Tim Waterman

Landscape, Urban, and Food Studies

Landscape and Citizenship

by Tim-Waterman on July 18, 2019, no comments

This is an article I wrote for Garden Design Journal last year to promote our symposium ‘Landscape Citizenships’. I’m now in the process, with Jane Wolff and Ed Wall, of working the whole thing up into a book.

A dozen years ago I added British citizenship to my US citizenship, trading up from a work visa when I entered into a civil partnership with my partner Jason. Jason was born and raised in Hong Kong, educated in Derbyshire and Nottingham, and he gained his British citizenship in 1997 when the colony was handed back to China. I grew up in a US Navy family, living in various ports all over the world. I no longer feel as though I belong to the USA (especially not to its current government) but neither do I feel quite British or English. ‘Londoner’ perhaps fits me best, and with my background I’m quite typical. I’m a citizen of London.

I know how to dwell in London. I can operate its landscape. I have learned its people and its customs. I stand aside and let people off the Tube before I board. I know all the shortcuts through my surrounding neighbourhoods. I’ve teased out plant roots to tuck them into London soil, and I’ve traded seeds and tools with other allotmenteers. I’ve acquired the habits that allow me to fit in here and that allow others to accept me as a Londoner. When people ask me where I’m from—and that’s a hard question to answer—it’s not with the assumption I’ll return there.

All places should be this way, offering legible and substantive landscape relationships that are local, regional, and particular, and that give human transplants a chance to root—belonging not just as lip service or abstract allegiance, but to a genuine sense of place. In the last twenty years, the idea of landscape has grown, in various disciplines such as geography and anthropology, and through the influence of the European Landscape Convention, to express a relationship—a landship—in which people are products of their places, and those places are their products. Thus the word ‘landscape’ has come to hold deeper and richer meaning than simply the description of a view.

The richness of the landscape idea also holds the sense that landscape is something mutually constructed and shared, which has sparked powerful new discourses around the ideas of landscape justice and landscape democracy—there is now even a Centre for Landscape Democracy in Norway. What is desired is that people, as part of their existences and as a way of linking to each other, learn the plants and animals and topography of their places.

Of course these ideas have particular purchase in larger landscapes with clear identities, such as the North York Moors or the Highlands, and in urban landscapes like Exeter or West Glasgow. However, there is also an important link to the garden, particularly those gardens that are shared, such as allotments, community gardens, and parks. Even private gardens, which taken collectively form a larger landscape, can be considered landscapes to which we belong, and in which we might find citizenship.

Last year I visited a beautiful community garden called Parckfarm (www.parckfarm.be/) in the tough Brussels neighbourhood Molenbeek. Its construction, by the community with the cutting-edge landscape practice Taktyk and with Alive Architecture, made a once derelict landscape available and legible to its very mixed and multi-ethnic community. How this garden is a community practice and how it has shaped shared identities is a more powerful and grounded form of citizenship than anything the pomp and circumstance of the Belgian state could provide. And in a time of rising nationalism and increasing migration, it’s a practice of belonging that is true and real and necessary—and rooted in the garden.

Even the small private garden offers opportunities to provide engaging relationships with landscape, and this can be realised through an approach to design which, instead of simply employing geometric strategies for scenic spacemaking, actively invites people to interact. Some of this may be accomplished by working through imaginative scenarios for how the garden might be used by adults, and especially by children. Plants, especially edible plants, particular to a region, might be used, and natural processes can be invited in—allowing frost to accentuate a slope or water to pool after a rain. Focusing garden design on use, action, and interaction is, perhaps, a first step to inviting people more fully into the rest of their immediate world as active participants, as citizens.

Flows off the Tongue: Charting climate change futures in ancient place names

by Tim-Waterman on August 4, 2018, no comments

Bawsey (‘Baew’s Island’, Norfolk. Image from https://waternames.wordpress.com/images-of-watery-places/

This article first appeared in Landscape Architecture Magazine in August 2017.

One of the joys of travel, even of armchair travel, is the discovery of euphonious place names. I’ve driven through both Humptulips, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and Quonochontaug, in Rhode Island. Both of these are names that flow off the tongue (well, with a little practice). This is an apt metaphor, given that both names describe the flow and flood—the hydrological characteristics of each site. Humptulips, in the tongue of the Chehalis Tribe, tells that it is “hard to pole” a canoe through the river, which follows a convoluted course that includes fast, narrow torrents, and Quonochontaug (Narragansett for “at the long pond”) is along a string of broad, placid coastal lagoons. 

The guide that indigenous names can provide to landscape qualities and to human interactions with landscape may be followed anywhere such names have not been erased by the conquest of colonialism. This is no less true in Britain, where four British universities, Leicester, Southampton, Nottingham, and Wales have joined forces under a grant from the Leverhulme trust for a two-year study of place names called ‘Flood and Flow’. In Britain, an extra dimension to the record of place names provides a set of clues to how particular landscapes might respond to global warming in the near future. In the period between 700 and 1000 AD, temperatures in the British Isles rose rapidly after a cold phase that began in 400 AD. Extreme weather and an abundance of precipitation in this time is a historic parallel to our present-day situation, and thus the Anglo-Saxon names have once again become meaningfully descriptive of their sites. 

Image from https://waternames.wordpress.com/about/

Not only is this helpful, but a great many of Britain’s present place names were devised in precisely this period. So, though few written records remain from this time, even a modern map holds a hydrographic key to possible futures that have been written in the past. 

