3A) Green Space

Most of the country is covered in green space. More than 90% of the UK consists of pasture, arable land, forests, moors, wetland, natural spaces and the green spaces within our towns and cities.

This green space can be brought into cities as green fingers along river valleys, canals and former railway lines. It can form a network linking natural spaces within urban areas along with parks and formal green spaces such as school grounds, sports pitches and cemeteries. This in turn can link to local spaces like village greens, pocket parks, play areas, community gardens, allotments and urban farms. All of these spaces can be linked by streets with verges, trees and planters. There are also private gardens and courtyards which can have the richest biodiversity of all. Even within buildings, there are balconies and window boxes, green roofs and walls.

While greenery is good for our wellbeing this does not mean that the more green space there is in cities, the better. In the past, the architect Le Corbusier went as far as lifting his blocks on piloti (columns) so that everywhere could be grass. However, you can have too much of a good thing if it means that there is so much green space that there aren’t enough people to support shops, facilities and public transport. Towns and cities can be greened without grassing every piece of space.

Garden sizes

One of the lessons of lockdown is the importance of outdoor private space in the form of gardens and balconies. The London Housing Design Guide includes minimum sizes of 5m2 of external space for a 1- to 2-person property with an additional 1m2 per additional person. Outside London, you might expect gardens to be a lot bigger than this. The London guide also suggests that balconies should be at least 1.5m by 1.5m to allow them to be used for dining.

Communal space is also important, especially for flats. This can include courtyards and roof gardens which can be used for recreation, children’s play, barbecues and food growing. It can also include the street that can be turned into a home zone or play street, creating space where the community can come together.

What You Can Do

Communities

Do an audit or review of your green spaces – not just the recreational space mentioned in 2c, but all green spaces from parks to private gardens. How much space is there? How many trees? How much is publicly accessible? Google Earth photos can be useful in doing this. Is there space that needs to be improved? Or that could be taken over by the community?

Developers and Designers

Develop an open space strategy for schemes and work with a landscape architect to make the most of this space for recreation, wildlife and amenity. Provide all homes with private external space, including balconies that are big enough to have a meal on and gardens large enough to host a children’s party.

Councils

Ensure that the open space policy includes all types of green space, including habitats and nature areas. Audit council-owned open space and management regimes to ensure that it is used more efficiently. Use Building with Nature to deliver high- quality green infrastructure and show what good looks like at each stage of the development process.

Case study

3A) Icknield Port Loop, Birmingham

Port Loop is a 43-acre urban neighbourhood nestled in the meander of the Birmingham Canal Old Line and a few minutes walk from Edgbaston Reservoir.

The development funded 1.5km of new towpaths, connecting the neighbourhood into the city centre, which is just a fifteen- minute walk away. When fully complete, the neighbourhood will contain 1,150 homes, a community hub (Tubeworks), commercial spaces, a leisure centre, a swimming pool and new public green spaces.

The island site was once the industrial heart of the city, with some industrial heritage retained to accommodate communal facilities. The residential redevelopment features two- and three-storey townhouses and small blocks of apartments, with parking and private gardens or balcony space.

There are several house types in development at Port Loop, appealing to a mix of buyers and renters. Off-site modular townhouses developed by Urban Splash allow residents to tailor layouts specific to personal lifestyles choosing between ‘loft- living’ with a living room on the top floor or ‘garden-dwelling’ with a ground floor living room opening onto green space.

A hierarchy of open spaces caters to a range of activities across the neighbourhood. The canalside public park was completed in 2019. The high-quality landscape consists of a geometric network of concrete paths which meander through playful grass mounds, swales, planted areas and trees.

Semi-private communal gardens are accessed via a gated entrance and shared by clusters of approximately 40 households, while small terraces and balconies on each home offer some privacy. The design of the shared gardens and park encourages homeowners to host community events, create vegetable patches and come together to relax.

Community-led initiatives have already started with a ‘Peddling Pantry’, the ‘Floating Front Room’ barge café, and the creation of an ‘Art House’ venue hosting yoga, art class and live music.

Photography: ©URBED, ©Places for People, ©Urban Splash