The best of Edinburgh: A little video experiment I just re-discovered on my hard drive that I made up a year or so ago after leaving Edinburgh, having lived there for a couple of years. Having visited a fair number of the most beautiful and renowned cities around the world, I think Edinburgh’s aesthetic qualities, both natural and built, contribute to it being a rival to most.
(Backing track is by BT- ‘Good Morning Kaia’)
Photography as a key to environmental protection and promotion
In the last few weeks I have been posting some of my own images of, what I feel are, great examples of public space and urban realm in town and cities around the world. Whether the pictures serve to encapsulate successful multi-modal transport in a shared space, outdoor areas for interaction, enjoyment and economic development, or a place for solitude and peace within an urban metropolis- a common thread runs through the images: high quality and well maintained natural environments in an urban context. These photographs of good practice, that combine the natural and built environment in high quality urban planning, convey the sense of place and attractiveness of these locations.
Photography is a powerful way to capture and draw attention to the natural environment- both as a method to ensure its beauty and value is protected and maintained through effective planning and conservation (such as in the aforementioned examples in an urban planning context), but also to highlight the negative and destructive effects that human actions can have on it.
As such, I visited the Veolia Environnement Photography Awards exhibition this week at London’s Natural History Museum- which includes many stunning images that beautifully (and sometimes tragically) encapsulate these themes. From the amazing images which depict the behaviour of animals, the beauty of plants, and the wonder of landscapes- to emotive photojournalism of human induced impacts on the natural environment, such as that captured by Daniel Beltrá is his series the ‘Price of Oil’ (as pictured in title image) and his overall winning image ‘Sill life in oil’ (both which come from his coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year), serve to demonstrate the power and impact that photography can have in communicating environmental issues.
iPhones, mobility and placemaking.
On the day following the passing of Steve Jobs, whom I respect hugely as a personal technology visionary- the BBC article ‘Six ways to never get lost in a city again’ offers some alternative means to using GPS on an iPhone, or the like, to find your way about town and cities…
An awareness and appreciation of the surrounding environment, whether it be where we live, or visit, is crucial to generating/appreciating a ‘sense of place’ associated with towns and cities. A key aspect of good urban planning and mobility is that people enjoy, appreciate, and are at ease being in, and moving around, their urban environment. Such an association can only be developed and fostered through individuals engaging and interacting with the places in which they live and move.
The benefits of personal technology to allow us to understand, learn and communicate are significant- and for the past 10-15 years Apple have been at the forefront of a revolution to deliver such technology to the general population. From an urban planning perspective, there are numerous examples of how such technology can be used to benefit and improve the places in which people live (a nice, and timely example, being the iPhone app launched by Scottish council, North Ayrshire, for members of the public to identify and report issues such as broken street lighting and littering).
However, as the BBC article on finding your way about cities without GPS (or even a map/compass/etc- or asking other people for that matter) demonstrates, there are many clues and signals evident in our natural and built environment that can help us understand and make sense of the places in which we live. Furthermore, engaging with our surroundings, and using our own intuition, logic and powers of deduction, is a fundamental part of human nature and development. While personal technology, typified by the products developed through Steve Jobs’ hugely innovative and visionary leadership at Apple, can contribute to how we develop and navigate the places in which we live and visit- I feel they should be seen as a tool or aid to personal discovery and experience of our towns and cities, rather than an omniscient and infallible guide to getting from one place to another.
I think it’s important to understand that by engaging with, and understanding, our built and natural environments (aided, rather than stifled, by personal technology) we can appreciate how we relate to, and affect, the places in which we live- while furthermore generating significant value in fostering our development as individuals, communities and society.
This article from The Guardian throws up a range of issues that interrelates with issues in previous posts.
With the growing recognition that green infrastructure and provision has a range of benefits, governments have the challenge to try and quantify this in order to make budget decisions. More than ever, in the current financial climate, these decisions have to offer value for money, and justify their investment. How much budget should be apportioned to developing and maintaining green spaces? In what areas of towns/cities can they offer most value? To what extent would budget spent on green space offer a range of benefits that cuts across a number of areas of public spending?
This BBC article discusses a recent Macmillan Cancer Support report that backs physical exercise for patients and cancer survivors as a way of reducing the risk of dying from the disease, to minimise the side effects of treatment, and combat the likelihood of their condition returning.
While, and as discussed before in my post ‘Activity, health and the environment’, undertaking regular physical exercise has been well publicised as a method of preventing the onset of many diseases and conditions (including some cancers). However, this report is interesting in that it promotes exercise for patients and survivors of cancers- ie that physical exercise can be the treatment as well as the preventer of such conditions- which, in fact, contradicts traditional advice and recommendations that favoured rest as the best course of action. As the article states:
Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and a leading clinical oncologist said: “The advice that I would have previously given to one of my patients would have been to ‘take it easy’.”
However, the research shows that, in fact, much more benefit is achieved from physical activity (at an appropriate level for each individual) as a method of treatment and therapy. Her quote from the article coveys how significantly she thinks the benefits of physical activity should be communicated,
“This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines.”
and is in line with my previously discussed ideas about how we should value physical exercise, communicate its health virtues, and ensure we do as much as possible to encourage and foster it as a lifestyle habit amongst the general population.
To connect these points back to how I see a particular aspect of the environment is significantly related to this- it is quite clear that safe, attractive, and accessible space is available for cancer patients and survivors to allow them to undertake appropriate regular physical activity. The gruelling and energy-sapping ordeal that so many cancers are, and as are the side-effects of their treatments, makes undertaking strenuous physical exercise a difficult, and often unrealistic, option for patients and survivors. However, and as the article notes, even relatively moderate and simple forms of exercise can help achieve the associated benefits- as put forward by Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support:
“It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim, all count.”
As alluded to in my previous posts on this subject, and evident in the above quote, it is often the outside environment which offers the most suitable location for undertaking such activities. Protecting and developing places of outdoor recreation and green space in our towns and cities can raise the likelihood that the general population will lead healthy lives. However, further to this, it can also offer the people who have survived some of the most harrowing and difficult health conditions that cancer has affiliated upon them, the opportunities and provision to undertake a form of treatment that may mean they do not have to suffer a relapse of such an experience. We, as society, surely owe them that.