I’ve been writing -filming, lecturing and talking- about London as a place
and a city for many years. In the late '90s I taught in the Dep’t of History
and Theory at the AA School of Architecture; conjuring speculative revisions
and improvisations of the city -something I called “dirty utopianism”-against
A course entitled ‘If to city were a verb...’ was designed to re-imagine
collectivities and articulate them in ideas and/or built form in/of the global
city. I elaborated some of this thinking around an image I found of the
fortifications built by Londoners to defend their 17th C. revolution from
Royalists. It mapped uncannily over 20th C. social housing projects of note
and notoriety [including the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle]. This
was a small part of ongoing research with a working title of Rebel City.
In 2010-2011 this old investment in place, the ground; literally the insurrectionary mud, turned to the similar potency of trees. Specifically, a ‘secret’ urban forest in central London's Zone 1, destined for demolition as part of one of Europe's biggest urban regenerations. A forest which demarcates and 'expresses' common ground, the accessibility to which must be guaranteed. Trees which I concluded were the only tool available -if properly researched and represented- to force the developer and Local Authority to have to negotiate with residents [which include/d myself on Balfour Street, known briefly in the 19th C. as Rebel Row] about their Masterplan.
The original Masterplan wanted to drop a new grid of roads with uniform podia, clad with predictable shops, on top of an actual forest with an extensive canopy and ecosystem; flora, fauna, birds, bats and productive ground, without ever attempting to recognise the existing place. A great deal of work [much talk of fighting tree by tree, even leaf by leaf] sent the developers back to their drawing boards. Meanwhile I gave names to individual trees as well as copses, and led the Elephant and Castle Urban Forest campaign to amplify these efforts to recognise the existing forest, with a series of Forest School events on green infrastructure, bats, etc.
Eventually, the developers returned with a new Masterplan, centring on a significant public park formed around the now-familiarly named existing trees. My part in this was really to 'force' them to recognise the "public welfare values" represented in and by the Forest and each of its trees, as well as to remove planned new roads through it. The mechanism used, known as CAVAT, has now been incorporated in the Local Authority’s new planning guidelines. Previously, they’d valued the Forest at about 4% of its actual "public welfare" value [see campaign for details]. The success of the campaign so far has established precedents for future developments of this kind, precedents which did not exist in the dark days of early 2010.
Material from that particular endeavour is collected under the Urban Forest campaign button. Updates will appear there on the ongoing campaign to bank and redistribute the values of the Forest, as well as cultural events that will take place in the Forest during 2012. During the warm months of 2011's campaigning, I spent every Saturday ‘beating the bounds’ of the Forest and continue doing so on the first Sunday of each month through 2012 whenever possible. Please email or tweet me for details/confirmation.
Meanwhile, I’ve also kept an urbanforester’s diary [called Leaf to Leaf, a title that alludes to ethical principles driving my little efforts] which will be part of or inform at least one major project ahead. Verbal and visual scraps will accumulate under the leaf to leaf button along the way...