Some of these names have particular poignancy: Muchelney, in the Somerset Levels, was cut off during the extreme winter floods in 2013-14. Muchelney means ‘big island’. Communities along the River Swale in Yorkshire have increasingly frequent opportunities to find out that its name derives from Old English swalwe, meaning ‘gush of water’. The River Trent is “the trespasser”. 

Dr. Richard Jones at the University of Leicester is Flood and Flow’s Principal Investigator and a specialist in medieval landscapes. He explains how the project’s aims fit within a larger understanding of indigenous naming: “Place-names are used by all indigenous, aboriginal and First Nations peoples to communicate information about the local presence, behaviour and characteristics of water. For these communities, such names helped them to share and pass on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) gained through generations of observation of the flood and flow of water through their home grounds. As such, such names act as active makers of place rather than the passive markers of space they have become in the modern western mind.” TEK describes much of how we have come to understand landscape in recent years, as both maker of people and made by people.

Jones says, speaking of the project’s potential, “It is exciting to ponder how many possibilities might exist everywhere in the world to apply this knowledge—TEK—and to build a richer picture of both the lived and designed landscape from the poetry of original place names.” 

For the Flood and Flow website see https://waternames.wordpress.com/, and for an in-depth analysis, see Dr. Richard Jones’s paper “Responding to Modern Flooding: Old English Place-Names as a Repository of Traditional Ecological Knowledge” in the Journal of Ecological Anthropology, 2016. 

National Progress

by Tim-Waterman on July 18, 2018, no comments

Here is a little piece on landscape, technology, and nationhood (or the lack thereof) I wrote for the Bartlett School of Architecture’s Unit Eleven publication for 2018. It’s part of the thinking I’m doing towards our upcoming ‘Landscape Citizenships’ symposium. https://landscapecitizenships.wordpress.com

Who are we? Where are we from? Where are we going? How will we get there? These are all questions lurking within the idea of national progress, and progress always implies a forward direction towards a goal, a telos, and technology is usually the tool to get us there. William Morris, in his utopian novel News from Nowhere, imagined this goal to be a withering away of the state (he was a socialist, but not necessarily always a state socialist), and a mutual and pleasurable management of all affairs without the domination of government. Famously, he envisioned the Palace of Westminster in the future would be used for storing dung: clearly a punitive downcycling form of adaptive reuse, and, of course, a symbolic home for what he saw was the primary product of governments. 

If we see technology in its broadest terms, as the application of a system to a task or set of tasks, then it is possible to see both nations and buildings (including those at Westminster) as technologies or means. Systems and technologies are mesmerising, and mastery of them deeply satisfying and engrossing. Thus it is easy for them to become worlds unto themselves, bounded and complete, ends rather than means. Questions of government become questions of procedure and policy rather than equality and emancipation, and questions of architecture are framed in terms of practice and construction rather than the classic Vitruvian ideals.

The ideals Morris and others of his time were cooking up (including Ebenezer Howard, Peter Kropotkin, Edward Carpenter, Emma Goldman, Patrick Geddes—not all of them architects or landscape planners) were dreams of whole life economies; how whole community and individual lives could be wholly lived in whole, flourishing places. The task was to bring together head, heart, hand, and land: Geddes sought the encouragement of ‘insurgent life’. Before the hard political boundaries of the twentieth century had formed as ideological schisms and concrete walls, the anarchists, socialists, and a broad range of other radicals were discussing an insurgency in which they all had a stake. The Paris Commune, author of its own unique form of socialism and victim of massacre in 1871, had not died without releasing the ideal of communal luxury into the world, and this was the egalitarian, emancipatory framework for shared human and planetary flourishing in which the forms of garden cities and green belts as planning tools (or technologies) would emerge. 

The green belt is an example of how these grand dreams have progressively been stripped down. From the view of a planner’s, politician’s, or developer’s map, it is merely empty space. From both a radical perspective and a landscape perspective, with a goal of insurgent life and life economies, it is empty not of buildings and development, but of all the rich layers of use, belonging, and conviviality it might contain. And what is humanity’s great project if not conviviality? Green belts are not just technologies, tools, or mapping strategies. They are also landscapes that demand convivial practices of dwelling and meaningful, productive, interesting use. They need life to surge up within them. 

All technologies, from smartphones to planning frameworks to buildings, need to be detached from the worlds they create unto themselves and reconnected with larger practices of dwelling. Our lives have become arenas of permanent destructive revolution (‘disruption’, restructuring, ‘flexibility’ meaning precarity, gig economies), and instead we need insurgencies that rise up from within, holding together those things which are truly of value while transforming all that is malign. Technologies must be bent upon the convivial, upon belonging, upon connecting to landscape. And national progress? The technology of the nation should always be working to minimise its own self-absorption and to prepare us all for finding conviviality in the substantive landscapes in which we dwell: the real towns, cities, countrysides, watersheds, bioregions, and continents to which we belong. The technology of nations should drive progress toward landscape citizenships and towards their own obsolescence. 

