An Alternative Garden Bridge for London?

“Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow” — Jeff Speck, “Walkable City”, 2012

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Allies and Morrison’s proposal is based on reimagining the existing infrastructure  of James Cubitt’s 1869 designed Blackfriars Bridge by using spare capacity to accommodate a through public garden of similar size of the proposed Garden Bridge, while still providing the vital north-south link for vehicular and cycle traffic along the Blackfriars Rd – Farringdon Rd axis. The Allies and Morrison team state, “By consolidating both the east and west pavements into one larger 14m wide pavement on the west side, we could create a brilliant pedestrianised garden.”

This alternative design would still offer dramatic views of St Paul’s and the City to the east and Westminster to the west and offers a positive response to the Mayor for London’s recent publication Public London: Creating the best public realm – authored by Peter Murray, Fred Manson and Pam Alexander.  The Mayor’s ambitions for the creation of new public spaces and places in London are to, “bring public transport, walking and cycling together to create high quality public realm.”

Using the existing Blackfriars infrastructure connects the north and south shores of the Thames using existing infrastructure thus providing increased capacity in pedestrian access between The City to the north and Southwark and Elephant and Castle to the south whilst creating a green space for commuters plus additional green infrastructure capacity for London. The provision of additional pedestrian space also links with the latest ‘Cities Alive’ report, a collaboration between Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation, Transport Consulting and Urban Design teams.  The report ‘Cities Alive: Towards a walking world’ discusses the benefits of walkable cities – economic, social, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.  “Creating safe and efficient transportation systems, liveable environments, a sense of place and community, and smart and responsive cities will all help to make walking a normal part of everyday life and the natural choice for shorter journeys.”

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This Blackfriars Bridge Garden concept celebrates existing infrastructure heritage just like New York’s Highline Parkway . Allies and Morrison claims that their proposal does not require extensive construction and can be delivered minus the initial cost of construction of a new bridge whilst connecting two areas of London where there is an existing need for additional commuter capacity. “It would provide 40,000 sq ft of new green space. It would remain public and accessible to all, seamlessly integrated into the existing public realm on both sides of the River without obstructing any of its views of St Paul’s. This light touch approach would be carbon neutral, and together with the cycle superhighway and solar panelled roof of Blackfriars Station, would be at the heart of a global exemplar for sustainable infrastructure.”

Source Text and images : June 2016.


Research: Nature in urban environments reduces stress

“We believe that greater priority needs to be given to prevention of ill health in public health and social care. All those involved in creating healthy places – public health professionals, planners and landscape architects – need to recognise that landscape has enormous potential to improve our health and wellbeing.”

Landscape Institute.

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Source: Honold, J., Lakes, T., Beyer, R. & van der Meer, E. (2015). Restoration in Urban Spaces: Nature Views From Home, Greenways, and Public Parks. Environment and Behavior. 1-30. DOI: 10.1177/0013916514568556.

Urban nature — such as trees and public parks — is beneficial to human health. A number of studies have found that living close to nature can have immediate positive effects on mental and physical health. However, the longer term health impact of urban nature remains poorly understood. This study investigated how exposure to nature affects health in residents of two inner city neighbourhoods in Berlin. The researchers investigated the links between different kinds of urban nature, including green spaces and views of vegetation from the home, and health. To do this, they assessed life satisfaction, perceived general health and levels of cortisol — commonly known as the stress hormone — in hair samples from 32 participants.

Changed patterns of cortisol in the blood have been linked to depression and psychological stress. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol suppress the immune system and can therefore also contribute to other illness. The authors hypothesised that the amount and diversity of vegetation visible from the home would affect health. They also thought that more regular use of public green spaces could encourage better health.

They found that views of vegetation from the home (as assessed by photographs) and the use of green spaces (determined by interview) were linked to the amount of cortisol in participants’ hair. Participants’ hair cortisol levels were lowest when their view was of both a high vegetation quantity and diversity. No significant link was found between the view from the home and self-reported general health or life satisfaction.

