There has been a lot of coverage today of the new report by ResPublica on the “right to beauty”. I haven’t read the whole report yet, but the comments so far suggest its findings are striking a chord with a lot of different people.
The issue of those on lower incomes being deprived of access to beauty is one that makes sense, when our experience of trying to introduce green elements into regeneration schemes is often that these are ‘value-engineered’ out on cost grounds. And we’ve had experience of politicians actively refusing treeplanting in deprived areas because they didn’t want to be seen spending money on ‘inessentials’.
But it wasn’t always this way. The other day I had the pleasure of walking around the Sale West area with residents. This former council estate was built in the 1960s, and as well as plenty of greenspace and walkways, the design preserved lots of old trees from its rural past. These give the area real character and – yes – beauty.
And when the first council housing was being built in Manchester in the 30s, the idea of making something beautiful for ordinary people to live in was key to the idea of the Wythenshawe Garden City. On the Fallowfield and Mersey Bank estates, every garden had a hawthorn, cherry or silver birch, many of which are still there. This is the type of story the Heritage Trees project is looking to capture.
Whether it’s Pictorial Meadows planting on a busy roundabout, or woodland creation in the middle of Derry, we can add beauty to our towns and cities, with all the benefits the ResPublica report sets out.