Landscape Citizenships: A Symposium: Call for Papers

by Tim-Waterman on March 12, 2018, no comments

Landscape Citizenships_A Symposium_profile_Ed Wall and I, along with the amazing Jane Wolff from the University of Toronto, are organising and hosting a conference this autumn that seeks to explore interrelations with landscapes as the foundation to citizenships. Please see details here: https://landscapecitizenships.wordpress.com

…and follow on Twitter @Citizen_Land

We have an amazing advisory group that includes:

  • Jill Desimini, Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Shelley Egoz, Center for Landscape and Democracy (CLaD), NMBU
  • Peter Hobson, Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management
  • Jane Hutton, University of Waterloo
  • Ann Lui, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Jala Makhzoumi, American University of Beirut; President, Lebanese Landscape Association
  • Don Mitchell, Uppsala University
  • Kenneth Olwig, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp
  • Amy Strecker, University of Leiden
  • Ed Wall, University of Greenwich; Politecnico di Milano
  • Tim Waterman, University of Greenwich; UCL Bartlett School of Architecture
  • Jane Wolff, University of Toronto

Making a Scene

by Tim-Waterman on January 24, 2018, no comments

The following is an excerpt from my essay, ‘Making Meaning: Utopian Method for Minds, Bodies, and Media in Architectural Design’ published by the Open Library of Humanities. The full essay is available to all, delightfully, as a completely free and open access publication here: https://olh.openlibhums.org/article/10.16995/olh.109/

The imaginative ‘play’ that we call design has a special space—the studio. It is a physical space that is particular to the act of design. Like the theatre, the stadium, or the pitch, it has a particular construction that marks the space out for a particular role. Like ‘once upon a time’ and the set-ups it elaborates, the studio is a physical space that corresponds to a specific space of the imagination. While, as with other species, play can take place anywhere, there is still a particular role for this special place, which is the setting for a ritual that triggers the flow of creativity. When entering the studio this frame of mind takes over, and any interruption to the atmosphere can be catastrophic—or at least it feels catastrophic. It is certainly detrimental to the creative design process.

As I write this, I am sitting in the British Library in London, as I often do, and I am reminded that here is a special place for imaginative play as well. I am also reminded how much I resent any intrusion upon my space of solitary play here. As if to prove my point, a woman has just walked in and is unpacking and rustling around just opposite me; and a young man has followed right behind and sat to my right, wearing too much perfume. I note, looking up at the continuing noise, that the woman is plugging in and setting up three (!) laptops in her space. The space of creativity and play is mental, physical, multi-sensual (as the scene above shows), affective, and particular, and is also marked by prohibitions and restraints—‘rules’—that are often internally imposed:

One generally finds, even in animals, “rules” of play: special signals (such as wagging the tail or not using claws), postures, facial expressions, and sounds that mean “This is make-believe”. Often special places are set aside for playing: a stadium, a gymnasium, a park, a recreation room, a ring or circle. There are special times, special clothes, a special mood for play—think of holidays, festivals, vacations, weekends. (Dissanayake, 1992: 43)

The studio is the particular place where make-believe is enabled in design. Kyna Leski addresses the role of the studio as a space of experimentation (just as the space of the library allows critical experimentation), brilliantly and poetically speaking of the individual experience of material reasoning within it. Her narrative is a modernist one—with roots in the methods of the Bauhaus—in which learning to trust the senses, to trust the materials, involves an initial un-learning (though not a total un-learning: the student does not become a tabula rasa). All the prejudices and preconceptions of the future designer are stripped away, and a newly built Homo faber steps forth. This is a useful narrative with which to encourage the student to trust in the process: We are taking a portion of yourself away, but replacing it with something much better. The importance of that trust cannot be underestimated.

Leski’s methods and interpretation, however, are often too focused on the personal. The studio is not merely a space of trust and a space for the interaction of the teacher, the student, and the media they will employ. It is also an intensely social space. The imaginative work that takes place in the studio is part of a larger process of co-making, co-working, co-imagining; and the studio is part of the larger world of associations, professions, families, etc., all of which inform and support the individual. The musician Brian Eno calls this larger process the ‘scenius’, a portmanteau of ‘scene’ and ‘genius’. This concept helpfully reminds us that even for the seemingly solitary ‘genius’ painting or writing poetry in a garret, that invention emerges from a shared background of teaching, conversation, making, exploring, and feeling together: an ‘ecology of talent’ (Eno, n.d.). It posits a play-space/design space of situated, mediated, and intercorporeal social connectedness—a space of what Elaine Scarry calls ‘aesthetic fairness’—that ‘creates in all participants a state of delight in their own lateralness’ (Scarry, 2000: 114). When I sit and create a space of intellectual experimentation and play for myself, alone in the library, I bring along all that has contributed to my current self, and I am reaching out laterally into other intellectual worlds with every book I open and every connection I make. Then I carry that back out into the world with me, in my own text, my teaching, my engagement with my profession, and so on.

