Managing Change in Scotlands Landscapes – Fifty Years On: 1962 – 2012

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Scotland’s landscapes are a key national asset, and contribute positively to the quality of life and economic livelihoods of Scotland’s people. Landscapes continually change, and policy and practice need to respond to this. Fifty years on from Scotland’s first landscape conference, a major national conference Landscape Policy & Implementation in Scotland took place in Perth Concert Hall on 27th and 28th November 2012 and provided an opportunity to review progress and debate how best to manage future change in Scotland’s landscapes.

A&DS contributed to the conference with Karen Anderson, A&DS Chair, presenting on Day 1 on Contemporary Dynamics and Future Place‐making for Urban Landscapes under the theme of ‘Landscape Visions and Response to Pressures’. Karen recently chaired the Urban Design and Masterplanning panel for the Landscape Institute’s Awards 2012. More information is available on the Landscape Institute’s website or the Awards supplement.

On Day 2, Eric Dawson, A&DS Design Advisor, participated in a series of workshops under the theme of Landscape Design. This report provides a brief summary of the Day 2 workshop sessions on Landscape Design moderated by Ian White.

DAY 2 – Theme: Landscape Design

Ian White introduced the workshop sessions on landscape design which explored evolution and innovation in response to changing social, economic and ecological needs. The sessions also questioned whether client bodies and the wider public understand the nature of landscape design and its potential to create sustainable solutions.

Professor Brian Evans, Partner with Gillespies, spoke about Conceptual Frameworks for Landscape in Masterplans. Through illustrating a series of projects Brian showed how landscape can provide a structure for the form and setting of places, and described how masterplans derive from a thorough understanding of context. Brian prompted delegates to think about what the term ‘masterplan’ meant for them, and feedback was broadly grouped into four areas:

  1. Vision – common agreement about an image of the future
  2. Framework – a means to deliver or implement objectives
  3. Collective understanding – exchanging and testing ideas; balancing bottom-up and top-down
  4. Concept – a mechanism to draw together different strands of thinking

A broad ranging discussion raised key observations:

  • It is necessary to think beyond 2D zonings, and over longer timescales.
  • Landscape considerations should be a starting point and not left to the last
  • A landscape framework should be embedded in the planning process from the outset.
  • Ideas should not be imposed or fixed; masterplans should be flexible and capable of adaption.
  • Landscape covers multiple considerations; it is about ‘people’ and their needs – landscape brings it all together.

Ian White summed up by noting a need for a vision to be flexible; the importance of working with and for people; ‘placemaking’ may be too focussed, and there is a need to take account of a wider view; McHarg’s 3 ‘Cs’: character, capacity and connectivity; and the principle of ‘designing with nature / designing for people’.

Eric Dawson from A&DS addressed the theme of Landscape Design and Placemaking by demonstrating a visioning technique, that has been used in association with SNH as part of a joint ‘sustainable placemaking programme’, and which responded to ‘challenges’ raised by Ian White:

  • Placemaking is too focussed and doesn’t see a wider picture
  • We need ways of developing concepts and ideas in a manner that people can understand
  • We should not impose views

The focus of the workshop explored a participatory method of briefing for placemaking projects. Through a gaming board method, delegates were invited to ‘play’ competing land use tiles and negotiate differing outcomes. Three scenarios – ‘as is’; ‘market led; and ‘targeted investment’ – were tested against a set of objectives/criteria, in a rapid evaluation exercise intended as an aid to decision making. The preferred approach could then be further assessed to determine key moves to focus on in order to guide future development strategies. A major feature of the gaming method is that a conversation is stimulated, in which landscape is an integral component of positive action.

Ewan Anderson, Partner in 7N Architects, spoke about Procurement and Design, and questioned whether the public procurement process produces good design, or whether it is too dominant and fails to recognise the innovation, skills and experience which are fundamental to good landscape design. Ewan reflected on the detrimental impact that OJEU procurement processes have had; e.g. an RIBA study identified that the cost of procurement processes can be up to 2 ½ times the value of the work. The discussion noted that processes can be counterproductive to making good places, and a paralysing ‘fear factor’ means that projects are ‘designed to avoid failure’, resulting in mediocrity, with rationale and objectivity being taken to absurd levels.

Ewan spoke of a need to properly resource a design based approach to placemaking upstream in planning policy preparation, and offered some observations based on his experiences with masterplanning and charrette projects. He expressed concern that current practice can drive short term and poor outcomes, when what is required is to establish a vision as a long term plan for place.

Further thoughts from the group about how to tackle this issue were: for public bodies to take a lead; to work with senior people to work with the spirit of good intentions underlying procurement processes; to challenge systems that are meant to stop monopolies but which actually perpetuate them; for professional bodies to have a more prominent role, for example in advocating standard policies, helping to overcome pre-qualification processes, and noting that through professional codes of conduct practitioners are mandated to act in a professional and ethical manner.

Pol MacDonald, Director of OPEN, spoke about Landscape Design and Construction ‐ Commercial and Public Realm in terms of the importance of public space, and the need for social spaces where people can meet, interact and enjoy a high quality of life. He argued that not enough time is spent on design, and suggested that much public realm investment has focussed on beautification and commercialisation of space. He traced the impact of how an earlier sense of common purpose had influenced and guided the making of better places for people to enjoy their lives, and where parks and urban spaces reflected a belief system about striving for the common good. He asked whether there is a need to be brave and to have greater ambition, and spoke of a need for a guiding vision, but which can adapt to accommodate practical issues such as responding to stalled spaces.

Ian White chaired a concluding intra-theme discussion, during which certain points were raised:

  • A need to travel (encourage study trips) to experience and learn from elsewhere
  • Have ambitious leaders; gain confidence
  • There is a need for political and civic desire to elevate quality
  • Ownership and stewardship over time – who takes responsibility?
  • Local communities need to be able to do things for themselves
  • Collaboration is key; language is important; engagement and facilitation are required
  • Landscape is valued in different ways – in ‘hard’ monetary terms; and in ‘soft’ terms that account for wider benefits and wellbeing
  • Landscape is an essential consideration as it links across communities and across time.

Footnote: Congratulations to Pol MacDonald / OPEN and Ian White Associates. OPEN won the Landscape Institute’s Strategic Landscape Planning Award for their Temporary Greenspace Study, while Ian White Associates were highly commended in the Communications & Presentation Category. More information is available on the Landscape Institute’s website or the Awards supplement.

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