When assessing the use of green spaces, the researchers found one of the most frequently visited areas to be a local canal with a highly vegetated trail. People who used this trail at least once a week had significantly lower cortisol levels than less frequent users and reported higher life satisfaction, although they did not differ in general health.

Overall, this study suggests that exposure to urban nature in different forms could be related to lower cortisol levels and better life satisfaction, which corresponds with findings made in other countries and continents.

These results provide important considerations for urban development and suggest that adding diverse vegetation to residential streets and backyards, and developing more urban greenways, has the potential to improve human health. The authors recommend that local authorities use this information when designing sustainable and healthy urban areas.

While the authors do note limitations to the study, including sample size, the methods used to analyse vegetation and the extent to which cortisol correlates with stress and health outcomes, their findings have been reinforced by other research. They also propose that hair cortisol analysis could provide a promising new health indicator for future research.

The Dalston Eastern Curve Garden in east London is a thriving community garden, developed on a small piece of derelict railway land by landscape architects J & L Gibbons, with muf art/architecture and Exyzt. The video shows some of the improvements in community health and wellbeing that the garden has brought, providing an oasis in the heart of a busy, noisy, high-density part of the city, where public green space is severely lacking.

This is the first in a series of Landscape Institute videos on landscape and health, featuring some of the landscape projects that illustrated the 2013 publication ‘Public health and landscape: creating healthy places’.

Can ‘sponge cities’ solve China’s urban flooding problem?

The following edited article, ‘Can ‘sponge cities’ solve China’s urban flooding problem?’ by Wade Shepard first appeared in Citiscope. For further information on China’s ‘sponge park’ design read our earlier post, ‘Green Sponge’ Stormwater Park which featured Qunli Stormwater Park in Heilongjiang Province, China

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Source: An improvised pontoon bridge,Wuhan  PHOTO: WANG HE/GETTY IMAGES

From September to December 2013, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, China conducted research on flood control and countermeasures. According to the results, 641 cities are at danger of flooding in China.  At China’s Central Government Conference on Urbanization in 2013, President Xi Jinping announced that cities should act “like sponges.” This proclamation came with substantial funding to experiment with ways cities can absorb precipitation through permeable pavements, rain gardens and wetlands, or reuse the water locally for irrigation, parks or for drinking.

China is now poised to incorporate sponge-city concepts into its ambitious city building program. By 2015, the Guiding Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Advancing the Construction of Sponge Cities was published to further facilitate the construction of sponge cities. China’s State Council announced a new set of urbanization guidelines in February as a response to complaints that the country’s cities have grown too large, too fast, and without the proper amount of quality planning. The guidelines state that new urban developments should have sponge city-like water-retention capabilities, essentially making this strategy a new national standard.

China fdlooding stats

China is currently undergoing its worst flooding in 20 years. More than 300 people have died and over half a million have been displaced across dozens of provinces in both the north and south of the country.  Ponds, rivers and wetlands have been replaced with pavement, buildings and sidewalks. More than 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) were newly urbanized in China over the past 35 years, as the number of cities climbed from 193 to 653.   This rapidly encroaching urbanisation stops rain from being absorbed into the soil below. That increases runoff, which can grow to flood-like proportions as it flows downhill in even moderate storms.

While China’s drainage network of mostly conventional sewer systems grew 20-fold since 1981, it hasn’t kept pace with the expanding development above the surface. In 2013 alone, 230 of these cities were hit by severe flooding, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD). The situation is only expected to get worse as a changing climate triggers more extreme rain events.


The Chinese government selected an initial batch of 16 cities for pilot testing in 2015. An additional 14 cities are being added. Each city in this program is allocated RMB 400 to 600 million ($US 60 to 90 million). Cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Wuhan all have large scale projects underway.

In Yuelai New City, Chongqing the pavement absorbs the water, sucking it up into the ground beneath. If you were to pour out a bottle of water onto the ground water would immediately soak into the pavement and into the soil below, where it can then permeate down into the shallow aquifer or seep into nearby rivers, ponds or lakes. This porous pavement also feels different on your feet.