For the architectures, particularly landscape architecture, the awareness of a ‘scene’ must include not only those people involved in co-invention, but they must enter into a constructive dialogue with all the processes and forces that comprise a landscape: biological, geological, climatic, cultural, social. The landscape architect needs to employ a mode of thinking and acting that Lorraine Code calls ‘ecological thinking’ (2006). I prefer a term I’ve borrowed from ethnology: ‘toposophy’ (see Kockel, 2014), thinking that is about place, grounded in place, not just about objects, but about vast arrays of intersecting and interdependent processes and forces. Unlike philosophy—‘beautiful thinking’—toposophy is thinking that is always about somewhere. The term ‘ecological thinking’, useful as it is, seems to direct us too much towards preconceptions of the natural world, while toposophy engages both nature and artifice. Toposophy is a perspective, allied to what Tim Ingold calls the dwelling perspective, which treats people as organisms immersed in their lifeworlds, as opposed to what he calls the building perspective, which supposes that ‘people inhabit a world—of culture or society—to which form and meaning have already been attached’ (Ingold, 2000: 153). This posits that the individual must ‘construct’ their world in order to act on it, rather than being, from birth, an actor in concert with the landscape in which he or she dwells. These simultaneous and interdependent actions and interactions are described well in theories of practice, which hold that practices ‘should be treated as involving thought and action together, and in so far as this is the case, embodied theory, as it were, is a part of practice itself’ (Barnes, 2001: 20). ‘Making a scene’ is connecting with and learning from others as practice; and as intercorporeal, embodied, emplaced sociality. This ‘scene’ contains conversations immersed in their lifeworlds. It makes connections with past realities; past dreams and ambitions; past constructions; and incorporates them as parts of possible futures. Thus it resists tendencies within modernity to clean the slate—where past forms and meanings may be expunged and new ones written upon a tabula rasa. Here an unlearning of the past is necessary for total invention. In a scene, though, ‘[t]hinking means venturing beyond. But in such a way that what already exists is not kept under or skated over’ (Bloch, 1986: 4). What already exists probably contains fragments and relics of past utopias, ready to be called into the future as part of the next scene. To those fragments are pinned satisfaction, fulfilment, beauty, and love; qualities deserving of continuity.

What’s Wrong With This Picture:

by Tim-Waterman on October 24, 2017, no comments


This October 10th, the London office of WATG released this image of a ‘greener future’ for London’s Fleet Street in support of the ongoing proposal to make London a ‘National Park City’. Dan Raven-Ellison, the proposal’s key protagonist, has a flair for PR and has effectively repackaged the worthy, but duller-sounding project to improve London’s green infrastructure (worthy, but dull) through the All London Green Grid (ditto). Just to show how much beneath notice all this earnest work was, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced his support for the National Park City (NPC) idea despite the fact that the All London Green Grid (ALGG) had been in development since Ken Livingstone was in office, and is already in place as Supplementary Planning Guidance. Granted, the National Park City initiative overwrites the whole conception of the city: the ALGG is about creating green space in the city and for the city, while the NPC is about making the whole city green, or at least this is I think what its message is.

There is, indeed, great value in conceiving of the city as a landscape, especially because that is what it is, whether green or not. London, like all landscapes, is made collectively by people, and it also shapes its inhabitants. Because a landscape is shared, it cannot simply be thought of as parcels of property.

So why am I so disturbed by the WATG’s image? Is it not churlish of me to object to something that is “designed for visualisation and conceptual purposes only”? Actually that’s already part of the problem. London is still reeling from the vast waste of public money perpetrated by another totemic visualisation, that of the Garden Bridge, which is thankfully now defunct. Visualisations have immense power to shape expectations, and this image is raising some false ones.

It has clearly been constructed to show the maximum possible use of street space and building envelopes to accommodate greenery. That, however, is a drastically oversimplified project. Cities provide us with a vast range of goods, from industry to entertainment to education and more. They provide general togetherness and proximity to one another. They give us things to do, including work. Cities also need to be maintained. Most of the things we like about cities, especially if they’re well-maintained, require big, heavy vehicles that could possibly be downsized, but not by much. Those vehicles require infrastructure that is decidedly grey rather than green.

Like many, I think the city would benefit from containing fewer cars, and from vehicles better designed for the city, but cities will still need to be served everywhere by vehicles, and by industry where it’s needed, not exiled to the margins. That’s the first false expectation, that we can wish vehicles away, or do everything by bicycle, and the second is that the ‘green’ city could or should resemble a garden.

Then there is a list of other problems, a few of which I’ll list here:

  • There’s plenty of outdoor seating shown in the image. While it’s nice to sit out on the street, it’s not always a good thing. It can make sidewalks difficult to negotiate, it often encourages the use of deeply unsustainable patio heaters, and it expands restaurant floor areas, which might lead landlords to raise rents based upon capitalising upon public space as additional floor space.
  • While a heavily planted streetscape might look appealing, it creates more obstacles for the blind and partially sighted and for wheelchair users. Wheelchair users, in particular, can become trapped in the space of the street by high curbs or planters.
  • Greening of streets diverts our attention from improving existing green open spaces, which are desperately underfunded and neglected due to austerity–especially in the rest of Britain outside London.
  • Property developers are always looking for excuses to build on open space. If streets are like parks, then who needs other open spaces?
  • Extensive use of containers for planting requires extensive irrigation, and uses large quantities of potting mix, which often contains unsustainable peat.


The urge to create clickbait for papers like the Evening Standard can be overwhelming, and the creators of this illustration have succumbed. It’s not that we don’t need to envision what a greener city might look like. We do! Very much! But those visions need to value the city for all its goods, even the tough, messy, dirty (often fun) ones created by work. Suburbanising the city in the way that this image does empties it of much of its vital meaning and purpose.

WATG (Wimberley, Allison, Tong, and Goo) specialises in ultra-high end luxury developments and resorts, which may explain why they might think such a high-maintenance streetscape would be feasible for London. Here is their proposal: http://www.watg.com/london-national-park-city-green-block/

Publicity and Propriety: Democracy and Manners in Britain’s Public Landscape

by Tim-Waterman on July 30, 2017, no comments

Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays is forthcoming from Routledge in October 2017

Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays is forthcoming from Routledge in October 2017

This is an excerpt from my chapter in Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays, due out this October, which I co-edited with Ed Wall. My writing is in superb company in our book: Ross Exo Adams, Camillo Boano, Paul Cureton, Jill Desimini, Murray Fraser, Maria Guidici, William Hunter, Jane Hutton, Katya Larina, Don Mitchell, Peg Rawes, Douglas Spencer, Amy Strecker, and Jane Wolff. More information about the book is available here.

