-friendly change, rather than some of the bossy examples I’d seen. So I’m grateful to Catherine for the Red Ribbon Park example http://www.archdaily.com/445661/red-ribbon-park-turenscape/ where a single striking design feature has been used to bring a sense of drama and purpose among otherwise natural terrain and vegetation. As she says, humans are clearly welcome in this sustainable park. The LBJ wildflower centre is another interesting one – and there are some other good US examples listed at the Sustainable Sites Initiative: http://www.sustainablesites.org/cert_projects/

The comment that has struck me most (so far) was Faisal Grant’s – “Sometimes we try too hard to be too good. Sometimes we don’t even know what good is.” In the whole issue of sustainability we are still really struggling to identify what good is. But I would like to see garden- and park-makers continue to grapple with the question.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Thanks for the article Jill. I think it would be good to have some examples of how sustainability is working in some of the projects mentioned by you and in the comments. I followed the sustainablesites.org link you posted above and was faced with a 200 odd page document to read about the the pre requisites for sustainability. I read the contents list and got a quick idea.

In my opinion the bottom line is that parks are for people to use and the vast majority of users aren’t interested in their conceptual design so long as the space is accommodating.

The suggestion that we garden/landscape designers/horticultural people should ‘keep our noses clean’ in order that we can criticise other non sustainable aspects of our society just doesn’t stack up for me. If you look at all the squandering of natural resources and pollution created in order to produce useless disposable consumer items and compare that with used/created by parks/amenity landscapes and gardens it would seem to me to be crazy to spend any effort or time trying to redress the balance or even make a statement about being sustainable ourselves.

I think there is danger in people creating and even supporting these kind of token projects and being able to appear/feel like they are doing something about the problem, which is mainly occurring in the industrial/financial field and is continuing un-abated. There is a huge debate to be had about the global use of resources and a good way to get some perspective on how important sustainable parks are in the bigger picture is to think of how massively important other factors are, like industrial and military pollution, ecological pollution (e.g. monstanto), the big energy co.’s…I could go on compared to parks; they are practically irrelevant if you truly want to address the big problems in proper use of natural resources.

Jill Sinclair January 21, 2014 at 3:24 am

Jason, I agree of course that there are more troubling examples of carelessness about the planet than park-making. And I’ve certainly seen research that suggests it is all too easy to be smug about small changes and then not feel the need to tackle bigger issues.

My sense however is that making parks and gardens more sustainable is relatively easy, so we should do it anyway. And, as I said above, if we won’t grapple with this issue, how can we expect others to do so, when they face far bigger challenges? I think it’s a pipe dream to expect the worst offenders (however we identify them) to make the running…

Kathy Crouch January 19, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Yes indeed. The Earth Centre near Doncaster was great fun and 100% right on ecological/sustainable/ reclaimed/recycled/organic and cost a huge amount of money……so in the end it proved unsustainable and went bust! The food in the exquisitely designed cafe was so healthy it was painful. Surely an organic plate of chips would not have destroyed the ethos?

Kate Kruesi January 17, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Do I detect resistance to change in this post and most of the comments? Are we having a hard time re-envisioning what role parks can continue to play in our urban lives? Instead of viewing interpretive signs as “bossiness” can they be viewed as education about a change in perspective? How are those who don’t garden or study ecology (or most sciences for that matter) or have never spent much, if any, time in “wild nature” to learn about a different perspective, i.e. trying to bring some of that wildness and its ecosystem functions into our congested urban areas? Merely being able to walk through these parks and observe the plants, insects, birds, reptiles, etc. is an important service/function. Here in the US (and I’m sure we’re not alone!!) there is increased concern about the reduced opportunities for our urban youth to ever experience native ecologies in their lives/communities.

Let’s lighten up and incorporate lower footprint, appropriate to regional place, wild land park experiences that serve three purposes: regional ecology education, ecosystem function, and a relishing of the beautiful intricacies of place planned by the designer and enhanced by the plants and wildlife diversity as they intermingle and evolve over time. And this should include the edges of sport fields and BBQ/toilet areas.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