Yuelai New City is one of China’s most prominent emerging sponge cities and is one of the original 16 pilot sites and demonstrates creative thinking about water. The landscaping around the edges of the center blur right into the untamed foliage of the surrounding wooded hillside. Permeable parking lots are covered in gardens, with bushes separating each parking space rather than painted lines. Sponge cities are verdant places, focusing on nature based solutions, blending natural features and the city together. They also are wet places, and there will typically be a network of canals, ponds, lakes, and wetland parks, which distribute water throughout the development.

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Source: gettyimages

After an initial round of implementation, some of these sponge-city projects were tested by MoHURD. In terms of flood prevention, researchers found that 85 percent of rain runoff could be controlled. In addition, the presence of retained water, well-hydrated soil, and foliage also has the effect of counteracting the urban “heat island” phenomenon. According to Li Zhongwei, the director of D+H Scape landscape architecture firm, these strategies actually cool the air by two or three degrees centigrade.

The sponge-city concept is likely to work best if it can be implemented widely across broad urban areas. It has to be part of a holistic urban plan, not just some permeable concrete here or an extra-absorptive gutter there. That makes blank-canvas “new cities” that are so prevalent in China — like Yuelai New City — prime testing grounds.

“A sponge city is a system, it is not one part. You do a pilot park, you do a pilot neighborhood, it doesn’t help. You have to make sure the whole city is doing that. So it needs huge infrastructure. It’s not a small thing.”

Source: Li Zhongwei, Director, D+H Scape Landscape Architects

On the other hand, for the sponge-city notion to really make a difference, existing cities will need to be gradually retrofitted. That won’t be easy or cheap, with all the hard-wired street grids, pipes, tunnels and other existing infrastructure that Chinese cities have already built. There’s only one way to start, though, and that’s to begin experimenting.

“Most current [sponge city] projects are still very local and in a pilot phase,” says Harry den Hartog, an urban designer and researcher at Tongji University in Shanghai. “The current flooding issues make clear that more action is required urgently, especially in the more poor and vulnerable regions.”

“China’s urban construction was carried out at too fast a pace,” says Jia Haifeng, associate professor with Tsinghua University’s environmental science and engineering department. Officials have tended to focus on visible projects such as roads, bridges and housing, he said. “They emphasized infrastructure above ground, but not so much infrastructure below ground.”

Cuningar Loop: a new woodland park in Glasgow


Previously featured on the LIS blog,  Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games: Woodland Park Legacy , the Cuningar Loop is a £5.7 million Legacy 2014 project that is transforming 15 hectares of derelict land on the banks of the River Clyde into a woodland park. The park was being launched to the public with three ‘Come and Try’ events ahead of its grand opening in spring 2016. The new woodland at Cunigar Loop is one of 14 supported by Commonwealth Woods in and around Glasgow as a legacy from the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow in 2014. The 14 Commonwealth Woods in Glasgow link up with the 54 countries in the Commonwealth, through teaching and learning in Glasgow schools.

The new woodland park sits opposite to residential development, The Village, previously the Athlete’s Village at Glasgow 2014. 15,000 trees have been planted including native trees such as oak, silver birch and blossom, along with some more exotic trees. Landscape architects, Davies White have designed the adventure play area, which has a central feature with a range of smaller play items including a zip slide and den making area to create challenging play activities for children and young people.


Finished in spring 2016, the woodland park features an extensive path network, an Activity Zone with a bike skills area, bouldering park, adventure play and woodland workout. There is a boardwalk that runs along the River Clyde to connect with nature, picnic areas, a large meadow and outdoor classroom.

The next big piece of work to take place is the design and build of Cuningar footbridge. Clyde Gateway is working with Glasgow City Council to design and deliver the development of the 100 metre steel and timber footbridge which will connect the new woodland park to the new residential development, as well as Dalmarnock and Bridgeton communities.

Crowd-sourced data harnessed to improve flood response in Jakarta

Following the recent post, ‘Flood-risk communications should be specific, tailored and utilise social networks’ a project based in SE Asia’s Jakarta demonstrates how social media can be utilised to capture flood related data, enhancing early warning systems for the city.

