Cultural values and meanings

In the postal questionnaire the respondents were asked to name up to three places that they particularly liked in their local area, not including their own home and garden. The respondents’ first named places were sorted into five categories, namely “green spaces”, “outdoor recreational spaces” (e. g. Birchwood Golf Club), “indoor recreational spaces” (e. g. Birchwood

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Fig. 4. This Birchwood resident has personalised their front garden by removing the original hedges and soft landscape and replacing them with highly manicured alternatives

Shopping Centre), “footpaths” and “other”. “Green spaces” were the places most respondents valued in their local area (chosen by 63% of all respondents), irrespective of whether they came from Birchwood or from the control areas outside, even where there were competing attractions lo­cally such as shopping centres or the golf club. In Birchwood the most popular green spaces were Risley Moss (chosen by 26% of Birchwood re­spondents) and Birchwood Forest Park (chosen by 18%). The publicly ac­cessible parts of Risley Moss consist predominantly of woodland (Fig. 5), whereas the Forest Park consists of a series of linked open grassed areas, framed by woodland belts. Both have a strong woodland character.

The high esteem in which these places (and other green spaces in Birch – wood) are held confirms the value of woodland as a local recreational resource, as indicated by previous research (Tartaglia-Kershaw 1980; Bur­gess et al. 1988; Burgess 1995; Bussey 1996).

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Fig. 5. Woodland in Risley Moss, Birchwood

The interviews revealed that the respondents from Birchwood valued its green and wooded spaces, and the vegetation and wildlife found in those spaces for a number of reasons, which may be summarised as:

• A feeling or belief that Birchwood was making a precious contribution towards the conservation of nature and wildlife, and that in Birchwood humans can co-exist with nature;

• An awareness of seasonal change;

• The potential to engender experiences of a transcendental nature (e. g. the ability to “lose oneself’);

• Rural idyll;

• Relaxation, tranquility and stress relief.

Whilst the naturalistic landscape of Birchwood had its own set of mean­ings for many respondents these meanings were not necessarily synony­mous with Birchwood’s identity as a place. This was partly because differ­ent respondents had different ideas about Birchwood’s physical extent. More importantly, when questioned about Birchwood’s identity, most re­spondents replied by talking about the community, or about social group­ings or institutions that represented the community for them.

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Fig. 6. The hanging baskets are symbols of a caring community for Birchwood in­habitants

This suggests that the landscape is evaluated according to whether it ex­hibits positive or negative signs of its inhabitants. Thus, signs of caring human intervention are greatly valued, whereas vandalism and abuse rein­force negative ideas regarding the community, and the landscape.

The interviews suggested that in Birchwood the floral hanging baskets recently installed along the expressways by the Town Council are amongst the most potent symbols of a caring community for Birchwood inhabitants (Fig. 6). This type of embellishment was definitely not part of the original plan for Birchwood, and would undoubtedly have been seen as incongru­ous by the original designers and planners, who envisaged the expressways running through a wholly naturalistic woodland landscape.

Their strategic location at the roundabouts suggests that the hanging baskets may have another important function. The roundabouts are essen­tially gateways to Birchwood, marking the transition from the naturalistic woodland belts to the built development, but in the original plan they were not sufficiently differentiated as such. There was certainly an attempt by the designers to vary the rhythm of the tree planting and to locate eye­catching trees species at key locations, but these strategies seem not to have had sufficient impact. It seems that flowers and colour, through their association with caring, have the ability to mark the passage from the wil­derness zone of the woodland to the cultivated zone of the built develop­ment, and that these kinds of symbols and markers have the potential to perform important transitional functions.