15 Jul 2017
Growth and Decay
Our summer Landscape Learn event 03 included a guided walk through Kensal Green Cemetery, a light lunch at the Dissenters Chapel and a series of afternoon talks given by experts in the field of landscape architecture, art, osteology, neuroscience and geology.
It did rain, but this just brought out the smell of soil and of the meadow between the stones, as we looked for evidence beneath our feet of Counters Creek with geologist Diana Clements.
A full party meandered through the graves picking out those connected with innovation, social reform and literature.
The summer theme alludes to the importance of the natural cycle of decomposition and regeneration, the fertility of soils being directly linked to the activity of billions of microorganisms (in just a handful of soil) all at work breaking down organic matter, so that it can support life. Our life. In summer this process is accelerated by the warmer temperatures.
By contrast, the chapel is cool and we leave the doors open onto the cemetery.
We can hear birdsong, we can see the graves, the trees, the plastic flowers and swathes of meadow. Past London, today.
The vision of John Loudon and subsequent Victorian entrepreneurs (investing in death), the first of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries that encircle London. Loudon envisaged these ‘great gardens of sleep’ as the parks of the future.
This is the point of transition to that actually coming about. Neighbouring Old Oak is about to change beyond recognition, and the cemetery we find is being called up in promotional material as a park to serve the incoming communities over the next few decades.
So, at this time with the Mayor of London is asking of his advisors: What is ‘Good Growth?’, we also began to ask that question. People surely want to live in places they love. Within a stone’s throw is Grenfell Tower, blackened. Through this heart-breaking tragedy the depth of the community has been revealed.
So how do we grow the city at this time of intensification, in a way that nurtures the human spirit. It is important to understand what is of value to the community, and to find a way that this voice can influence the disturbingly amorphous vision of the future of Old Oak, with not an old oak in sight.
Osteologist Jelena Bekvalac provided an inspired insight into the lives of medieval Londoners and we were privileged that the Museum of London gave permission for bone specimens to be released.
Evidence of disease, infection, resilience and cause of death with so much detail gleaned from such small and ancient samples of vertebrae. Evidence that the Urban Mind team seek to demonstrate as to the vulnerabilities in state of mind correlating with city living, cumulative experience that shapes our sense of identity, which might also shape our city and planning policy in a way that nurtures resilience in mind and body, and celebrates diversity, texture and authenticity.
We descended into the catacombs slowly and carefully, and the temperatures dips.
Here Dr Tereza Stehlikova screens a narrative of what is being overlooked. The brick vaults add a layer texture, the darkness and dampness finds its way into our bones, through the earthy atmosphere her conversation with Stephen J Fowler is projected to challenges perceptions, look beneath the surface. Rich interpretations that capture a place in transition, and should be heard.
If you would like to kept informed of future Landscape Learn events please sign up to our newsletter or view the events page.