The metropolis of Jakarta sits in a delta with thirteen rivers and eleven kilometers of canals. One-hundred-year-old floodgates and increasing canalization of its main river adds to the unpredictability of the city’s complex hydrology – and uncertainty for the people that live along the water’s edge.  28 million live in greater Jakarta and each year the city’s population has to deal with the inevitable flooding the comes from the monsoon rains, which are made worse when any of the city’s locks, canals, gates and pumps that diverted the water around the city and out to sea fail.

Dr Etienne Turpin and Dr Tomas Holderness from the University of Wollongong, Australia’s SMART Infrastructure Facility have developed, a system that maps flooding in real-time using crowd-sourced data from Twitter to help emergency response agencies make time-critical decisions and coordinate response efforts. The web-based platform runs on open source software developed by the SMART Infrastructure Facility, called CogniCity, which turns the geotagged Tweets into valuable data.

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“You have 28 million people sitting in a large bowl and when it rains that bowl fills up,” Dr Tomas Holderness told ABC radio. “You can’t evacuate people, [you can only] move them around and put them in the driest place you can.” Their solution came from tapping into Jakartans’ existing communications habits. 2 per cent of the world’s Twitter traffic comes from the capital Jakarta, alone.

The social media platform was already used in some organic form as residents warned each other of rising flood waters or parts of the city to avoid. Researchers harnessed that information then verify and collate it to provide a more complete, real-time image of the situation. A pilot study was conducted during the 2014-2015 monsoon season in collaboration with the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency (BPBD DKI Jakarta), and Twitter Inc., forming a world-first collaboration between Twitter, a university, and a disaster management agency.

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“We ask people on Twitter to tell us the situation where they are right now. We’re not passively listening or collecting Tweets, we listen for keywords ‘flood’, or ‘banjir’ in Indonesian, and we send them an automated message asking if they are experiencing flooding and if so to drop us a message and photo to our [Twitter] account @petajkt. We put that on a publicly available map so everybody can see that information in real-time.”

The team is looking to see how version 2.0 of their flood maps will improve emergency response and community engagement. “Now we’ve got a map that’s connecting the government’s formal information system and the informal information from social media all into one space,” says Tomas Holderness, co-founder of “It’s the connection of all those pieces in one pipe that’s never really happened before. The point of it all is to build an information ecosystem that improves resiliency in disaster situations that’s enabled by open software and open data. It’s a really important point and something we’re pioneering in many ways with this project.” The way in which residents and emergency responders engage with the system is having a tremendous impact that would be impossible to achieve through traditional infrastructure engineering. 
Further info:

European Prize for Urban Public Space – Special Recognition for City of Copenhagen

The European Prize for Urban Public Space is an initiative of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) and was established following the exhibition “The Reconquest of Europe”, which was held in the CCCB in 1999, in order to offer testimony to the process of rehabilitation of public spaces that has been occurring in many European cities. The European Prize for Urban Public Space is a biennial competition organized by seven European institutions with the aim to recognize and encourage the recovery projects and defense of public space in our cities.

The aim of the Prize is to recognise and foster the public character of urban spaces and their capacity for fostering social cohesion. While acknowledging the ambiguities inherent in the notion of public space, this Prize – the only one of its kind in Europe – is distinctive in both recognising and promoting a public space that is at once public (open and universally accessible) and urban. A full list of those winning projects and those which received special mention click here .

The list includes joint winners:

Caldes de Montbui (Spain), 2015

The orchards around the town are the focus of an integral project of restoration which restores the old irrigation system of thermal waters, reactivates agricultural activity and opens up a network of pedestrian pathways.