Manners and civil society

The misunderstanding or misapplication of public manners – the set of customs that eases people’s negotiation of public spaces – creates problems for the design of public landscapes such as streets and squares. In Britain in particular, much pressure has been brought to bear on design for the public landscape to provide visual cues for behaviour, usually with very mixed results and a preponderance of signage. Despite the British reputation for politeness, the relative absence of customs for appropriate public behaviour creates problems not just for design but for the comfort and safety of individuals, and also for civility, recognition, and democracy in society as a whole.  I don’t wish to imply that public manners have necessarily been eroded over time – in many places the public landscape is a more civil place than ever before in history – however it is important to address what should or could be in order to provide most fully for democracy and human flourishing.

The first value of the public landscape is that it should be equally accessible to all, regardless of any individual’s membership in any minority group and regardless of any person’s class. Equality does not automatically confer justice, but in this case the link is fairly clear, as I shall discuss below. This particular equality is primarily guaranteed by manners rather than legal enforcement. Manners, the expression of virtues, are the first and most basic expression of morals as applied in everyday life – and indeed form the ground from which many moral judgements are constructed. Peter Johnson concurs, noting that “without civility as a minimal condition of human contact … principles of justice and welfare would have little permanence and reliability” (1999, xi), and John F. Kasson in his study of American manners writes that manners “are inextricably tied to larger political, social, and cultural contexts and … their ramifications extend deep into human relations and the individual personality” (1990, 3). The construction of public manners is also highly relational, contingent upon place, time, and what actors are engaged in a situation. The word ‘situation’, in and of itself, is telling, and points to the fact that our moral lives are always situated. Here it is important to stress that this is not a position of moral relativism; in fact it is quite the opposite, as what is sought is a condition of public interaction that assumes certain universal moral goods, such as the avoidance of harm and/or pain, and the aspiration to human flourishing.

Democratic public life depends upon a customary compact between citizens; an agreement as to what is proper in a public context. The notion of propriety has long been associated with sanctimoniousness, of ‘polite society’. When manners are constructed of hierarchical relationships, they inevitably involve deference and condescension as well as inflexible and possibly harmful codes of honour. When manners are seen as the foundation of just relations in civil society, then ‘polite society’ might be seen as simply the mutual regard necessary to ensure the movements necessary to society, a structure in which we are all inevitably embroiled. Put simply, propriety is a form of ownership; individual ownership of the self and its relation to the public world at large. Propriety is defined by custom, and custom, at its best, is not a dogmatic and inflexible framework, but rather it informs and is formed by everyday life and everyday practices. Further, what is proper to society is the mutual recognition in the public realm that is the first gesture of reciprocity – a sort of gift from one person to the next, however small. The anthropologist Stephen Gudeman is one of our finest commentators on this. He writes, “Strictly a secondary and composite phenomenon, reciprocity is not the core of society but its expression. Anthropological theories have it backwards: reciprocity is neither a primitive isolate nor the atom of society but its badge” (2001, 92). Reciprocity also takes us outside of our communities, into realms of exchange outside of the exclusive bounds of community. Gudeman, to some extent, indicts the construction of communities: “A commons is regulated through moral obligations that have the backing of powerful sanctions. But communities are hardly homes of equality and altruism, and they provide ample space for the assertion of power and exploitation from patriarchy to feudal servitude” (2001, 27). Much political rhetoric has stressed the importance of community, but civil society is a broader realm than mere community and requires broader consideration. What happens on a sidewalk reflects our understandings of public engagement beyond the bounds of community.


Gudeman, Stephen (2001) The Anthropology of Economy: Community, Market, and Culture. Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Johnson, Peter (1999) The Philosophy of Manners: A Study of the ‘Little Virtues’. Bristol: Thoemmes Press.

Kasson, John F. (1990) Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. New York: Hill and Wang.

It’s About Time: The Genius Temporum of Martí Franch’s Girona Landscapes

by Tim-Waterman on June 9, 2017, no comments

This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine

This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine

“I really want to make the whole city like this,” says Martí Franch of Estudi Martí Franch (EMF), speaking of his vision of designing the green infrastructure of Girona, Spain, through a process of enlightened and engaged landscape management. We are sitting in his office, among shelves full of models and a table full of drawings. With us are Marc Rosdevall, a landscape architect with the City of Girona and the project’s director, and Marta Costa-Pau, a reporter from the local newspaper who is eager to report on the most recent transformations EMF’s work has wrought on Girona, and, in an amusing bit of journalistic circularity, to interview me to find out why this work is of interest and important to an American journalist and his landscape architecture audience.

Girona is a city in Catalonia with a population of roughly 100,000, situated in the rocky green foothills of the Catalonian Coastal Ranges at the confluence of four small rivers. The landscape is typical scrubby Mediterranean maquis, studded with stone pines (Pinus pinea), holm oaks (Quercus ilex), and the inevitable and omnipresent formal Italian cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), which have an air of nervous, attendant stiffness in the loosely informal Catalonian landscape, like butlers at a barn dance. When I visit in late spring, there is a festival of flowers in the central city called the Temps de Flors. It’s a mix of floral installations that range from the highly professional and artistic to the desperately tacky. However, in the spirit of spring, with the soft air at skin temperature, the rivers full of water, and the maquis replete with shades of fresh and fleshy greens on the hills above the honey-colored stone of the old town, the exuberant bad taste is forgivable and welcome, even charming.

