Landscapes - Winter 2012 - (Page 50)

CRITIQUE READ BY SHIONA SOMMERVILLE MAKING A POLITICAL STATEMENT IN PARKS AND GARDENS book info: Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden Author: George McKay Publisher: Frances Lincoln Limited Publishers, 2011 ISBN: 978-0-7112-3030-9 THE ONGOING OCCUPY Wall Street protest, Spain’s indignados, and other off-shoots share common ground (Economist, Oct 22/2011). If you have doubts, please read George McKay’s Radical Gardening for a compelling chronology of public parks and gardens as places for democratic discourse. McKay traces a continuum from the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London in use since the mid-19th century, to the 1970s “activist gardeners” in vacant lots of Manhattan’s Losaida (Lower East Side), to ‘80s punk concerts in the open air. McKay aims to legitimize the use of such spaces as sites – and in some cases, subjects – of political and social discontent. In so doing he creates a legacy for an array of counterculture political and social movements that marked the last century and a half to the present. To be clear, McKay’s book does not encompass recent Occupy protests – the page 10 photos of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Liberty (Zuccotti) Park are my friend’s. But, to my mind, McKay’s chronology sets the current climate of protest as a natural outgrowth. FLOWER POWER In the introduction to his book, McKay identifies the gap between social and gardening histories. He quotes Martin Hoyles (The Story of Gardening) as saying that “social historians hardly ever mention gardens or gardening, and garden historians have little to say generally about politics.” McKay’s argument is that gardening makes a deeply political statement. In talking about “gardening,” McKay tackles a good number of land use activities that carry implicit political and social meanings. For example, he describes environmental activism and localism (the Findhorn community in Scotland), as well as acts of reclamation (guerrilla gardens) and commemoration (peace gardens). McKay explores the symbolic use of the garden and its elements in social movements, such as the plant choices of the 19th century British horticultural exhibitions which were rooted in the prevailing social hierarchy, the industry of Remembrance poppies, and the 1960s’ “articulation of flower power.” All of this in mind, Radical Gardening is a potent reminder for landscape architects that social movements and land use regimes are inextricably connected. As a case in point, McKay spends the better part of a chapter discussing the evolution of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement. McKay traces the evolution of the Garden City from its earliest conception as a radical, idealist and socialist new societal order to one that was tempered by practicality and corporate funding. McKay sees this evolution as both the movement’s strength and its weakness. Says McKay: The tie to corporations (Quaker Cadbury and Lever businesses) lent legitimacy, popularity and “serious consideration” to a movement that energized the professions of landscape architecture and urban planning (as it did for early childhood education, women’s suffrage, and more.) These are laudable achievements. However, McKay argues that there were stark differences between built communities such as Bourneville and Port Sunlight as “low-density model housing for the industrial worker” and Howard’s original interest in social improvement in the form of “an experimental community seeking a novel environmental order.” Whether or not you agree with McKay’s interpretation on this count, McKay makes a clear point that there are lessons to be learned in examining the social and political dynamics that spur our land use decisions and lifestyles. THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT In his discussion of myriad movements, I believe McKay makes another point: that a social-gardening history is highly participatory and partisan, but also messy and locally varied. McKay does well to bring together diffuse activities which have in common the use of parks, public spaces and parcels of land as loci for political and social debate. To borrow the Occupy hallmark, McKay’s book describes a continuum of engagement of the 99%. … gardening makes a deeply political statement. 50 LANDSCAPES PAYSAGES

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Landscapes - Winter 2012

Daring to Dream
Chensam Botanic Garden | APPs for the Madding Crowd
Landscape Urbanism Where We Live
Harbin in Winter
Embracing The Oval
Make No Little Plans
A Luminous Rhythm
New Age Garden
The Cloud Forest of Dhofar
Landscapes of the Acadian Renaissance
Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens, Marc Treib, Editor.
Index to Advertisers
On the Land: “I Cannot Draw Conclusions.”

Landscapes - Winter 2012