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Manchester Urban Institute

Governing green infrastructure

This project is investigating how the roll-out of green infrastructure (GI) is transforming the nature of contemporary urban governance, focusing on three major cities in the UK.

Overhead photo
Photo: Jamie Anderson

In particular, the project will examine how the recent shift from zonal to landscape-based policy and planning is mainstreaming landscape architecture techniques at the urban scale, flattening administrative boundaries and incorporating psychological, behaviour-oriented design. Landscape architects, traditionally contracted on a site-by-site basis, have become integral to conventional municipal planning with the proliferation of GI, being described as the ‘urbanist of our age’. However, it is planners, engineers, architects and designers that have received the most attention in the humanities and social sciences, leaving landscape architects, and their expanded professional mandate, understudied. Taken together, landscape-based planning and design is seemingly enabling a more integrated, streamlined and psychological form of government.

First, the project will trace the growing prominence of the ‘landscape scale’ in UK policy and planning guidelines, which is reshaping the institutional framework of environmental management through initiatives such as Green Infrastructure Partnerships (GIP). A key concern will be how the landscape-based approach is integrating and streamlining urban governance processes.  

Second, the project will examine how policy is put into practice through the expertise, norms and techniques of landscape architects employed on major GI projects. Of particular interest will be the increased overlapping of traditional placemaking concerns with the wellbeing agenda, which is arguably leading to a medicalisation of the landscape profession.

Third, the user experience will be analysed to consider whether GI sites are encouraging particular types of emotional response, behaviour and citizenship. In addition to focus groups, on-site eudaimonic questionnaires (e.g. QEWB) will be carried out with participants as a prompt to encourage reflective dialogue on the notion of wellbeing and active selfhood.

Principal Investigator: Dr Mark Usher

Funding: Simon Research Fellowship