Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Ed Taylor, owner of Taylor Architecture and Urbanism, talks of the importance of greenspaces to urban communities.
Number 24 – Ensure all communities have access to nature within a few hundred metres of their homes and enjoy the benefits for health and well-being
On the face of it, we are lucky in Scotland that we can see and feel the presence of nature within not too distant reach from even our largest cities- glimpses of the distant hills and silvery firths never seem far away. And yet it is also possible to feel almost entirely cut off from nature, within sealed estates of tarmac and brick where labyrinthine, looping, internal roads are encircled by constantly humming arterial routes.
Ease of access to safe green spaces where nature can flourish is an important factor in our quality of life, with measurable impacts upon our mental and physical well-being. Victorian reformers first acknowledged our common need for nature as they struggled to cope with the pressures of rapid urbanisation resulting from changes in industry and agriculture. By the late 19th Century, the movement to establish freely accessible public parks in expanding towns and cities was as much a part of the campaign to improve standards of living as the provision of schools, churches, libraries, art galleries and museums.
Fast-forward to the latter part of the twentieth century, however, and the expansion of our towns and cities had begun to occur largely by stealth in response to a more laissez-faire approach to planning and increasing community opposition. Small parcels of development added incrementally over decades have resulted in sprawling growth, without the amenities and provision for nature that might have been included had a shared vision been established at the outset.
The greenspaces that may result from standard, volume-built suburban development are typically small and fragmented, sometimes referred to derisorily as “SLOAP” (Space Left Over After Planning). Many homes are essentially car-dependent and research has found that the difference between highly walkable and non-walkable communities is an average of about seven pounds of body weight.
Over the past 10 years or so (but with earlier roots), a movement has started to grow that brings together professionals from different disciplines – urban designers, planners, road engineers, ecologists, architects and landscape architects- to consider plans for long-term development in the round, with the communities of existing settlements involved from the outset. Unsurprisingly, it is often the walks and natural features of a place that people feel most strongly about the need to protect.
Enshrined at the heart of this reform movement are a number of key principles of urban planning. Counter-intuitively perhaps, relative compactness of built form can be the friend of nature. Many of our best-loved traditional towns and villages are close-knit, compact and permeable to the pedestrian. The streets and rows of these places clearly define and protect their parks and green spaces, and help to ensure that their benefits are enjoyed by a greater number of people within a short walk.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is showing intellectual leadership by recognising that built form and places for nature are two sides of the same coin, and by understanding their interdependencies it seems that people and nature stand to gain.
Let us know your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.
Ed Taylor recently established Taylor Architecture & Urbanism (TAU) and was formerly Representative in Scotland of The Prince's Foundation for Building Community.