Much has been written about the benefits of being in nature to reduce stress and promote wellbeing. What is good for our own health is also critical for the health of the planet. With the UK government urging developers to increase the net bio-diversity of the places they are involved with, the importance of green space is appropriately becoming ever more important. Yet, curiously it is often thought about last, especially in the urban context. Jan Gehl’s oft-quoted phrase: “First life, then spaces, then buildings” is more usually seen as the counterpoint to the prevailing norm.
Totality’s own research – predominantly amongst millennials – reveals just how strong their concerns are about the environment. They are looking for organisations in all sectors to take on the challenge of sustainability. And while reducing carbon emissions, materials used and energy required are all seen to be essential, the creation of new, or regeneration of existing natural spaces is visceral as it offers direct personal benefits as well as improving the planet’s health.
So, let’s not leave designing the space between buildings to last, nor think of it purely in terms of ‘landscaping’. But instead think how it can add real value to the people who will use it. Whilst recognising the sensitivities between shared private and public space, let’s get beyond the default mentality of manicured box-hedge bordered areas and instead create more imaginative spaces offering a variety of uses. A set of ‘green rooms’ for different purposes.
The necessary and obvious first step is to conceive spaces that will really enhance peoples’ lifestyles. The second less obvious but important one is to communicate their significance effectively as part of the marketing story. Doing this is critical to increase appeal and in turn revenue, thus providing a financial return in excess of any additional costs.
Totality was asked to consider the original plans for St James’ White City Living scheme and to develop ways to add value, with particular emphasis on the extensive outdoor areas. Our recommendation to shift away from ‘efficient geometry’ to a more organic approach suggested a variety of spaces responding to different moods and uses. This recommendation set the direction for the richly layered interpretation that is now unfolding on site, one that has formed an integral part of the marketing story.
Sometimes green space in itself can become the headline of that story. This was the basis of our recommendations for the branding and marketing of Lend Lease’s regeneration of the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle; from the name we created – Elephant Park – to all aspects of the marketing campaign that we produced.
So while developers and their lenders may obsess over net sellable or rental area and price per square foot, there remains much value to be created by looking outside the buildings first. Not only will it help make a place more appealing and valuable, it can also help the planet too.