The Can Colomer meadow during its periodic mowing and maintenance. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

The Can Colomer meadow during its periodic mowing and maintenance. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

The town’s generous web of green spaces reflects its topography, with concentrations of agricultural terraces on the hillsides, and the valleys between full of lush and wild plants all pushing into the densely built fabric of the town. It gently pushes back, curving into the green. All this gentle beauty belies a much less idyllic history of the landscape’s continual mistreatment. Girona’s citizenry has not recently had a virtuous relationship with the land: “The forest is for violation and for dropping fridges,” says Franch, referring to the long-standing problem of the regular dumping of building and household waste and appliances willy-nilly on the city’s fringe. His goal is to reveal the beauty of the whole of Girona’s landscape, opening up strategic views, providing access to the rivers, installing pathways and resting places, and, in doing so, encouraging the populace to value its surroundings more and creating a new relationship between the city and its surroundings. Even in the early stages of his project, he notes, there has been a visible reduction in the amount of dumping.

Beginning in September 2014, Franch embedded himself in processes of management across Girona, working closely with the city’s landscape maintenance teams, known locally as “brigades,” in particular with Jordi Batallé, the charismatic and energetic lead (comisari) of the brigades. Rosdevall describes the early stages, in which his superiors decided they would humor Franch in what they assumed was a quixotic journey. “My boss didn’t expect much from Martí. ‘Leave him alone and don’t spend any money,’ he said.” Franch, inspired by the approaches exemplified by the work of Gilles Clément in France, wanted to generate design from a direct engagement with site. He doesn’t see himself as a lone practitioner or a “master”; rather, he works in an informed conversation with the ecology of his practice, the ecology of the site, and the ecology of ideas in the world of landscape architecture.

Clément, when describing his approach in his 2015 book, The Planetary Garden and Other Writings, could be speaking for Franch, too: “For a long time I gardened without clarifying my ideas. Nevertheless, there were plenty of standpoints: to conserve the diversity already present, to increase it, to utilize the energy inherent in the species, not to use opposing energies unnecessarily, and to end up with a pledge that I repeat as often as necessary: to do as much as possible with, and as little as possible against.”

An annual diagram of maintenance including mowing and planting, growth of vegetation, sunlight hours, and other variables. Festivals, when maintenance brigades are busy, are shown as red sunspots. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

An annual diagram of maintenance including mowing and planting, growth of vegetation, sunlight hours, and other variables. Festivals, when maintenance brigades are busy, are shown as red sunspots. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

Franch’s work in Girona is healing, connective, and narrative. The project can only loosely be called a master plan. What he has created is a series of walking loops, itineraries that knit Girona’s neighborhoods together, but these come together on the ground more than in the plan. “The final drawing is almost the as-built,” Franch says. The work begins on site, to understand the topography, hydrography, and viewsheds. With the maintenance brigades, he begins an active process of clearing, mowing, pruning, and cleaning. “The main thing we do is subtraction,” he says. Bearing in mind a framework of green infrastructure coaxed into presence by following the existing topography and river corridors, sites are cleared, trees are limbed up, and connections are made apparent. Only then, for the future management practice, is the work transferred to plan and section. In essence what is created is an action plan, not a master plan.

View from a terrace on the Torre Gironella itinerary. In the foreground is the barrel arch of the water mine roof. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

View from a terrace on the Torre Gironella itinerary. In the foreground is the barrel arch of the water mine roof. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

A striking example of the approach is the “shore edge” project, on the bank of the River Ter opposite the historic center of Girona. The district has had shady associations, appropriate to its formerly overgrown character, but it is now part of a legible riverside itinerary. Limbing up and clearing trees and shrubbery pulls the eye and the walker along the path with cool and luscious glimpses of the burbling river glinting in the sunlight. Where the path once followed a ruler-straight maintenance road, glaringly paved in white gravel, there is now a parallel route that brings people into the space of the river. It is palpably cooler, shaded. The river becomes audible, a balm to the senses.

This path leads to a newly created beach. Since the river was dammed, the natural scouring action of the river ceased to expose it, but through a process of clearing and rototilling, a gentle forest beach, softly shaded, allows ample room for play and relaxation. For the festival of flowers, the Temps de Flors, a lifeguard’s chair has been installed, a gleeful marker of the new mood introduced here, and a sprinkling of beach chairs adds color and life. Many are occupied, even on our weekday visit. They’re examples of what Franch calls “confetti,” small, irregular site interventions that give visitors occasional reminders of the fact of design. These can be sculptures, furniture, stumps left for climbing, almost anything. Visitors themselves become confetti in this setting. We approach a man in a motorized wheelchair, which has negotiated the sand successfully. He greets us with pleasure, and speaks of his pride in how the space has been transformed and how his daily excursions here have been improved. Equally important is his influence on the site, in which his regular presence serves as a daily marker of safety and comfort for others.

Girona green infrastructure and walking itineraries.

Girona green infrastructure and walking itineraries.

As we leave the shore edge, we pass a nightclub (“Pandora”) advertising exotic dancers, indicative of the uses to which this neighborhood had previously lent itself. The nightclub had opposed the improvements to the site, which included some loss of unsightly parking spaces along the river, but this year for the first time it’s decked its balcony with flowers for the festival.

