Once “parks” and their creators were revered, but who are the “Capability” Brown’s or the Olmsted of the last 100 years or even of our generation. The urban parks that we reverie as professionals and who the communities cherish, Central Park, Kew Gardens, Hampton Palace, Blenheim Palace…have formed the foundation of our industry. Design and its legacy is rarely discussed in our industry but is central to a number of other peak industry bodies such as IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architect). Where is the “Capability” Brown of this century? and the “Capability” Brown award in the park industry?
Over the last number of years I have been involved in an on and off dialogue with many including Cecil Konijnendijk (formerly of University of Copenhagen) about design, it’s modern form and more recently “legacy” and significance. I have also worked closely with individuals who both have had a significant long term impact on the form of urban parks in Australia and Overseas since the 1980’s, from Australia – Kevin Taylor (of Taylor Cullity Lethlean fame) and Gary Bartlett (of Merri Creek fame) – both sadly departed under terrible circumstances (a fatal head on car crash and a a fatality of the Black Friday Bush Fires in 2009) and from USA Brian O’Neill (Golden Gate fame, also sadly departed) and Steve Coleman (Washington DC). There has been limited recognition and consideration of the significance of the legacy they have created.
But why is “design” and its legacy important?
Why is Design legacy important?
There are more capable individuals than myself that can make informed comment on this subject, however it is widely accepted that “Great Cities” are great because of their form and function. People from around the world talk about New York, Sydney, Paris, St Petersburg and Tokyo too name a few, not Joburg, KL, LA, Brisbane nor Manchester. It is not that they aren’t interesting places, but we do recognize that a sense of style that is derived from the form and function created in “Great Cities” make they highly valued.
There is a very long discussion that could be had to analysis why Paris is viewed as a “Great City” from its history, the influence of culture and landmark cultural events, however all I wish to observe and emphasis is that the majority of “Great Cities” have made significant use of space (open space, parks, green space, green infrastructure) to create the setting in which the City sits. Be it a natural setting such as Sydney Harbour or a created setting such as Central Park or the Eiffel Tower. This is why urban park design legacy is important but it isn’t the only reason.
There is even more compelling reasons that have been identified in numerous work regarding the value of “open space” to the health of society (consider the Healthy Parks Healthy People concept), as a buffer to climate variability, for clean water and for tourism to name a few. However these benefits don’t just occur because “x hectares per head of population” is provided (a very coarse “rule” with no sympathy for cultural and environmental elements) and it isn’t also just about quality – I postulate that design both at a system level and local level are even now more important and a new “modern” design ethic needs to be developed. In 2011 I spoke to a group of masters student at University Of Copenhagen regarding this challenge and the elements of what maybe needed to be incorporated into this “modern” design. In my presentation I drew upon why “product” development in all consumer goods has shifted to not only quality and form and function but to a “product” concept that is more than we imagined or even believed we required. Did Apple ever ask you, what you needed or even desired in a music product that has reshaped the world? Did the academic institutions that started “file sharing” protocols ever ask its customers that it wished to Skype?
Design in the modern sense needs to go beyond the traditional and typical customer survey approach and design parks beyond our belief, for a future that we can’t imagine.