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Proactive landscapes: Can urban design clean air and water?

We need to make urban landscapes work harder, says Kevin Barton, who is making playgrounds that prevent floods and roadside plantings that clean water

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Bridget Joyce Square by Robert Bray Associates
Bridget Joyce Square by Robert Bray Associates

“We need to make urban landscapes work harder,” says Kevin Barton, Director at Robert Bray Associates. He’s speaking to the audience at The Developer’s Risk & Resilience conference, now available to hear on The Developer podcast.


Despite the frequent rhetoric from politicians pledging major tree-planting initiatives – from Manchester’s City of Trees to the Hackney Mayor’s urban forest initiative – Barton says that environmental design doesn’t always equal trees. After all, as he says, “the best kind of tree for biodiversity is a dead one lying under a forest canopy.”


Barton believes in creating climate-resilient landscapes that do more: from playgrounds that prevent floods to roadside plantings that clean water. He designed a blue-green roof system that saved one Hackney developer £800,000.


So when it comes to designing cities, he thinks we need radical change. From tyre-dust microplastics to raw sewage overflows from Victorian pipes, Barton says professionals need to challenge the urban fabric to proactively eliminate toxins and contribute to healthier cities. “That’s where we get really excited,” says Barton.


At Bridget Joyce Square in Haringey, their lush plantings provide a healthy and playful route to school while also absorbing 50% of the rain that falls on it. It’s also maintained by the local community, providing a therapeutic community use.


“We are a natural disaster ourselves, but for the climate’s sake, and for our sake, we need radical change and some of this will be uncomfortable.”


This podcast was recorded live at The Developer’s Risk & Resilience conference in November 2019.


Listen to the podcast by clicking on the link below and sign up to The Developer Weekly to be updated when new episodes go online.



This year’s Festival of Place is happening on 7 July 2020 – go to for updates on tickets and speakers.






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