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Richard Tracey – The Landscape for Prosperity

28 April 2016

Richard Tracey of Atlantic Gateway Parklands examines how cities can benefit from beauty in their rural surroundings

In their 2011 book Edgelands, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts set out to explore the wilderness on our doorstep – the forgotten spaces and wasted lands in, around and between our major cities.

Theirs is a poetic journey, for “anyone who has spent their childhood mooching around the fringes of English towns and cities, where urban and rural negotiate and renegotiate their borders”. For them, Edgelands “are part of the gravitational field of all of our large urban areas, (from which) to build up speed to escape and hurry towards the countryside beyond, the distant wilderness”.

But what if we can find a more productive use for such areas? What if the Edgelands could be the spaces that entice people to the cities in the first place, a driving economic imperative, rather than a forgotten and abandoned wasteland? This is of course not a new idea and follows a long trail of land regeneration initiatives, from the Derelict Land Grant regimes of the 1970’s and 80’s; the exemplar creation the Liverpool Garden Festival in 1984; the plethora of Groundwork inspired environmental projects through the 1990’s; and Professor John Handley’s ‘Reclaim the Northwest’.

In preparation for (and whisper this bit) what would have been the comprehensive North West Regional Strategy of 2010, the learning gained from 25 years of such activity culminated in the publication of a major research document ‘Adapting the Landscape’ – a framework intended to guide future environmental programmes and investment, with the overarching objective of increasing the land’s resilience – both in its natural and manmade systems – to climate change.

The ‘Adapting the Landscape’ evidence base has been utilised to inform a renewed effort to underscore the sustainability credentials of the Atlantic Gateway, the positive response to the imperative of rebalancing the UK economy, through a growing collaboration between the northern city regions, with a geography that mirrors both the Local Enterprise and Nature Partnerships of Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington and the Liverpool City Region.

This culminated in June 2014 with the launch of the ‘Atlantic Gateway Parklands – The Landscape for Prosperity’. The Parklands prospectus set a vision and ambition to make places investment ready and liveable through environmental improvement

The ‘Landscape for Prosperity’ is being delivered through a series of partner-led initiatives and projects, championed by the Atlantic Gateway Parklands. Building on the narrative of the Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, we have defined our own Parklands PLACEs – a series of ‘Planned Landscapes and Creative Environments’.

The ‘Parklands PLACE’ approach will derive a series of multiple benefits for the economy, the environment and the wider communities, in support of the sustainable development of the Atlantic Gateway. As Lord Heseltine noted in his video launch for Parklands in 2014, ‘the issue of sustainability is here to stay” and Parklands believes that for places to prosper, they need to be beautiful by ensuring that green and blue infrastructure are put on an equal footing with digital and transport infrastructure.

During its inception phase Parklands the initial focus has been on a small number of ‘Strategic Environmental Initiatives’, which will enable the Parklands to build a cohesive collection of demonstration projects, which take us beyond the thinking stage and into the ‘doing’ on the ground.

The Parklands initiative relies heavily on making connections with others to realise its ambitions. Alongside the luxury fragrance brand Jo Malone London, the Rotunda College in Kirkdale, Liverpool has transformed a derelict space at in to a stunning new community garden designed by BCA Landscapes. Parklands has contributed 15% of the capital cost of the project, with other sponsors and volunteer time making up the balance needed to make the project happen. The new ‘Country Garden’ supports the small business and enterprise centre in the adjacent building and adds outdoor eating spaces to the Rotunda café.

The community and businesses working together at Rotunda College show that nature and green spaces will support economic growth if they are embraced as an opportunity. The outstanding quality of the garden’s design and community’s efforts to build it demonstrate the approach championed by the Canadian designer Bruce Mau, during his work on the nearby Everton Park, that we should “use beauty as a competitive advantage”.

The Atlantic Gateway Parklands is moving the Edgelands in to the mainstream. It is showing that, as Richard Florida puts it, “a park is not a frivolity” and that our rich and diverse landscapes are essential to our future economic success.

Note: The original version of this article appeared on ‘On the Platform’ and ‘Gather Liverpool’