Flora of the River Don (on finding Salmon Pastures)

I walked to Salmon Pastures. A. told me he went to school and did his apprenticeship there. He explained how his father’s funeral cortège had travelled slowly along Carlisle Street and the men came out of the steelworks, doffing their caps as it passed.

To get there, I travelled by tram to Nunnery Square – a patchwork of car parks and police buildings, hemmed in by security fencing. I walked under railway arches, past carwashes and small factories, before crossing Norfolk Bridge (built in 1856) and taking a sharp right  along a small cobbled street to join the river.

An old man from Yemen was sitting on a bench watching the river crowfoot stream in long ribbons with the current. We talked for a few minutes and he told me how this is a good place. Quiet.



Sheffield riverscape (1)

I walked with Daisy along the River Don from the Wardsend cemetery to Neepsend. At Wardsend, we started off a little way down the railway lines that run stark and clean through the undulating and overgrown cemetery, then veered off to follow the river itself, along the newly surfaced track that cuts through the vast mounds of debris – spolia from demolished works? – that loom either side. The electricity pylons hummed and crackled overhead and the thunderous engines of quad bikes rumbled and reverberated in an undefinable distance.

Everywhere we walk, waste. And amidst the waste, lilac and jack-in-the-hedge. The river bank is strewn with tyres and bottles and fast food wrappers, mattresses and plastic chairs, podgy black bin bags. A sign screwed to one of the metal kissing gates put there to stop the quad bikes : fly tippers – we are watching you.

At Wardsend, on the hill amidst the silver birch, there has been a fire. Graves squat in scorched earth, black tipped tendrils clasping shards of stone, displacing fragments of Victorian ironwork.

The Hillsborough playing fields are to our right. A man in a vermilion jersey sparks across the pitch. A sheep’s skull – or perhaps it is just a carrier bag – is revealed, briefly, as the river washes across it. Bottle-green, muddy mallards drift.

Neepsend. Eviscerated drag cars and deserted roads, leading to an empty, elevated horizon.

Spencer Powell on Jorgensen and Keenan, Urban Wildscapes

Urban Wildscapes is an edited collection of writings which takes the forgotten, neglected, and abandoned spaces in the urban landscape and sets out to show how social and environmental value may be found in the most unlikely places. However, the book also goes beyond this in seeking to broaden the concept of wildscape as a spatially located place and establish it as a way of thinking about how we can best use the existing urban assets around us to create more cohesive, sustainable and meaningful landscapes. Christopher Woodward begins Part One on theorising wildscapes with an examination of the ruin voyeur’s favourite, Detroit, and how nature’s appropriation of the ostentatiously designed shrinking city presents a more troubling ruin than that of the spontaneously built, unplanned Plotlands community in Laindon, Essex. Questioning the very definition of what is meant by sustainable design, Woodward explores the disjuncture that exists between artistic representations of ruin, and ruin in the consciousness of those living in its shadow. The mirror he holds up makes uncomfortable viewing for those of us living in cities ‘built as if they would last forever’. Paul H. Gobster offers ‘a natural history’ of the Chicago city region and the role of its wildscapes in recreation and conservation, while Catharine Ward Thompson explores the ways in which the development of managed parkland and ‘official’ green space has gone hand in hand with increasing regulation and restriction of what activities are permissible in such spaces – particularly for young people. The socio-spatial exclusion which results from this is highly damaging, and Thompson makes a persuasive argument in favour of ‘urban wildscapes that welcome changing uses and users, and offer rich, edgy, exciting opportunities for so many young people who otherwise endure such poverty of environmental experience’. Katy Mugford similarly deals with the issue of young people’s detachment from the landscapes around them in her innovative comparison of the positive developmental qualities of wildscapes recognised and promoted in children’s literature, and the risk aversion ‘foisted on today’s children by those who experienced freedom only a generation before’.

Part Two provides a wealth of case studies demonstrating how wildscape ideas are being incorporated into practice. Renée de Waal and Arjen de Wit’s study of the restoration of former coal fields in Lusatia, Germany, provides a particularly thought provoking insight into the challenges associated with finding holistic new uses for wildscape on a regional level, while Marian Tylecoat and Nigel Dunnett’s chapter on the transformation of a former Sheffield wasteland into Manor Field’s Park demonstrates how the competing demands of sustainability, community opinions, and financial thrift may be reconciled to provide multifunctional, recreational wildscapes at a fraction of the cost of more traditional tabula rasa approaches – a particularly timely example in an age of austerity where budgets for parks, recreation and the environment are all under strain. Part Three seeks to establish the ‘implications for landscape practice’ of reconsidering how we view such wildscapes, though in reality it serves more as an extension of part two, with smaller scale case studies brought into the mix.

While written from a landscape architecture perspective, and therefore containing an abundance of detail regarding plant types and the process of natural succession, Urban Wildscapes concerns itself more with the positive potential of wildscapes as facilitators of social wellbeing and inclusion than with the technical process of landscape architecture practice. The book’s strength therefore lies in the breadth of its ideas, its rejection of established norms in contemporary urban design, and its accessibility to practitioners and non-practitioners alike. The left-field line of thought means it is unlikely to spark a paradigm shift in the way we view urban wildscapes and plan new urban landscapes. Indeed, at various points in the book the authors concede that the wildscape concept may only work in relation to a more ordered, sanitised, ‘other’ space which constitutes the mainstream. But as a contribution to the wider debate on sustainability and how to ensure cities remain responsive to their inhabitants underlying needs, Urban Wildscapes is a valuable, horizon-expanding read.

Spencer Powell, 2013


Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan (eds), Urban Wildscapes (London: Routledge, 2011). £32.99