Landscape Planning - Preservation, Conservation and Sustainable Development

By Selman, Paul | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Landscape Planning - Preservation, Conservation and Sustainable Development


Selman, Paul, The Town Planning Review


Landscape planning has traditionally been concerned with an agenda of protection, amenity and ornament. This focus has been important, but has remained peripheral to mainstream spatial planning. Building on an influential but partial set of practices, the latter twentieth century saw landscape planning mature into a domain with coherent purposes and techniques. In the first part of the twenty-first century, landscape planning has identified more strongly with the core concerns of spatial planning. Through innovations such as the European Landscape Convention, landscape has become increasingly central to matters of sustainability and place-making across both urban and rural realms.

The spirit and purpose of town planning in Britain has always had to contend with a curious degree of anti-urbanism (Glass, 1972). Despite the planning system's avowed pursuit of 'the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified and the suburb salubrious',1 an enduring perception of town planning has been to refuse, restrict and contain. Rather than celebrate, for instance, the widespread construction of decent affordable homes or an enviably reliable energy infrastructure, there has been a persistent tendency to lament their violation of a green and pleasant land. Equally curiously, despite the noble tradition of landscape planning, it has been a Cinderella specialism within town planning, barely on the radar of most practitioners. To many planners, 'landscaping' is a cosmetic exercise - something to do with prettification, stopping trees being felled and screening eyesores. Belatedly, landscape has gained some sort of elevation through the European Landscape Convention (ELC) (Council of Europe, 2000), despite being denied a Planning Policy Statement, unlike the upstart 'biodiversity'.

As a centenary essay, this article reflects on the evolution of landscape planning in the UK over about the past century, charting in particular how it has evolved from a specialised 'sector' to an integrative framework for sustainable development and smart growth. Although the focus of the essay is on the evolution of practice within the UK, it draws upon a range of international influences. The compass of landscape planning is not defined in a prescriptive way, both because it continues to evolve and because there is no consistent agreement over its scope. Historically, 'planning' in the broad sense of purposeful improvement has impinged on the landscape for centuries, although this mainly concerned localised changes to 'land' with little awareness of regional effects. Where conscious beautification of land took place, it was normally within the artistic tradition of design rather than planning.

Even in more recent times, theorists and practitioners have not been of great help in confirming the scope of landscape planning, and a 'semantic exploration' of the term in the 1980s was unable to identify either its first use or offer a clear definition (Seddon, 1986). Leading proponents of landscape planning have tended to veer away from definitive statements, preferring to focus on aspects central to their own philosophies and practices. There are persistent themes of working in harmony with nature rather than against it (McHarg, 1969; Hackett, 1977), and of placing landscape issues within a wider multidisciplinary and large-scale planning context (Lovejoy, 1973; Clouston, 1986). Crowe (1967) sought to broaden 'land planning' to include the 'complex organic fabric' of life, both ecosystemic and aesthetic. More recently, Maruic" (2002) has suggested that landscape planning is an example of 'civic science', in which the public engage in collective reasoning and creative application of knowledge about inhabiting the environment in a context of scientific uncertainties. Most writers thus tend to focus not so much on what landscape planning is, but how they feel it should be done (Steinitz, 2008), often writing from a particular perspective such as landscape ecology (Dramstad et al. …

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