Cambridge has a unique green belt; unique in that it is
actually embedded within the fabric of the city. It is possible ( well almost)
to walk in a circular route through the city centre without straying from green
The sequence of spaces starts at the Fen’s Causeway which
leads onto “The Backs”.
“The Backs” follow the route of the river Cam.
If you wish to vary this route, you can occasionally venture into the city of Cambridge itself
encountering streetscape of incredibly high quality.
The architecture and its detailing is similarly astounding.
View from the Avenue, Trinity College.
St Giles Church at the intersection of Castle Street and
Houses on Short Street.
Unlike Oxford, Cambridge’sscience park is not separated from the city by a strategic “green break”but is located on the north of the city,
within the boundary of the ring road.
It is perhaps for this reason thata proposed satellite town, Northstowe, will
be located five miles to the north-westof Cambridge on a site between the villages
of Oakington and Longstanton. This development is master-planned by Arups and
it will be exciting to see how it turns out.
The landscapes in and around Oxford provide, for me, ample
foodfor thought regarding approaches to
urban design. Take this example, a view from Blenheim Palace, just north of
Oxford. This naturalistic landscape has virtually nothing natural about it and was
created to the designs of Capability Brown. A contrived landscape like this
evokes many picturesque associations. When I see the island on the lake with
its tallCyprus trees , like many I
imagine, I am reminded of the paintingThe Isle of the Dead by Arnold Brocklin. A late Romantic like Arnold Bocklin was simply
referring back to the picturesque tradition, a tradition which predates
Capability Brown himself.
Landscapes like this and similar landscapes like Stowe are
often taken as the pinnacles of British landscape design. Personally, however,
I would rather be in Oxford itself. Surely a city like this provides the
ultimate example ofa garden city, a
city where landscape has been married to architecture to produce perhaps the
most delightful, liveable city in the UK.
The Botanic Gardens, the grounds of Christ Church College,
Port Meadows, the University Parks together with ten of the college gardens are
on the national list of historic parks and gardens. In all, there are 417
gardens and parkswithin the boundary of
the City of Oxford which are usually accessible to the public. 52% of the land
within the city is green land.
As you move through the fabric of Oxford, you become aware
of what seems like a basically urban spectacle.
Only when you get closer to buildings do you become aware of
another dimension. Vistas open out to reveal extraordinary natural landscaping
such as the grounds of Trinity College.
A landscape replete with routes and incidents.
Worcester College incorporates an orchard within its
Cars are almost entirely banned from the centre of Oxford.
This allows streets to be appropriated in the summer for cafes. Park and ride
facilities allow motorists to park at the edge of the city and take public
transport into the centre.
Bike lanes have been provided throughout the city.
The city’s name refers to its origins as a fording place on
a river. The city is sited around the confluence of two rivers, The river
Isis(Thames)and Cherwell. These, together with the Oxford
canal have created ample opportunity to create linear parks.
The Oxford canal on the right with the Isis (Thames) to the left.
The river Cherwell resembles an Indian river in that it
seems to have two river beds. Its flood plain creates a linear park in the
centre of the city.
Privacy is allowed in the college grounds by the simple
device of the railing. This allows views in but prevents straying members of
the public wandering in.
of privacy is created by the simple device of the wall used to enclose the
Large areas of green land has been preserved quite close to
the city centre.A good example of this
would be Christchurch Meadows.
Oxford’s Science Park can be found on the edge of the city.
Its presence is signified by a large black building visible from the A4074. Much
of its layout follows the familiar pavilions-in-the-park type theme.Although such developments have become ubiquitous in Britain in recent
decades, the landscape strategy clearly attempts to respond to the specific as
opposed to generic qualities of the site. Many of the buildings are orientated
towards Littlemore Brook which is provided with a riverside walk.
Most the Science Park’sstreets aredevoid of any
Extraordinary resources have been lavished in
landscapingcar parking spaces.
Although the development has been provided with gymnasium
plus café it is doubtful whether this can be really considered to be a
There has been much discussion over the appropriate form the
next wave of British urban development should take. An approach which I think
has much potential is that of the retrofit. A business park such as this could be
seen as the nucleus of new neighbourhoods as opposed to mono-functional zones.
The thinking behind the business park presumably is that the tranquility necessary
for work is only possible in buildings separate from city centres, surrounded
by countryside. The example of Oxford city centre shows that very private
activities such as teaching facilities, libraries and halls of residence can be
successfully incorporated into a city centre.
An intellectual like Paul Virilio has often argued that settlement
patterns are often determined by transportation patterns. The car-based
convenience of the business park can be contrasted with the transport strategy
of a historic city such asOxford where
visitors usually use park and ridefacilities, leaving their cars on the
outskirts of the city to make their journey into the city centre by bus. The challenge
to urban designersis to produce the
urban environments of the future where the environment is of such high quality that
people will actually be prepared to give up their cars or at least accept a
greatly reduced role for them. Perhaps the business people of the future will
adopt the practice of Oxford students who often cycle to work.
The expansion of a city like Oxford might provide an ideal site
for growth to solve Britain’shousing
shortage. A site such as Oxford Science park could havehousing developments built next to them together with some
retrofitting of the office buildings into more mixed-use functions.
Another strategic criteria for town expansion is the issue
of city size.The Garden City and New Town Movements always proposed that cities
should only be allowed to reach a certain size and that somewhere between
33,000 to 200,000 was the optimum size for a city. Obviously Oxford would fulfil
this criteria. The site is several miles from the city centre, separated by
many “green breaks”.
Lancelot ”Capability”Brown acquired
his nickname through his habit of telling his clients that their sites had great “capabilities.” Surely a site like
Oxford Science Park has the capabilityto provide a starting point for a
mixed-use expansion of Oxford.
( Thanks to Google for aerial view of river Cherwell)