How can we make our city better, safer and more fulfilling?
People are always amazed to find something natural and beautiful in the middle of a big city. Whether it is an old garden of Partap Park or new Joggers Park, Children Park or a spectacular urban seasonal flower display, like the ones in Badamvari and Tulip Garden, people simply feel better about themselves and their communities when surrounded by beautiful plants. Since the earliest times, human beings have always needed oases of green escape – a relationship with nature. It is no wonder that in many religions Paradise is envisioned as a garden.
One of the most important elements in successful public urban green space is plants. Plants have the power to soften and civilize public urban space. These green oases give pleasure to millions who crave a connection with nature in their lives.
Now the question arises how can we make our city better, safer and more fulfilling?
A better landscape is all about proper combination of hardscape (inanimate elements of landscaping) and softscape (animate elements of landscaping) suitable in the particular environment. What is required for residential may not fits institutional or street landscape. A well-designed landscape incorporates a balance between hardscaping and softscaping.
Landscape architects are very well placed to find creative, practical and inspiring ways of changing forgotten, dysfunctional spaces into practical and useable ones, where people want to assemble, socialize and spend quality time. Modern development in cities is less about expansion of undeveloped plots and is more about improving what already exists or what is currently being under-utilized.
An important key to successful public landscape design, though lacking in many landscape architecture projects, is to think about the people who use the space, i.e. the client – the public. Why do they want to come to this space? What soothes their mind and eyes when they are in it? The designer must step into their shoe to see if it really works. An important ingredient for any project is seating, and those seats should be put where people will enjoy them. Many successful public places now have moveable chairs so that the client can determine the most enjoyable location and feel a sense of ownership in the space.
After organizing the hardscape for the people who will use it, the next most important ingredients are soil, plants and maintenance. The right soil is the foundation for the plants of the site. Once good soil is in place, you should try to locate the best and largest plants available, using a mixture of shrubs and perennials in combinations that produce year-round effect. Using only few easily available plants, as in our case Deodars and Cupressus create a monotonous effect. We need to unfold the pages of research work conducted by our scientists, to find long list of trees and shrubs, recommended for landscape use. Planting annuals on wide dividers of our city bypasses, fenced with iron grills questions ours landscaping vision. Good, lush, healthy plants are a magnet that attract people, and using large ones that were being nurtured and groomed in our nurseries first, right away gives instant gratification and confidence in the space. Once soil and plants are in place, then of course we need the best maintenance available. “Sustainable” is a buzzword these days and to a large degree, a sustainable public landscape depends on the designer picking the right plants. If the designer specifies the wrong plant (a sun loving plant in deep shade, a thirsty plant in a dry location or annuals in dusty surroundings) and plants it in bad soil, then you can’t take care of it and it will never be sustainable.
In 2001 in response to the events of 9/11, 10,000 volunteers planted one million daffodils in parks all over New York City in memory of those who died. These cheerful harbingers of spring reminded people that parks are sacred spaces and that nature would help to heal our wounds. Now 16 years later, New Yorkers have planted five million daffodils on streets, in housing projects, and around schools yards as well as in parks. Fifteen other cities have adopted this daffodil planting idea; expanding the idea further could bring pleasure to millions more and beautify even more communities and cities all over the world. We can also simulate the same to beautify our trodden ways, educational institutes, hospitals and parks, for which we need to undertake the challenging task of propagating these and other bulbs on large scale.
Anyone who loves nature and plants can be part of the effort to green our public spaces, especially urban spaces. City dwellers, city planners, philanthropists, civic activists, public officials, developers, landscape architects, gardeners, horticulturists, and environmentalists—everyone should be aware of the exciting possibilities of planting for people. Healthy and open coordination between all the concerned departments is of utmost importance to bring visible and sustainable melioration in our city landscape. Making our city more beautiful will bring environmental, social, and economic benefits. It will help to promote tourist foot fall. We need energy, determination and knowledge of plants to establish better plant nurseries, especially of indigenous once to cater the increasing demand of better surroundings for which we should involve the young brigade of budding Landscape specialists. Above all, we must have a belief in the powerful connection between people and nature in order to create successful public spaces.
Raiz Ahmed Lone is Assistant Professor (Floriculture and Landscape Architecture), SKUAST-Kashmir.