Creating a new national park for the West Midlands

Research undertaken by academics of the WMNP Lab shaped responses to the European Landscape Convention, developed the African Landscape Convention and initiated an International Landscape Convention for UNESCO. Proposals for a new kind of urban National Park were endorsed by the UK Government’s Landscape Review and West Midlands Combined Authority.

INTEGRATED LANDSCAPES: Seeing the bigger picture

World leading and of international significance in its impact, research undertaken by academics of the WMNP Lab at BCU is based on a radical new definition of perception that makes tangible connections between theory and practice, ideas and form, nature and culture. This long-term research, set within landscape architecture and cross disciplinary in nature, is being used to support and develop a green recovery from the pandemic in response to global challenges.

Research background – new understanding of landscape

For more than 25 years Professor Kathryn Moore has explored the conceptual and practical implications of an integrated understanding of landscape. Her research and advocacy as President of the International Federation of Landscape Architects helped shape responses to the European Landscape Convention, develop the African Landscape Convention and initiate the proposal presented to UNESCO for an International Landscape Convention. It is integral to a number of international declarations including, the UN Habitat Professionals’ Forum (HPF) ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ approved by the UN in April 2022.

Outputs of this research also includes the urban West Midlands National Park (WMNP), which provides the context for a number of detailed research studies including EIT Climate Kic Saturn project undertaken with Birmingham City Council, partners in Sweden and Italy, and a strategy for the Birmingham City Centre Business improvement districts.

In her book ‘Overlooking the Visual: Demystifying the Art of Design, which redefines theories of perception, the design process and landscape, Kathryn concludes by asking whether these new perspectives could be harnessed to transform a region beyond the academy. The success and impact of the West Midlands National Park (WMNP) demonstrates the power of this approach.

“Not since Mayor Joseph Chamberlain sought to make Birmingham the new Athens at the end of the 19th century has anyone round here dared to dream this big” (Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, June 20 2018).

The initial WMNP Awards held in 2021 celebrate best practice in policy, vision and community engagement. The 2022 awards will be announced shortly.

Ambition:

The project is unique to the UK. Receiving the green light from a Governmental review, and endorsed and applauded by Julian Glover, author of the recently-published Review of Landscapes. The WMNP is a means to an end, a vehicle to help drive social, economic and environmental change in the region. It is a vision of what the West Midlands can become when the significance of its landscape is properly realised and celebrated. Focusing on the relationship communities have with the territories that shape their cultural identity, pride and self-confidence, rekindling and re-inventing the connection between communities and the space they inhabit above all, its central purpose is real transformation.

“Birmingham has been known as the city of a thousand trades – imagine if it becomes the city of a thousand cycle paths, footpaths, rivers and parks? The West Midlands National Park project will be a beacon for reimagining place and the way citizens experience it” Kathryn says.

Mayor Andy Street, of the West Midlands Combined Authority, believes the park is evidence of these exciting developments. “There’s a revival going on in the West Midlands,” he says. “With Coventry being crowned UK City of Culture for 2021 and the Commonwealth Games coming the following year, all eyes will be on the region. In line with this, we need to make a positive contribution to the environment. To that end, this project is so very important, and I hope we can bring it to life.”

In June 2020, the West Midlands Combined Authority formally endorsed the National Park project as a key component of a post-COVID economic recovery and as a means to address global challenges at scale.

Looking to the future

The WMNP Lab, a think tank established in February 2019, is undertaking the development and delivery of the work alongside its international partnerships and consultancy work. The WMNP Lab continues to develop the West Midlands National Park to give the West Midlands a brand-new identity and position it as a sustainable leader.

The West Midlands National Park is a long-term spatial vision to deal with the challenges faced by the region that include the climate emergency, regeneration, environment, transport, identity, infrastructure, employment, skills well-being and understanding how to achieve a resilient green recovery. It is part of a growing international movement recognising the need to urgently rethink the infrastructure of investment for development and public services in order change behaviours and decision-making habits and ensure that dealing with the climate emergency becomes integral to our way of life. Recognising the land as a powerful, substantive tool to help us deal with global challenges is absolutely integral to this discourse.

The WMNP Advisory group comprises representatives from The Prince’s Trust, the Maria Nobrega Foundation, the National Trust and the Environment Agency.

Further information, including a full list of project partners and visual elements, can be found via the research hub’s centre pages.

REF 2021

Birmingham City University's hub for everything related to the Research Excellence Framework.

REF 2021

Kathryn Moore 2016

Kathryn Moore

Professor of Landscape Architecture

President of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) and Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University, Kathryn has published extensively on design quality, theory, education and practice. Her book Overlooking the Visual: Demystifying the Art of Design (2010) provides the basis for critical, artistic discourse.

Her teaching, research and practice, set within landscape architecture have clear implications for architecture, planning, urban design and other art and design disciplines, in addition to philosophy, aesthetics and education more generally. Chair of the pilot High Speed 2 (HS2) landscape guidelines, she has taken a lead role in redefining the relationship between landscape, culture and governance, finance, health and community engagement within the context of the Birmingham region and is a member of the independent National HS2 Ltd Design Panel. 

Dr Robin Daniels

Consultant

Dr Robin Daniels is Managing Director of venture studio and innovation business, Redpill Group. In addition he is a Board Director of the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Foundation and of Amatech Ventures S.A., the Amazonian Centre for Technology, Innovation, Metaverse & Scientific Enterprise. Previously he was founding CEO of the Norwich Research Park, Europe’s largest single-site life science park and founding COO of the Centre for Scientific Enterprise Ltd, a joint venture between London Business School and University College London.

Robin has also held senior positions at Cambridge University, where he taught business leadership and innovation to executive Masters students and supervised Doctoral students researching technology entrepreneurship and investment. Robin has built a career from engaging with cutting-edge, disruptive technology and utilising its benefits in practical, real-world applications. He sits on multiple corporate and not-for-profit Boards in the UK, US, Brazil and Singapore, in Non-Executive and CXO roles.

Anastasia Nikologianni

Anastasia Nikologianni

Lecturer

Anastasia is inspired to conduct research in climate change and landscape architecture due to its collaboration opportunities, global potential and far-reaching impact. Part of the Critical Artistic Thinking in Design group, Anastasia and the team are working on a range of projects aimed at regenerating landscape and bringing economic benefits to the West Midlands region. Currently, they are collaborating with organisations such as UNESCO, IFLA, IPOEGEA, Natural ENGLAND, Environment Agency, Tame Valley Wetlands and more. Anastasia would welcome collaborations with any organisation that’s interested in spatial developments, business, community engagement, and art and design principles.

Image for Peter Larkham

Peter Larkham

Professor of Planning

Peter’s research focuses on urban change and conservation ranging from entire urban landscapes to individual sites and monuments.  He has worked on the new urban landscapes produced after the destruction of the Second World War, featuring several Midlands cities amongst others, and is now extending this work Europe-wide via several collaborative projects.

His collaborations with Kathryn and Anastasia focus on place character and identity, and how these are shaped by a wide range of agents and agencies of change.  New post-war landscapes are becoming older and some are evaluated in heritage and conservation terms; and the wider industrial landscape is also being reviewed. Old ideas such as garden cities can be re-imagined for current and future needs.

Peter is editor of the journal Urban Morphology, supervises many PhDs and teaches planning and urban design at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.