The emergence of the idea of sustainability, which was a defining feature of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, was instrumental in raising environmental awareness and provided a powerful rationale for reassessing contemporary design and development strategies.
Within architecture, the major impact was on finding ways of reducing the energy consumption of buildings and thereby reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of investment in marketing, publications, competitions and demonstration projects, by, for example, the European Union, Professional Bodies, National Institutions and Investors, most architects have become aware of the factors contributing to sustainable building design. At a national level, building codes have been amended to improve the energy efficiency of new development.
By contrast, the environmental benefits of sustainable landscape design have received less extensive publicity, although by now concepts such as ecological corridors are well established. Publications in this field are becoming more common as the importance of an integrated view of urban development is appreciated (Santamouris, 2001; Thompson and Sorvig, 2000).
The significance of urban agriculture within contemporary open urban space is highly variable according to the city examined. The environmental benefits of urban agriculture are only now beginning to be identified and acknowledged, and currently its significance is very different in developed and developing countries. In developing countries, urban agriculture is largely driven by ecomic need, while in developed countries it is more likely to have arisen in response to social or recreational needs and desires (see Part Four – Planning for CPULs: International Experience). In Europe, interest in allotment holding, urban farming or community gardening has constantly increased in recent years, with a resulting resurgence of urban food growing.
Taking Britain as an example, it is true to say that there has been nothing like the investment in urban landscapes which took place in the nineteenth century with the development of large municipal parks (see Chapter 13). In Britain, there has been little celebration of contemporary urban landscape until very recently. Some new interventions, i. e. those in the east of London (Mile End Park and Thames Barrier Park, see Chapter 14 – Open Urban Space Atlas) have now received positive publicity. On the other hand, significant work is currently being carried out within Milton Keynes, one of the new towns which was built during the twentieth century as a consequence of Howard’s garden city theories.
Milton Keynes retains and is developing a legacy of public parkland, using innovative management, in
support of the public interest. This supports one of Howard’s ambitions, which was to avoid inflated land prices and thus retain open urban space. His notion was that new town companies would purchase land for development, rent houses to residents and, once the land was paid for, invest rents in the improvement of the public realm. Within Milton Keynes farsighted plans integrating parkland into the town, and a contemporary financial and management strategy are supporting open urban space and gaining recognition:
. . . The single statistic that it has planted twenty million trees, and the fact that it has inside its boundaries the largest, most diverse park system of any city in the UK, should be enough to change perceptions. . . The parks are not the monotonous, scrubby, flat playing fields with moth eaten flowerbeds that are all many underfunded municipalities seem to be able to afford…. This is because Milton Keynes’s parks are run not by the cash-strapped council, but by a charitable trust. The trust is endowed with property assets worth 50 million pounds, originally including 14 city pubs and an industrial estate from which it derived an income of 3.1 million pounds last year to fund its activities.
The dedicated non-profit-making charity established by Milton Keynes in 1992 to manage its large landscape interventions has fared better than the council in maintaining open urban space (Brown, 2003). Milton Keynes provides a financial model for the support of CPULs.
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