OOTS: Where's Our Public Planting Legacy?
|The Olympic Park last year, which is now called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. |
Part of the northern parkland has now re-opened with the rest due to open in spring 2014
|Roadsides got the "Olympic" treatment as well as the more frequently photographed |
pedestrian only areas
Since my visit to the Olympic Park last year, I've been thinking about a different legacy; one concerning our public open space. Whilst there I heard "Look at those flowers!", many a time and then, "Wow, that's amazing!". I wandered around the Park with a huge grin, simply listening to everyone's incredulous reaction to their surroundings.
|Green roofs and walls were also in abundance - this wall protected one of the transformer |
areas in the heart of the Olympic Park
Back home, isn't that the kind of reaction we should all have to our own public space? Surely it's not just about the legacy embodied in the Olympic Park? Looking at Wikipedia and the Olympic Legacy websites, it seems that so far it is. Now, if the reaction I saw last year could be made nationally, wouldn't THAT be an Olympic legacy to be proud of?
|A country scene? No, it's Castle Park in Bristol two weeks ago, right in the heart of the city|
Sadly it's an opportunity which has largely been missed. Sure, I've noticed an increase in Pictorial Meadows style roundabouts and suchlike locally, but there was much more than that on show at the Olympic Park. Besides, planting a Pictorial Meadow isn't the only answer. Thousands of trees plus tens of thousands of perennials also formed key components of the planting scheme in London.
|Nigel Dunnett's RBC 'Blue Water Rooftop Garden' at RHS Chelsea 2013|
Nigel's in much demand for talks and workshops about the Olympic Park, so hopefully his knowledge and experience is being passed on to those who can make this a reality in our public space. I thought immediately this kind of thing should be offered as a masterclass under the Britain in Bloom umbrella, but when I contacted the RHS, it isn't yet. Shame.
|A vision of the re-styled athletes' Olympic village - presented by Delancy (the company|
converting the village into residential housing) at this year's RHS Chelsea. Much more
shrubbery and an echo of the Pictorial Meadows via the Zantedeschia?
Speaking to various nurserymen at Chelsea, they haven't seen much of an "Olympic effect", even amongst those who supplied the Games. A further thought was offered by Palmstead Nurseries last week (via email) which may help to explain why. They've raised an issue ahead of their workshop in September re whether the Building Research Establishment's BREEAM sustainability point system might limit the public planting palette too much. Perhaps this system was modified or not used for the Olympic Park's planting? It'll be interesting to see if and how it has changed when the Park fully reopens next year.
Another common issue raised whilst I've been researching this post is just how difficult it is for the public to effect change. Far too often Britain in Bloom and numerous other community schemes succeed through the sheer will and determination of a handful of people, often against the odds. Perhaps we've missed a golden opportunity to assess how and why the Olympic Park succeeded and then to modify e.g. planning laws so that 2012's success can be built into all our communities with far less hassle.
|Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Another public space with the wow factor, which was|
designed by the British architects Grant Associates Photo credit: Darren Chinn
We all deserve the wow factor in our public spaces, wherever we may be. It improves our health and keeps the feel-good factor going. You may think that the above example is way too costly as it cost hundreds of millions of pounds. However, it's already close to covering its costs through increased tourism in Singapore and its far higher than predicted visitors. That's in less than two years since it opened. Good public space can be cost-effective :)
A final thought. There's been much concern lately about the future of horticulture in this country. Maybe if there were more places like the Olympic Park across the UK, perhaps we might not only inspire a generation to enjoy sport, but also inspire a new generation into horticulture too?*
* = or as NAH put it down the pub last night, "Inspire a germination" ;)