Saturday 1 November 2014

Learning Through Landscapes

Learning Through Landscapes (LTL) is a charity organisation which helps protect outdoor school playgrounds from development.  They reinforce the importance of the school playground as places where children can connect with nature, be active, learn outdoors, learn social skills and have fun.  They recently launched their #protectschoolgrounds campaign, highlighting this basic need for children.

The threat of consumption of school playgrounds from the pressures of schools to expand or find money is an important condition which should be highlighted.  It is a condition which is also symptomatic of the gradual urbanisation taking place across the country as a whole, as we seek to expand and make more space for rising population levels and industry, whilst working within a confined set of conditions and boundaries.  Within most UK environments, there is significant pressure to expand or change, which in turn places pressure on external, undeveloped spaces.  Too often buildings have names which gives them importance and outdoor spaces don't.

Maybe its time to work in to our outdoor spaces and develop them as just that - Outdoor Spaces - by giving them names, functions, multiple functions, make them changeable and responsive to how they are used, but define and name them in some way so that they have a greater connection with people and might spark a bit of resistance if suddenly they are the subject of development proposals.

We should take a lesson from the work of LTL and look at our outdoor environment in a new way.  On our regular walk to work or run to the sandwich shop at lunch time, we often follow the same path.  That path is punctuated with street corners, crossing points and key landmarks which we pass to mark our way and psychologically reassure us of our progress on route.  What if we reinvented these spaces as Outdoor Spaces, and put something there other than grey concrete and tarmac with steel lamp posts covered in anti-climbing paint?  We need spaces where we can stop and talk, places which prompt us to look up and orientate ourselves in the outdoor  environment, places in contrast to our urban world where we can connect briefly with nature, even if for a moment we are unable to see a man-made straight line, artificial colour or flat plane.  A micro park on a street corner might prompt us to visit the real thing or the countryside more regularly.  If we made moves like this, we might find a greater collective resistance to urban expansion and the lateral spread of building development.

Wouldn't it be great if we could ignite a cultural connection with an Outdoor development campaign that would rival the pressures of Urban developments?  It would need to become economically advantageous some how or pick up political backing.

There are many parallels between school expansions and urban expansion.  More and more is expected from schools in terms of their capabilities.  Teaching patterns are changing to meet government requirements and pressures to adopt new technologies.  More and more is expected of what they have to do from the National Curriculum.  Similarly, as a nation our living patterns are changing, our lives are becoming more and more complicated, our living patterns often present more hurdles than solutions and we are under pressure (mostly driven by ourselves) to embrace new technologies.  Most of these growing pressures focus on and within buildings and the built environment.  We start to loose the recognition and importance of the spaces between, the outdoor spaces, where the air is cleaner, the light is natural and pressures can be lifted.

How LTL and schools deal with reinforcing the importance of school playgrounds could inform us greatly on how we can treat and protect our everyday outdoor spaces from urban development, and make them more enjoyable and engaging places to be in, rather than rushing through.  Some of their solutions show schools expanding on the same footprint, building up or under existing buildings. Making use of as much roof space as possible as functional places for outdoor activity, learning or nature gardens etc., is another solution.  They also encourage existing outdoor spaces to be named, given outdoor functions and uses, often multiple functions, and developed as nature gardens, outdoor classrooms, play spaces etc.  Identifying existing outdoor spaces signifies their importance and connection to people and (might) make it more difficult for them to be swallowed up by building developments.  It also recognises that, for the school, the outdoor environment is a very important resource, even if government policy and the National Curriculum doesn't.  We should adopt the same policy and recognise the importance of our outdoor spaces, and like kids, engage with them and have fun.

Outdoor spaces can be multifunctional, with each area supporting several tasks.  They can also work in support of indoor spaces, or areas beyond the school.

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