In October 2020 we submitted our proposal "A Platform of Desires; Fall in love, not in line" for the future Camden Highline in London. A great collaboration with Arcadis, LOLA Landscape Architects, Urban Movement, Sam Jacob, New Practice and Hatch Regeneris to convert 1.1km of disused railway into a new elevated park, both as a physical link between neighbourhoods and as the foundation for community usage.
Humans exist by nature; we exist because of the conditions nature provides. We have forgotten what it means to have nature in our daily lives. The multiple crises we are facing – the climate crisis, biodiversity and health crises - are the result of that neglect and elusive memory. Nature undisputedly contributes to our ability to live and our quality of life. The presence of nature makes our daily environment more balanced, more sustainable, more beautiful and more mindful, inspires us to follow a healthy lifestyle and makes us happy and social beings.
In our urban environments, our living spaces are dominated by the built, in an artificial, conditioned form, in stark contrast to our original natural habitat. Greenspace can be abundant, as it is in London, but our green pockets often lack interconnectedness. If we see urban interventions as the key to (re)establishing a symbiotic relationship between the urban environment and nature – then operations like the ‘upgrade’ of the Camden Highline are opportunities to reverse the displacement of nature that infrastructure once sought. Landscape-led urban interventions need to extend into the existing, multi-faceted, diverse, buzzing neighbourhoods, accelerating just and democratic urban regeneration.
Entwining game-changing naturalistic interventions within a neighbourhood depends on two main pillars:
Firstly, they must contribute to and complement programmes that aren’t tangible yet in the immediate urban environment – developing a logical, democratic, and convivial ‘programmatic chain’ in and around itself in a strategic manner, establishing maximum interaction with the surrounding area.
Secondly, the urban intervention must appreciate the individual in the environment, the human-centric, and respond to the call, “What’s in it for me?”. Interventions must unfold as accessible, attractive and tangible to a wide variety of groups - to everyone. This requires a design process that connects with people - unearthing desires, ideas, thoughts, and worries - to be able to build interventions from grassroot origins so that they can expand through and into wider urban environments.
Accordingly, we see four key promises for a nature-driven urban upgrade of the Camden Highline as a platform of desires:
- We must establish symbiosis; providing space for flora, fauna, food and water. A space that meets the inherent human need to experience and interact with nature, at the heart of the urban environment. A (re)connection of the human and nature, of human to human, and for nature’s sake.
- We must activate and triangulate; interventions as coagulations. A pressure cooker of new potential nature-inclusive opportunities that connect and solidify experience.
- We must offer escape; a rewildened urban condition with a conscious lack of activity, a meditative place of nothingness to allow for moments of introspection - for breath - away from the city but engaged and rooted to it.
- We must shape a common ground. Interventions as social space, place of engagement and interaction, and home for everyone - providing a sense of belonging and ease within a space.
Together enabling the development of the Camden Highline into a space for people and nature to connect, both active and still. A system in equilibrium.