Franch’s understated approach is not geared toward big wins—spending concentrated on visible central sites with sculptural and photogenic results, which are so often what politicians prefer to support, but it has captured the imagination of the area’s politicians. We have lunch with Narcís Sastre, the Girona city councilman responsible for landscape and urban habitat, on the terrace at the El Cul del Mon restaurant just outside town, and he tells us his reaction to Franch’s quiet, covert work. “When I first saw the meadows, I wondered what was happening. Once I knew, I wanted to spread it around the city.” Since then, the city’s mayor, Marta Madrenas i Mir, has also become a supporter. The “big win” with Franch’s designs is across the whole city and on every constituent’s doorstep, or at least it will be once all the looping landscape itineraries are created. What politician could resist such immediate, inexpensive, and widespread impact? When I talk about how many small projects can add up to big things, Franch grins and corrects me: “This is not a series of small projects. It is the biggest project in Girona ever.”

Martí Franch in the EMF office, Girona. Photo by Tim Waterman.

Martí Franch in the EMF office, Girona. Photo by Tim Waterman.

After lunch we climb from the valley to a hilltop overlooking Girona to see further interventions of this biggest project ever. Past a well-established and comfortably eclectic former favela, we come to signage indicating we are at the head of a “water mine.” Franch has created an itinerary that includes its edge. The water mine is a curiosity—it is a horizontal well that follows the contour of an agricultural terrace. Along our route, the edge of the terrace is marked by the barrel-arched roof of the tunnel, punctuated with chimneys which I speculate may work in the manner of a qanat, using air pressure to push water along to augment the sluggish movement caused by the infinitesimally slight gradient.

Postcard-worthy views open to the city and cathedral below as we move from an olive orchard abutting the water mine up to higher terraces. A steely blue-black thunderhead has filled the sky on the other side of the valley below, so we enjoy the view for only a moment, and hurry back through a tunnel of holm oaks formed by yet more judicious pruning. Thunder and lightning and the crepuscular light of the tunnel draw attention to how the nature of the itinerary is shaped not merely by place, space, and movement, but also by shifts of time and weather that animate the space. Fat, cold raindrops begin to slap down on us.

The drawings for the shore edge project serve first as plans for action and maintenance, and then only later add up to a master plan. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

The drawings for the shore edge project serve first as plans for action and maintenance, and then only later add up to a master plan. Image courtesy of Estudi Marti Franch.

Franch’s management-based, hands-on methods have led him to try to find a new term analogous to genius loci that speaks of a deep understanding of diurnal and nocturnal cycles, weather, the seasons, and cycles of work and play framed by such markers as harvests and festivals. He suggests genius tempi, and I venture that zeitgeist fulfills at least part of that sense. We both like that each term contains time, presence of mind, spirits, and ghosts in their etymological derivations. Later, to find the right term, I ask the help of a friend, C. A. E. Luschnig, a classicist and etymologist. “Well,” she tells me, “tempi is not correct. The genitive of tempus is temporis, tempus being a neuter noun of the third declension. Maybe temporum (the genitive plural) would work better. Tempus has a full range of meanings including season, lifetime, the times.” This seems to crack the problem and to improve on it beyond our expectations—the term we were looking for was “the genius of time,” but conceiving of time as plural and nested is even better. Thus to add to genius loci, we now have genius temporum, the genius of times.

There is genius, too, in Franch’s propensity for action first and reflection alongside and after. He knows action is necessary, and his project is to learn by doing. There is no possibility of “analysis paralysis” because analysis, evaluation, design, and action are all part of the same impetus and bound up in the same nexus of energy. There is generative genius (or perhaps what Brian Eno calls “scenius”) in the collaboration, in the fact that the project’s ownership, design, and management are distributed and shared. The collaboration and co-creation mean that the design is not a totalizing one, but that it is a set of ways of acting and shaping in accord with changing uses and ecologies over time, perhaps beyond the lifetimes of all concerned. There is genius, finally, in the project’s tacit insistence that we must rethink the timescales, budgets, and commissioning of projects to embrace much more embedded and long-term practices of landscape management and design. Beyond the “big win” there is something at once softer and sweeter and more rich and grand that can develop in the sets of relationships through which we build great cities. In Girona, the genius of the place and of times—genius loci and genius temporum—are conspiring to create the city as a work of landscape art for the ages.

Despot, Martyr, and Fool: An Obituary for the Garden Bridge

by Tim-Waterman on June 6, 2017, no comments

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has switched off the public life support to London’s embattled Garden Bridge, a tempestuous, contested, and deeply symbolic idea that will die tightly clutching a sheaf of contemporary perversions of the civic good, a cautionary portfolio of design’s worst addictions.

Its life charts a course through the sordid world of politics and displays how the ambitions of the nation–state and the re-emerging city–state have uncoupled from democracy and attached to unplaceable global flows of power and money. The people are left helpless in a muddle of endless doubt, misinformation, threat, and the magical thrall of consumer glamour and celebrity pull. All this is held within the fading body of the Garden Bridge.

City skylines have become trophy cabinets of branded building concepts (Witold Rybczynski has written compellingly of this here), increasingly greenwashed to pull the heartstrings of a populace that still largely wishes to see good done in the world. Although the Garden Bridge design lacked the space of the sky as isolating backdrop, it made up for it with the clean plane of the River Thames in a site chosen not for its dearth of transportation opportunities but for its eminently Instagrammable setting.