I can’t speak for the urban parks in the U.S. but I don’t think we have a need for ‘re-envisioning’ parks in the U.K. If you have a moment to read my comment below about the type of park I had just a few minutes away when I was growing up, I think you’ll get an idea of how good many urban parks have been over here in the past. Our town planners/landscape architects made a great job of providing for communities, and that idea does not need re-inventing in my opinion, although they can be built upon.
A resistance for change? Yes to change for changes sake most definitely. You mention those that don’t garden not having much contact with nature which I find a little ironic for the following reason. If you look at a large town or city the largest amount of wild area within them will usually be gardens owned by people who don’t garden, perhaps in rented properties, followed secondly by industrial or unused building plots, where nature has taken over without massive funding or signs. The precious space allotted for recreational urban parks can surely only ever pay lip service to the wildlife and ecosystem by virtue of not having sufficient area to provide depth of habitat/range of species, and there not being enough of them in close enough vicinity. Their priority for urban parks must be the recreation of the community and this should not be diluted by trying to impose contrived natural areas into them. Suburban London has a good blend of these public recreation parks and larger woodland or heath areas and the presence of both is I believe the correct balance.
I’m interested to know what a ‘lower footprint’ is in real terms? I think you are spot on though with the wild park land experiences, but feel that these should be more credible entities probably separate from recreational parks and simply more like naturally occurring woods, heath or wetland. As for the educational angle I think the efforts to encourage children (certainly pre teen) must happen through school or other organised youth club type trips into these spaces. To install signage and hope that will educate is I think misguided. Most kids don’t go to parks these days (recreational or wild) unless they are involved in an organised sporting activity, because peer groups generally speaking are centred around computers and television. As they become teenagers broader socialising may take over and I think late teens or early twenties may be the time when youths become a little more reflective and start to appreciate nature/have their own will to go and visit/learn about it. I’m all for really inventive educational trips into the wild though for kids, I was lucky enough to be in the scouts when I was young, schools back in those days had more funding for trips into countryside and wilderness and this probably influenced me to join the Young Ornithologists Club and onto the RSPB later. I lectured at a college where we did great trips to some special wild parts of Norfolk and I saw how that inspired my students. This type of guided organised contact with nature cannot be replicated by putting a few signs up around a corner of a park that has a few wild looking areas.
As for having a design input into enhancing the beauty of parks…well don’t get me started on that one! The way to make young people notice plants is to blow their socks off with really dramatic landscape design cleverly incorporated into spaces that really matter to them like skate parks or adventure playgrounds. They see our native plants and commonly used (add nauseum) range of landscape architect specified species, as well as wild neglected urban plots everyday, it is the backdrop to their lives. A recreational space that will make children notice and think twice about plants has got to be designed to be dramatic; a romanticised caricature, an imposing composition in scale and colour.

skr January 18, 2014 at 11:01 pm

I can speak about Los Angeles and it’s urban ‘wildlands’. They are nearly always empty. They are hot and dusty and insufferable. Some people will walk though them as part of an exercise regiment or to walk the dog but that is about it. The traditional parks designed for human occupation are always cock full of people picnicing and doing what people typically do in parks. The quixotic fascination with native plants and restoraton to some arbitrary baseline has probably spent more money to accomplish less than any other landscape fad our city has seen. The parks look more like vacant lots than any sort of enriching artform. There is absolutely no need to obsess over native plants in order to introduce urbanites to nature. Most New Yorkers don’t realize Central Park is an utter fabrication and have developed close bonds with the landscape. There is room in our world for a wilderness gradient in which we acknowledge that an urban park, regardless of how much money we throw at it, will never be a National Wilderness Area. The trophic levels are far too disturbed to form anything more than a shoebox diorama.

Urban parks are for people and as such should be designed for people. When you design specfically for wildlife you are by the act of neglecting human need designing to passively exclude humans. When I talk to those that promote these urban ‘wildlands’, it is easy to see that the exclusion of humans is seen as a virtuous goal. The aristocracy just shoots the wildlife in the fabricated primeval forest with cameras these days and the pictures are better if there aren’t any people.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Its refreshing to read the all round scepticism of sustainability in the comments here, bravo! I wrote my initial comment with kid gloves expecting to be vilified but I needn’t have held back – although the subject would normally rouse me to the odd expletive.

There’s been some debate over the definition of what a park is here and I think the standard British fair of lawns, bedding, trees, bandstand, playground has served us well. My own local park when I was a kid, Broomfield Park in Palmers Green, north London had a small museum, glass houses with tropical plants, several large ponds with exotic ducks, a boating pond, running track, walled garden with herbaceous borders etc… I didn’t really appreciate the details of all this when I was a kid – except that it felt like a great place, and as I grew up we terrorised the parky and ran riot through the shrubberies! Much funding for these parks has been withdrawn and many parts of Broomfield were no longer sustainable (in the basic sense of the word), many were allowed to fall into disrepair and then abandoned all together, others were deemed not politically ‘correct’ for health and safety reasons (feel a bile laden expletive coming on)!