Szczecin (Poland), 2015
A place where sixteen demonstrating workers were killed in the 1970s has become the new Solidarity Square while also forming the roof of an underground museum on the recent history of a city which was seriously damaged during the Second World War.
European prize

National Museum in Szczecin – Dialogue Centre Przełomy | KWK Promes Robert Konieczny

Special mention:

Ablain-Saint-Nazaire (France), 2014
An elliptical structure which seems to hover over the landscape expresses the fragility of peace and shows the names of more than half a million victims of different nationalities who lost their lives during the First World War on the hill of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.
Kiev (Ukraine), 2016
An empty lot is transformed into a memorial for the victims of the EuroMaidan protests and, on an everyday basis, has a productive role as a self-managed community vegetable garden.
London (United Kingdom), 2015
The windowless facades and neglected surrounds of a public library and municipal sports centre dating back to the 1960s acquire centrality and civic representativeness thanks to the addition of a theatrical loggia, the new Virginia Gardens and improved shop fronts along the adjacent main high street.
Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Belgium), 2015
The construction of a monumental porch in a courtyard garden makes it possible to accommodate concerts, markets and a wide range of activities for residents in a neighbourhood with a complex and fragmented social composition.
The Jury of the Prize has specially created the category of Special Recognition in order to emphasize the merit of the city of Copenhagen in its firm and persistent commitment to a public space that gives priority to cyclists and pedestrians. It hopes in this way to draw attention to its determination and persistence in reconquering public space from private vehicles, which formerly overran it, so that it can be used by pedestrians and cyclists. All of these policies are the result of a commitment to ensure that a good quality of urban life is available for everyone. This resolve is now patent in the considerable number of interventions supported by the metropolitan area of Copenhagen among the 25 finalists in this most recent award of the Prize.



For its enlightened policy-making and seriousness in its present and future vision of the city. Reflecting this enlightenment is the fact that, among the 25 finalist works of the 2016 European Prize for Urban Public Space, several are from Copenhagen and its metropolitan area. All of them show great determination to encourage a comfortable presence of people in their urban surroundings. A commitment to the quality of life in urban public space throughout the city is expressed in innovative interventions related with such important issues as mobility or water management. The city has invested in democratic, sustainable mobility with an emphasis on public transport and bicycle traffic rather than cars, while also highlighting proper use and enjoyment of its water resources. With this Special Recognition, the Jury recognises the reconquest of the city as a role model which could be taken up worldwide.”

To read about Copenhagen’s Climate Adaptation Plan featuring Tåsinge Plads, Copenhagen case study.

Report: Climate change risks to UK

climate change report

Globally, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Climate change is set to increase the probability of flooding and put pressure on water availability in the UK. Periods of too much or too little rainfall are both likely symptoms of increasing global temperatures. These could happen back to back, as was the case in the first six months of 2012, the so-called “wettest drought on record”.

The Committee on Climate Change’s Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) new independent report to Government, ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Reportsets out the most urgent risks and opportunities arising for the UK from climate change.

Changes to the UK climate are likely to include periods of too much or too little water, increasing average and extreme temperatures, and sea level rise. The report concludes that the most urgent risks for the UK resulting from these changes are:

  • Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure.
  • Risks to health, wellbeing and productivity from high temperatures
  • Risk of shortages in the public water supply, and water for agriculture, energy generation and industry, with impacts on freshwater ecology.
  • Risks to natural capital, including terrestrial, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, soils and biodiversity.
  • Risks to domestic and international food production and trade.
  • Risks of new and emerging pests and diseases, and invasive non-native species, affecting people, plants and animals.

The opportunities for the UK from climate change include:

  • UK agriculture and forestry may be able to increase productionwith warmer weather and longer growing seasons, if constraints such as water availability and soil fertility are managed.
  • There may be economic opportunities for UK businesses from an increase in global demand for adaptation-related goods and services, such as engineering and insurance.

The impact of the recent vote to leave the European Union does not change the overall conclusions of the risk assessment. However, some individual risks may change if EU-derived policies and legislation are withdrawn and not replaced by equivalent or better UK measures. The Adaptation Sub-Committee will assess the implications of the EU referendum in its next statutory report to Parliament on the UK National Adaptation Programme, due to be published in June 2017.

Lord Krebs, Chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The impacts of climate change are becoming ever clearer, both in the United Kingdom and around the world. We must take action now to prepare for the further, inevitable changes we can expect. Our independent assessment today, supported by the work of hundreds of scientists and other experts, identifies the most urgent climate change risks and opportunities which need to be addressed. Delaying or failing to take appropriate steps will increase the costs and risks for all UK nations arising from the changing climate.”