Its protagonist was the former mayor Boris Johnson, for whom it was another high-profile vanity project, like his cable car to nowhere (the “Dangleway,” as it is known), and the awful red loopy thing at the London Olympics. Johnson’s habit is to say truly horrible things that represent his sinister ambitions (or prejudices), and then to chortle at them as if they were jokes, in a chummy, conspiratorial way that makes his audience feel like insiders (though they’re clearly mugs). Thomas Heatherwick uses the same trick: “It feels like we’re trying to pull off a big crime,” he said to the Guardian critic Olly Wainwright in the early days of the design, “with a twinkle in his eye.” He has compared his design to guerrilla gardening, dubiously recruiting an edgy, idealist grassroots urban practice into his globalized brand. Heatherwick has been called the “Leonardo da Vinci of our times”by Terence Conran, which is tragic not for what it says about Conran’s judgment, but for what it indicates about our times. Cultural appropriation, high-concept gimmickry, branding, and spin are the new hallmarks of genius, as is whom you know, of course, but that, at least, has probably always been the case with genius.

Heatherwick and the English actor and bridge booster Joanna Lumley have both hastened to the Garden Bridge’s deathbed to declare the injustice of its consignment to the Tomb of the Unbuilt Project and to register their shock at its passing. It did not die a natural death of public disapproval! No! It was killed by naysayers and philistines! And it was loved by a silent majority!

In reality, it was a show of exuberant wastefulness against the black cloth of a cruel, calculated national policy of austerity. It also helped to bolster suspicions outside London that the city draws in wealth like a drain and spews it out again in showy geysers to the delight of a sweetly wettened metropolitan elite.

How will the Garden Bridge die? It will die a despot—unaccountable to opinion and the needs of the people. It will die a martyr—a symbol to the wealthy and powerful of how ungrateful the little people are for their benevolence and thus how, perhaps, they ought to disregard their feeble desires. It will die a fool—a leering Punch and Judy show to the sweeping drama of genuine and necessary civic endeavor.

But what can we learn from all this foolishness—so that this is not a tragic life lived in vain? That the whole debacle came this far shows that we might have a human predilection for showy waste, and that channeling it fruitfully and beautifully rather than damagingly is an important job for designers. That greenwash might be losing its power to persuade people of the environmental worthiness of projects, which means designers had better get serious quickly about building deep ecological value into their projects. That there is a growing public distaste for signature projects as urban baubles, and that civic and public value must be considered as a priority. That the architectures must work together to identify, create, and promote worthwhile projects, even to become their local developers. And, finally, that design education and practice must strive immensely to work with building projects not just as objects and concepts, but to embrace, understand, and value context while striving for spatial justice.

This article first appeared on Landscape Architecture Magazine’s website on 12 May 2017.  

A Word … ‘Storytelling’

by Tim-Waterman on December 21, 2016, no comments

20111126-170845“A Word …” is my quarterly column for Landscape: The Journal of the Landscape Institute. Here in the Autumn 2016  issue I talk about the importance of telling a good story. The Autumn issue contains an extensive section featuring the winners of the Landscape Institute Awards. 

This year’s Serpentine pavilion, by Bjarke Ingels Group, was welcomed with descriptions in the architectural press of Ingels as ‘the king of one-liners’. A good one-liner (in comedy, that is) involves a pithy statement, usually that skews a simple situation or idea with a pun, a non sequitur, or perhaps that exotic-sounding bit of wordplay, the paraprosdokian: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” A good one-liner in architecture, presumably, would remix spatial tropes surprisingly, perhaps to comic effect.

There is good reason to believe that the architectural one-liner is most suitable to an ephemeral building such as the Serpentine pavilion. Once uttered, a one-liner doesn’t stand up very long. One-liners are hardly ever appropriate to landscape, with the exception of very ephemeral landscapes such as those of the major flower shows at Chelsea, Chaumont, or Métis. True landscapes – the ones that people live in – offer layered, nuanced, complex narratives with plots, subplots, and sub-subplots. Apologies for the pun on ‘plots’. That’s clearly enough with the one-liners.

A one-liner goes down well these days, though, especially in social media, where a single arresting image and 140 characters of text are absolutely key to communicating and promoting a project. But what works for buildings is simply too reductive for any landscape project worth its salt. We need to find a ‘narrative hook’ to jar the reader and engage them with a complex act of storytelling that will follow. ‘Septimus, what is carnal embrace?’ is the opening line of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. We want to know more – and any Stoppard fan will know that what follows is layered, nuanced, complex, probably carnal, and will require their full attention.

If there is one characteristic that the award-winning projects represented in this issue of Landscape display, it is the quality of storytelling, and probably also the employment of a narrative hook. Judges need to understand the story of a project and why it is worthy as quickly and efficiently as possible. The practices that consistently win also happen to be consistently good storytellers who use words and images together most effectively. Now, some of them (though not as many as one might suspect) also have PR people to help with this, but this should not deter those without such resources from giving it their best try.

The awards are not just about communicating our best work as a profession to the world, but also serve as a moment when we can all communicate with each other. Furthermore, they offer an opportunity for us all to sit down and figure out what important messages from our work need to get out to the rest of the profession and the world at large. This is really crucial for everyone to ask at least annually – what is the year’s story? That time to take stock and communicate what we do is particularly important when justifying our work from day to day. Everyone, particularly those in the beleaguered public sector, which needs good storytelling more than any other field, must figure out how to find the time to enter the awards. The reward will be greatest in everyday work, and in everyone’s understanding that it is part of a necessary story.