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.
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.