Several years ago, I came across a story about a “shoe tree” – a century-old sycamore tree in Newcastle upon Tyne, England where children have, for almost two decades, celebrated the end of exams by flinging their shoes high up into the branches. The shoe tree is a valued part of the landscape in Armstrong Park where it is rooted, providing shade and blossoms and fruits – and also an element of cultural interest, showing off the footwear fashions of many years past.
The European Landscape Convention (the first international convention to focus specifically on landscape) aptly defines landscape as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.” Similarly, one of the main objectives of the International Federation of Landscape Architects is to promote “the understanding of landscape architecture as physical and cultural phenomena concerned with environmental heritage and ecological and social sustainability.”
These definitions of “landscape” help us to understand the interactive/human/social/cultural aspects that draw people into the natural environment so passionately. Few things can affect our experience of the world around us in the way the landscape can – the trees, flowers, elevations, plant life, floral art, gardens, bodies of water, and water effects have profound impact on our moods, emotions, concentration, and so many elements of the human experience.
It is little wonder, then, that many communities have been able to use that human connection to the environment as a way to engage citizens in the community. As Mimi Price and Ted Blowes tell us in their article on Communities in Bloom (page 5 of the May issue of Municipal World), it is the human factor that gives communities their character, culture, and relevance. So, too, is it the human factor that brings character, culture, and relevance to our landscapes.
Initiatives like Earth Day and Earth Hour, and ongoing programs like Communities in Bloom, can be effective tools for mobilizing a community to action. Whether it’s an international program like the LivCom Awards, or a local project like Wellington County’s Green Legacy Programme (see the article on page 9 of the May issue), the success of initiatives that call us to touch and interact with the earth in natural, sustainable ways, pays testament to the universal nature of the human connection to the landscape in which we live.
Maybe your community doesn’t have a proud old shoe tree; perhaps it’s median flower beds, or hanging baskets, or a gateway garden, or a tree-planting program, or maybe a full-out environmental sustainability program. Whatever it is, though, don’t miss the opportunity to engage the community in the experience.