Using HS2 to Re-invent Birmingham
Beverley Nielsen outlines notes on a compelling vision for Birmingham and the region presented by Professor Kathryn Moore at the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo.
Having lived here for 18 years I have heard quite a few lectures. But Professor Kathryn Moore, speaking on ‘Transport and Living Futures’ delivered one which was, for me, in a different league.
It was visually inspirational showing Birmingham in a new light as an ecologically friendly city – ‘open, green and connected to the outlying areas through its unique and beautiful natural features’.
(Impression of Wind Turbines around the Motorway, Entrance to Birmingham;
Artist Professor Kathryn Moore)
“Beauty and Birmingham are two words which don’t go together too well in popular perception,” said Professor Kathryn Moore, Past President of the Landscape Institute as well as lecturer and researcher at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, BIAD, at Birmingham City University.
Her compelling vision is to use HS2 to re-invent the region by thinking of it as a development project beyond its 60m ‘bandwith’, by harnessing this opportunity to elevate and enhance the natural physical structures within an ecological regeneration programme.
Professor Moore claimed we have been ‘Overlooking the Visual’ in our pursuit of economic goals. That too often we have pursued singular objectives rather than holistic ones. That our vision of the future was set within narrow margins – economic, infrastructure, housing and ‘singular engineering goals’, rather than a broader vision about aspirational quality of life and a ‘sense of pride in where we live and work’.
“Landscape has been underestimated and it has a real value – one that is contentious and emotive,” she added. “It belongs to all and to no one. It is fragmented between agencies and its potency has been overlooked in the development process.
(Impression of Entrance to Blythe Valley; Artist Professor Kathryn Moore)
“Landscape is not just about ecology, nature, conservation or matters of heritage. Landscape is not only physical content, it’s not only about towns and cities, promenades, physical context, national parks, constructed public realm or gardens and allotments.
“Significantly, landscape is a reflection of memories. It is about the experience we have of a place. Landscape is about ideas and the expression of these ideas; it’s about shaping the quality of experience. We need to excavate the critical, cultural layer that’s related to the physical place.”
To understand the meaning of HS2 we needed to understand the history of the places it will go through, she stated. We needed to deal holistically with our daily rural and urban cycles, making connections between governance, health and economy.
She had travelled the length of the HS2 route, with a focus on the Tame and Blythe Valleys, to examine the geographical, physical, social and cultural features, looking into the current communities, understanding their present quality of life, their connectivity to surrounding towns and cities and bringing these together within visual representations.
She had visually represented this into an imagery, based on traditional geographic maps but overlaying these with artistic, cultural, social representations to create a rich and compelling view of both where we are now and where we could aspire to for the future.
Her vision for Birmingham, as a great capital city for the region, was to redefine both the Tame and Blythe valleys into zero carbon valleys and centres for eco-tourism, in turn regenerating the city as sitting at the heart of places where people could learn about ecology.
By doing this it would be possible to re-invent our Identity. “What, for example,” she asked, “if you could drink bottled water from the Tame? The Tame is currently canalised. All over Europe they are making space for rivers again to expand and occupy their natural spaces, acting as sponges for additional rain falls. “What if we could pump water up from the aquifers and create lakes for recreation and get cleaner water flowing into the Trent?
“Instead of sewage treatment plants, we could have lakes and sailing at the margins of our city. On entering Birmingham it all looks visually quite grey. What about making a feature of its elevated position by placing wind turbines along the motorways announcing arrival at a great city in the form of new city walls. What about developing skills for agriculture and horticulture among young people in our City and Valleys? What about a University for Green Industries in the Tame Valley?”
Professor Moore was working with IPOGEA, a UNESCO agency, in assessing how we might establish an Institute for Traditional Knowledge Initiative (ITKI), as a means of developing traditional and new skills in Birmingham to kick-start the local economy building on ecological, horticultural, agricultural opportunities and intensive market gardening.
“There is a return to land because people can make money out of growing organic food. The Blythe Valley is green, but currently a bit impoverished so how can we turn our valleys into food engines. Why not have an ITKI at the Tame and Blythe valley confluence? Why not use this to develop traditional and new skills to create a replenished and productive valley system with a clearly defined, permeable city wall, a place for exchange, work and learning,” she added.
“We can create pools for fishing, glades, pools, and store water which we might sell to South East. We could build cycle ways and footpaths from London to Birmingham and linked around the region. Why not same thing around green heart of Birmingham? We can take inspiration from places like the Copenhagen Climate Park.”
She outlined how we could use the boundary between Coventry and Birmingham to create ‘Energy Forests’…glades and coppices as landmark features where HS2 would slow down on approach into Birmingham International as our equivalent of the Angel of the North.
“We have forgotten to look where the city lies geographically. We should be more careful about the land. We should take inspiration from places like Norway where they have created a tourist route of belvederes and viewing points by including opportunities to take in spectacular views along route and create vantage points to view HS2 which are built into the infrastructure. In Norway any new infrastructure development is built so that it does not detract from the landscape but adds to it.”
We needed to re-establish the links between people and food – where and how it was being produced.
“How might we do that? Micro-storage and energy generation from both valley systems can become embedded into our psyche and approach. We can build opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow things in the valley and see it as their back garden, establish food trails, tourism and artistic production. Currently there is a feeling of ‘abandonment’ as though it doesn’t really matter at the edge of the city. And this approach all needs to be guided by large scale geographical cultural, territorial and spatial exploration rather than a 60m width. It’s about adding beauty to the landscape. Making connections between art and science, nature and culture. Thinking about how we can protect the landscape of everyday life.
“Through the UNESCO and other United Nations agencies there is a new vision of landscapes, shifting the focus to the relationship people have with their landscape. It’s an approach to development and change that might help us to deal with global challenges. As Constable said it’s about, ‘Understanding landscape is a child of history.’ How we can use HS2 to create that?” Professor Moore concluded.