These and similar parks I’ve seen over the years hosted events like funfairs, sports days, fetes etc. and catered for the community so well for years that it is a crime to see funding given to a ‘Sustainable’ or any other fad of credibility driven public garden. I remember learning chainsaw basics from the head gardener at Battersea Park and him saying there were no longer funds or educated staff to carry out the vast bedding schemes that they used to plant up every year. These were not my taste but they provided an attraction that is now bland grass or uninspired shrubbery, and when I look at the huge and perfect displays laid on by Kew in front of the Palm House every year I appreciate their loss even more.

The funding withdrawn from parks in the UK and the health and safety regs, insurance required for events, has made parks less attractive places to be and the downward spiral of neglect and under use has set in. Improved funding is unlikely and in the end community pressure groups will need to become pro active, initiate something like Ron Finley’s schemes and take back the spaces for local people.

Sorry for this rambling post but the fading merits of traditional parks puts a new perspective on the resources being put into the new inadequate style of park featured in the article. Get mad people, then get even!

Andrew O'Brien January 17, 2014 at 10:47 am

Hello Jill, great article, with which I broadly agree. Although I’m slightly disappointed as from the title I’d hoped I was about to read a tabloid account of some public dignitary who’d been pap’ed in a state of inebriation.

I don’t want to knock the idea of sustainability. I happen to believe in it rather strongly, although its implementation as well as its use as a political football don’t fill me with quite so much enthusiasm. But doesn’t the very concept of sustainability involve per se a repudiation of anthropocentric values? At the very least it challenges the prevailing western liberal economic world view that the earth and its resources are there primarily for humankind for their own benefit, primarily to commodify and trade, but also to provide us with sustenance, and then comfort. If so, this clearly creates a tension when applying the concept of sustainability to parks or gardens, notions which intrinsically include a human element in their very ontology! It seems evident that any public body commissioning a ‘sustainable park’ is really setting themselves up for a fall, for the reasons you eloquently illustrate in your piece. That is, unless the definition of ‘park’ is up for grabs – which it may be – and it’s becoming more to do with urban greening and countering the inevitable adverse envionrmental impact of big cities, and less to do with people and recreation. It would be nice to think a marriage of the two would be central to any design brief though, wouldn’t it?

Incidentally, does it ever seem to you that we gardeners, garden makers and designers can get tangled up with definitions? I’m fairly sure that if you were to ask any person ‘in the street’, they’d have little difficulty in explaining the difference between a ‘park’ and a ‘garden’ (a park is ‘where you have your sandwiches at lunch’. A garden is ‘where you grow flowers’ etc). But I guarantee the definitions they’d give would contain a lot more about people than about sustainability.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 17, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Although I’m slightly disappointed as from the title I’d hoped I was about to read a tabloid account of some public dignitary who’d been pap’ed in a state of inebriation.
Hahaha very good….I did wonder myself!

annewareham January 17, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Have to bounce you into serious stuff somehow. Next week I’ll try a whip…(ed)

Diana Studer January 23, 2014 at 9:19 am

treading on human toes and anthropocentrism. Sustainability tips us right out of our comfort zone – and the people don’t like it! If you eliminate the lawn, the agro-chemicals, the exotic commonorgarden plants everyone grows from the big box store – you are left with just a few gardeners. One step further to green and sustainable, gardening for biodiversity – and I can count the garden bloggers who stand with me.

Annette Lepple January 17, 2014 at 9:55 am

Bravo to the new Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park which looks much more inviting than the sewage drain and boring hedge that graced the plot before. If people don’t know how to enjoy and use the new design, it says something about the poor state of their souls not the design. As for climate change: It’s a human invention, and a very handy one too because you can make sooo much money with it (think energy saving bulbs, new “must have” plants, “bio” fuel…). And that’s what always made the world go round and it will do until this planet decides it has had enough of us. We humans are arrogant and think we rule the world whereas we’re just dust in the enormous mill wheel of evolution. The definition of sustainibility is human too after all. As for exclusion zones: there are not more in France than in Switzerland, Germany and New Zealand. We have lost the ability to be sensible and to make appropriate decisions thus drifting from one extreme to the other, in the desperate effort to get back on track. Globalism is hitting every domain making us all alike. The reading of some garden and home magazines seems like brainwash these days and I feel like shouting: I don’t want to have a b***** house which is all white and shabby, looking like an operating theatre, and thank you, I don’t want to have a garden stuffed with sculpted box or a monoculture of hip grasses. I want to have and live my individuality – please. Last luxury these days. What is sustainabilty anyway? Is bio fuel and eating soya sustainable? I read the other day the Tokachi Millenium Forest/Hokkaido is designed to be sustainable for 1000 years – I adore Dan Pearson’s work, he’s great but consider this statement as rather pretentious.

skr January 17, 2014 at 5:23 am

These ‘sustainable’ urban ‘wildlands’ are the modern example of the king’s hunting grounds. Simulacrum of of some unspoilt natural fantasy for the phony edification of the elite through the exclusion of the masses.

