It was my second trip to the Landscape Institute Awards, as Director of a very small practice this is a side of the industry I rarely see, and it’s good to see the event becoming more inclusive by offering a range of ticket prices. I was again surprised by the glamour, lights and music put on for our usually modest profession, it is dominated by the industry's biggest companies.
It was amazing to see my childhood hero, Sir David Attenborough live on stage. His opening sentence ‘We are taking a bad turn, things do not look good’ was both devastatingly hard-hitting and a tragic understatement of how bad things really are; with millions of extinctions on the horizon including possibly our own.
He urged those present to help people see the natural world and understand it and love it; but who could do more than he has for the past 50 years? Maybe it is not enough to love the natural world, perhaps we also need the humility to accept that we are inextricably part of it and re-learn how to love ourselves.
Our western culture conditions us to measure success by money, power and influence, we reward the biggest and the most glamorous, we celebrate the ruthless and the risk-takers. But I don’t believe we respect ourselves for this, look at the people at the top of society, many turn out to be the least likely to offer help in this emergency, instead clinging to their cash and their high-carbon lifestyles. We are not necessarily elevating the best of us.
One project did catch my attention on the night, the winner of the President’s Award, a blog called ‘What’s Growing on the Greenway. After completing the landscape project at Connswater Community Greenway, Anthony McGuigan CMLI and Darren McKinstry MLI from The Paul Hogarth Company agreed to write about the new landscape. They insisted that this should be an interactive community project, involving people in finding, photographing and learning about the plants along the Greenway. It is a project which drew people in and fostered a shared love of plants and the countryside. Empowering people to care for their environment and be part of it is Landscape Architecture at its best.
The climate and biodiversity crisis does not differentiate between the excellent and the mediocre, it only respects the laws of physics and biology, and we ought to start respecting them too. As George Monbiot said in the Natural Climate Solutions film shown at the end of the night, ‘Nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate.’, but this is a huge task beyond the scope of any landscape practice. The future of you, me and the biosphere are entwined, we only really have a chance of halting this slow-motion catastrophe when we stop competing with each other and start working together. Maybe by next year the landscape industry will be well on the road to decarbonising itself and kicking off the green future we so desperately need.
That would be something to celebrate.