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Interesting times we can embrace

By Ruth Slavid
As this issue of the journal went to press, the Natural Capital Committee issued its fourth report, in which it calls for the 25-year environment plan to be made legally binding through legislation this year.

While blaming Brexit in part for delays in action, the report also says that withdrawal from the EU offers great opportunities in terms of the potential to embed strong environmental aims in British law.

So, we may be getting even more legislation. Pretty dull, eh? Well no, this is anything but dull. The concept of natural capital is a revolutionary one. By putting a financial value on our environmental resources, both renewable and non-renewable, it has the potential to change the way that governments interact with our environment.

It is a financially driven approach and many would argue that that should not be our only criterion. But economics drives most governmental decisions, and certainly drives business with which governments are increasingly in partnership.

In this issue, Dieter Helm, who is the chair of the Natural Capital Committee, explains just why he believes natural capital is so important, how he envisages it working – and the sticks and carrots that he considers necessary. You may disagree with him; you may think this is the wrong route altogether, but you must see that this is a time for change and not just for platitudes.

Almost all landscape professionals care about the environment, but how much they can do about it has long been a source of frustration. If Dieter Helm has his way, and the protection of natural capital is put at the heart of all planning, then the concerns of the profession will come centre stage, and their skills will be in demand. 

And meanwhile? In his essay on page 14, Sebastian Miller discusses how professionals can, in their daily practice, work towards a ‘dark green’ version of sustainability by adopting approaches that, crucially, do not rely on ‘them’ changing the system but on taking action now and every day.

Landscape professionals can and do desire to change lives for the better. Elsewhere in this issue we look at just how they have done so at Alder Hey children’s hospital  in Liverpool and at Harvard Square in the United States. The strength of both these projects derives from an understanding of what clients in the broadest sense want. The work of Arup in London and Madrid, also profiled here, goes further by empowering city residents to make the small innovations that can, collectively, enable ambitious plans to take shape. 

The phrase ‘May you live in interesting times,’ is often described as an ancient Chinese curse. These are certainly interesting times. And while most of us are rightly worried about many of the changes taking place in the world, the times may also yet prove to be interesting in a positive way as well –a way in which landscape professionals can play a key part.

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