News from the NSW President - 23 October 2017

The 2017 Festival of Landscape Architecture ‘The 3rd City’ has drawn to a close. As it closes, it is timely to reflect on how it started. As a creative directorate, we took some time arriving on the 3rd City theme, finally landing on it when we realised that we needed a flexibility in our theme that was at once local and global, connected to past and future and offering a strong bridge between theory and practice at a full range of scales.

Experiencing the conference from its epicentre, as co-creative director but also as an audience member, I was impressed to see that the 3rd City thematic delivered on its promise and that these connections across scale and subject matter were as roving, speculative, contradictory, open and challenging as the creative directors hoped they could be.

It was interesting to observe the sub-themes which structured our curatorship evolve, merge and interconnect across the two days. By the time Mia Lehrer left us with the call to arms: ‘take risks and don’t stop!’ the original themes had all but dissolved, and some key challenges had crystallised.

The festival covered diverse ground, but the most memorable message for me was that we need to claim a greater role in connecting the public with the vast environmental, cultural and spiritual potential of our everyday landscape, and with the endless experiences of country held by our aboriginal elders. Perhaps our mode of practice is too limited, as Pierre Belanger described, simply adhering to and extending a colonial paradigm of land use planning and undermining the potential for landscape as an agent of change.

Vast urban visions, plans panning time, space, politics and personalities were presented, and the pattern of erosion of our biophysical landscape was made painstakingly clear. From the superficially attractive corporate business model of the Aerotropolis described by Professor Robert Freestone, through to the new urbanism touted by our transit oriented development planners, we are, as Rod Simpson described, in dire need of solutions which are case, site and design specific, not based on outdated contextually divorced models of best practice.

Somehow, in witnessing this incredible panorama of urbanism over time, the emerging BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) attitude described by Julian Bolletter seemed almost understandable. Perhaps it has been the erosion of great public ideas about landscape and urbanism, as well as the values of the physical landscape that have contributed to our current predicament.

This conference illustrated that we are not short of a fantastic array of approaches, ideas and visions from international and local practitioners, but are we getting these messages out to the BANANA’s? or indeed our political leaders? Jeff Hou and others discussed scaling up, but critically also scaling down, such that the public are engaged and involved in the big ideas of urbanism and landscape, and invested deeply in their success. Now more than ever, design, form and aesthetic matter deeply, and connecting the public to wider landscape systems through biophilic design, will be a major contribution that practitioners can make to generating a strong and consistent demand side for green infrastructure in all its forms.

In 2016, the Anthropocene was an alarm clock which woke us up, yet as James Wierick noted, our profession works with love, not fear (despite love not being quite as effective). Thanks to a fantastic audience who brought the love and made the 3rd City Festival so successful and memorable. The content was challenging and enlightening, the food and conversation deep and the venue was Sydney at its very best. Thanks so much to my fellow creative directors: Helen, Catherine, Mike and Sara. Also to Saneia for her support of the team. Finally an enormous thanks to Dimity and the AILA team for their incredible dedication to ensuring the festival ran smoothly. Finally thanks to you as members for having us as your Creative Directors. We had a great time and it is our pleasure to hand the baton on to Taylor Cullity Lethlean as next year’s director. I very much look forward to seeing you all in the Gold Coast next year.

Mark Tyrrell

AILA NSW State President