There is a compelling case for weaving more nature into the fabric of our cities. In the capital, green space should be part of the everyday experience of Londoners — promoting health and wellbeing, including during the commute to and from work.
Creating natural corridors to connect green spaces by cycle routes and paths has already begun in one scheme spanning the boroughs, while developers are putting ecology and creative landscaping at the heart of projects, aiming in some cases for 50 per cent green space in entire new neighbourhoods.
The architect’s relationship with nature has not always been easy, and “non-infestation clauses” in planning agreements do little to promote London wildlife. Sometimes green elements of new housing schemes are seen as costly and unnecessary add-ons, especially by builders driven solely by profit.
But if the feel-good factor sells homes there is an incentive to please, and a place for the great biologist EO Wilson’s “biophilia” hypothesis, that people are happiest and most productive when in regular, direct contact with nature.
Nature leads the way
A striking example of this new approach is found in Walworth, where an “urban forest” of trees, meadows and parks at the 4,200-home regeneration of a run-down council estate has been shortlisted for next month’s prestigious Landscape Institute awards.
Notting Hill Housing’s “nature-led masterplan” for Aylesbury Estate focuses as much on public realm as on the architecture of new buildings, creating a network of tree-lined streets and garden squares where once were grim tower blocks. Every new property will look out on to trees and open space.
Dutch “home-zone” principles are being applied, with a collection of micro-neighbourhoods designed to encourage shared use of outside space while also promoting cycling and minimising the impact of cars. There will be safe play areas for children, community allotments for organic food growing. New green routes will seamlessly knit the homes into adjoining 113-acre Burgess Park, recently upgraded with a new lake, entrances, pathways, café, picnic and recreational areas plus 90,000 new plants and trees and a wildlife garden.
Harvard Gardens is the first phase of private homes. Prices start at £412,500 and rise to £885,000 for four-bedroom duplexes. Call 03330 033640. Future phases will include shared-ownership homes. Visit www.aylesburynow.london.
A Victorian gasworks is an unpromising starting point for a green retreat but developer St William aims to create just that at Prince of Wales Drive, bordering Battersea Park. The old gasholders have been dismantled and the land decontaminated for a scheme of 839 apartments spread across five acres.
Landscaping has shaped the layout of the site, says Selina Mason of architect LDA Design. “It’s a sort of back-to-front approach. We decided we would have object spaces and then put buildings around them.” At Prince of Wales Drive there are wide pathways, two new public squares, a central courtyard and free-flowing gardens, while a railway arch is being opened for a walkway to Battersea Park.
Architecture and interior design reflect the site’s industrial heritage. One of the 11 “pavilion” buildings is a slender tower with a metal-framed façade. Other buildings incorporate communal “Zen gardens”. At 15 per cent bigger than national space standards require, flats are being trumpeted as better value for money than other new-builds in the Nine Elms hotspot. Prices from £690,000. Call 020 3053 6901.
Linear parks and fruit trees at bus stops
A linear park running through various housing developments from Vauxhall to Battersea Power Station will be a new green spine for this area. London is learning from other world cities such as Singapore, which has an ambition to be a “City in a Garden”.
A collective vision has been launched by New London Landscape, a forum for some of the capital’s best and brightest designers, architects and eco-campaigners. According to the forum: “Because of global warming and population growth, we need city-wide strategies — a dynamic and integrated approach to our limited land resource.”
Green infrastructure projects include unlocking redundant transport corridors and creating parks and platforms for pedestrians and cyclists above and alongside railway tracks and sidings, as in Peckham. New ideas include Barge Walk linear park on a series of barges anchored at West India Dock, while a Street Orchard initiative seeks to plant fruit trees at redesigned London bus stops and shelters with sedum roofs.
Proposed new watery spaces include floating gardens in Docklands, a linear lido along Regent’s Canal between Little Venice and Limehouse, and a reinstated Fleet River channel as a new low-line park. The subterranean river, below Fleet Street in the City, would be opened up below street level, with pedestrian footpaths either side.
There is also a proposal to reinstate Surrey Canal. Concreted over in 1971, it ran through Bermondsey, an area recently designated an “opportunity zone” by the Mayor and now earmarked for major housing schemes.
The lost Westbourne river is being celebrated at Chelsea Barracks, where garden squares with 448 homes are being built. Silently running under the site, the old river will be traced by an overground path and water sculptures. A vegetable garden and walnut and apple orchards will ensure the site is “productive as well as beautiful”, says landscape architect Kim Wilkie.
Bird-watchers in London no longer need to travel to the Norfolk Broads to spot the elusive bittern, one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds. Twitchers can instead take the Tube to Manor House in Hackney and walk five minutes through gritty back streets to a new nature reserve on a reservoir that is an integral part of Woodberry Down, a 5,500-home new waterfront neighbourhood.
The reservoir was fenced and off-limits to the public for more than 200 years, but spurred by an ambitious plan to transform an adjacent 64-acre council estate into a smart new address, London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water joined forces with developer Berkeley Homes to create awesome inner-city wetlands, recently opened by Sir David Attenborough.
Many of the new flats face on to the reservoir, which has been upgraded with a new boardwalk, bridges and trim trail for joggers. Now it is thriving with reed beds, wildflower meadows, beehives, bats, insects and rare migrating birds, including bitterns, of which only 600 are thought to winter in the UK. Berkeley director Piers Clanford says it is a hugely successful part of the development. “Residents love it, and local schools and community groups as well as young families from the wider area are using it, which is fantastic to see.”
The nature reserve is a protected Site of Metropolitan Importance, and a remarkably tranquil place. More than 3,000 of the new homes at the rejuvenated estate are private sale flats, which start at £470,000 and rise to £1.5 million for penthouses with spectacular views over the reservoir to the Square Mile. And though the housing density is twice the old 2,500-home low-rise estate there is a 30 per cent increase in open space.
Nature Collection, the latest phase, comprises four blocks alongside the New River, a centuries-old canal that was constructed to bring fresh water from chalk streams in Hertfordshire to north London. Now landscaped gardens run down to the water’s edge. Call 020 8985 9918 for more details.