Faisal Grant January 17, 2014 at 1:14 am

Jill, I’ve really enjoyed your article for its pertinence, and lack of vitriol.
Yes, the politically-correct, funded and qualified, think they have all the answers documented. Yet where’s the beauty, where’s the spontaneity, where’s the “belongingness”?
I’m a huge supporter of naturalness in gardens, of a holistic attempt at gardening, yet gardens have within them an inherent immorality, they being battlegrounds for competing species.
Sometimes we try too hard. Sometimes we try too hard to be too good. Sometimes we don’t even know what good is.

Ross January 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Of late, I have become tired of anything that proclaims moral fizz.

Yes we are drowning in our own filth, the planet and it’s biosphere has been shrunk and crudely McDonaldised and yes, I long for the wild. Greater than this longing for natural connections is the desire for freedom from bossiness. David Hockney at some rally (think it was about smokers rights) had a placard that read –

“Stop Bossiness Now! (please)”

Ironic that these naturalised, sustainable park themes are so bossily exclusive. I would like to see vast open urban tracts given over to people. See what the great unwashed do with them. Only need the toilet/BBQ areas and perhaps a mown sporting feature cared for by the authorities.

I would plant fruit trees.

john lord January 16, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Sustainability in relation to the relatively small areas given over to public parks is just environmental tokanism, wearing your environmental credentials on your sleeve, so to speak. Large cities where the major parks are, rely on vast acerages of agricultural land, conventionaly farmed, of course, to feed their citizens. Not to mention the energy transport and other infrastructures as well. I find the concept of sustainable parks dreary and shallow and more to do with the rarely sustainable, fickle finger of fashion.

Catherine January 16, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Well said Jill! I have been to many parks in Australia that feel a similar need to shout their environmental credentials to explain away how uninteresting or uninviting they are. I think what’s missing is often a built element that says ‘yes, humans are welcome here’. Parks that replicate wilderness in any form with only a path to walk along say ‘keep to this path as you are not part of this place’. The Red Ribbon Park in China is a very sustainable design but also a notable example of how introducing a bold, built element says ‘people belong here’, creating a park that is in constant use.

Astra January 16, 2014 at 6:59 pm

How does one “enjoy” a park? The one in Singapore appears to be quite beautiful and is perhaps regularly enjoyed by the residents of those buildings as something to gaze upon. I also like the picture of the garden of the Grands Moulins. After building a garden in dry, cold Colorado for a decade, I find more beauty in a prairie scene than I did before. It may never appeal aesthetically to the non-gardener but it would be nice if some of the appeal of parks and gardens could be broadened. Avoiding preachiness is important. We have a good garden here in Texas — the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (http://www.wildflower.org/ ) — which fulfills its educational mission without being pejorative.

The exclusion zones seem particularly French to me. I still remember being chastised for walking on the grass at Versailles.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I am bemused by all this talk of sustainability, how do you interpret this concept, in what way is it to be sustainable? In my opinion unless something is harming nature like the use of pesticides or toxic materials in construction then I don’t have a problem with it. If the park re uses some materials with a bit of common sense then that’s all good too.
The whole point of a park is to create an enjoyable/relaxing/recreational space for humans. The space has to relate to us; accommodate, relax, please visually, make play spaces and if possible inspire with the beauty of plants and perhaps nature in general. If it doesn’t do these things primarily then I couldn’t give a monkeys what other ‘sustainable’ credentials it has – it has failed at the first hurdle. It wont be attractive to people as a place to visit and so the whole concept will have been a waste of time. If fundamental design thinking doesn’t underlie the park I can’t see it as anything other than an attempt to jump on some bandwagon, a desperation for political correctness.
Once a park fulfils its primary role then you could look at introducing other concepts to it like sustainability, but then its worth asking what percentage of the public using the park will appreciate or even notice this. You could put signs up and try to make sure that they understand the way the park was built, but the chances are if you build a great park they will be too busy enjoying themselves to notice.

Noddy Australia January 17, 2014 at 3:17 am

Very well said!

Helen Gazeley January 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Hear, hear. In our drive for sustainability these days, we seem to think sustainability is an end in itself. Where sustainability takes precedence over everything else, you are likely to find yourself with a resource that only caters for one factor (sustainability) and doesn’t fulfil other functions well enough to attract people to use them. Going purely by the pictures, the park in Singapore doesn’t look like anything I’d want to wade through (are there mosquitoes?), whereas the original field next to the storm drain looks quite inviting as a blank page for activity.

Sheds Direct January 18, 2014 at 3:48 am

I could not agree more, I wonder what percentage of park users actually notice or really care.

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