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Talk | Camden Highline: Reviving Urban Spaces, Repurposing Brownfield Sites

An evening centred around the innovative repurposing of Camden Highline and brownfield sites into award-winning gardens and vibrant urban spaces.

Camden Highline is a visionary project to transform Camden’s disused railway viaduct into a green oasis in the heart of the city. With planting design by Piet Oudolf and landscape expertise from James Corner Field Operations, the project will innovatively repurpose brownfield sites into urban gardens.

Using the Camden Highline project as a jumping-off point, we are gathering a panel of experts for an evening exploring the creative ways brownfield gardening can unlock the hidden potential of neglected urban spaces. We will be joined by James Corner, who was also the landscape architect of New York’s High Line Garden, as well as landscape architect Johanna Gibbons, the National Trust’s Head of Urban Duncan Laird, biodiversity champion and gardener John Little, wild gardener Benny Hawksbee, and environmental design lecturer Blanche Cameron.

These renowned gardeners and practitioners at the forefront of brownfield gardening will share their success stories and challenges encountered when transforming derelict areas into biodiverse landscapes.

The evening will be chaired by Camden Highline CEO Simon Pitkeathley.

  • Duncan Laird

    Duncan Laird

    Duncan is currently Head of Urban for the National Trust. He leads the Trust’s urban strategy that has an overarching aim to deliver benefit to towns and cities through improved access to nature, history and beauty. He has over 20 years’ experience in the private, public and third sectors, primarily working to make urban places more sustainable and liveable. He is passionate about focussing efforts where need is the greatest, working in partnership and applying innovation.

  • Jo Gibbons

    Jo Gibbons

    Johanna Gibbons is a Landscape Architect and Fellow of the Landscape Institute. Jo was named Royal Designer for Industry for her ‘pioneering and influential work combining design with activism, education and professional practice’. She is founding Partner of J&L Gibbons and founding Director of social enterprise Landscape Learn. Jo is a Commissioner on the Jersey Architectural Commission, a research partner of Urban Mind, panel advisor to Historic England and the Forestry Commission and a member of the International Scientific Committee for the World Forum on Urban Forests. She publishes and lectures widely. This year Jo is a Member of the Jury of the prestigious international interdisciplinary competition Europan 17, promoting this year the topic of CARE.

  • John Little

    John Little

    John argues against long standing protocol within public space and horticulture. He suggests structural complexity is overlooked in landscape design and is more important than plant choice for driving biodiversity. Since starting the Grass Roof Company in 1998 he has designed and built over 300 small green-roof buildings, combining deep biodiverse green-roofs with walls of breeding and hibernation space.

    He argues that we must invest in gardeners rather than more infrastructure. After 18 years caring for the greenspace on Clapton Park estate, London he has written a sustainable grounds maintenance contract that does just that. He questions our obsession with specifying topsoil in all new projects, especially on highways and new developments. Habitat trials at his home include a garden designed with spoil from the local road widening scheme, industrial and construction waste.

    In 2008 he launched a range of small green roof shelters based on shipping containers and designed portable structures including bike and bin storage. greenroofshelters.co.uk

    John can be contacted on Instagram @grassroofco or website grassroofcompany.co.uk

  • Blanche Cameron

    Blanche Cameron

    Blanche is an Environmental Design Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, focusing on sustainable design, delivery and maintenance of nature-based solutions to the climate and biodiversity crisis

    Blanche studied Architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art and at the Ecole Spéciale in Paris. She is a natural materials designer and builder, working with community groups, students and professionals on practical solutions to the biodiversity and climate challenges we face. She has been teaching sustainable architecture and nature-based built environments, since 2001, first at the CAT Graduate School of the Environment, and since 2013 at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

    She leads the Year 1 Architecture BSc Environmental Design module, teaches on the Making Cities module, and leads the Y2/3 Architectural & Interdisciplinary Studies BSc module Greening Cities, also available as an elective across UCL, giving lectures and workshops in other UCL departments. She works closely with UCL’s Wild Bloomsbury Living Lab, to deliver nature-based solutions on campus.

    Collaborative projects include EPSRC IAA-funded research on carbon-neutral circular economy green roof retrofit, and new market models to accelerate delivery, and developing a UCL-wide Green Infrastructure Network to co-ordinate work on nature-based solutions to urban climate adaptation.

    Blanche is an active member of A!CAN the Architects Climate Action Network, mentoring students to set up the Bartlett School of Architecture Society in 2020 and B!CAN, supported BSA to declare a climate and ecological emergency in 2019.

  • Benny Hawksbee

    Benny Hawksbee

    Benny Hawksbee is a London and Essex-based gardener whose particular interests include pollinator relationships with plants; gardening without irrigation; and how we can make big wins in an urban context.

    Benny originally trained as a Marine biologist and worked with sea turtles for six years, in Greece and Latin America.

    He is the Head Gardener of Eden Nature Garden in Clapham and also works for John Little and Fiona Crummay on their South Essex brownfield garden, Hilldrop.
    Benny is also an active member of the London Natural History Society, where he spends most time recording wild solitary bees and wasps.

  • James Corner

    James Corner

    James Corner (born 1961) is a landscape architect and theorist whose works exhibit a focus on "developing innovative approaches toward landscape architectural design and urbanism." His designs of note include Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island and the High Line in Manhattan, and Domino Park in Brooklyn, all in New York City.

    Corner is a professionally registered landscape architect and the principal of James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture and urban design practice based in New York City.

  • Simon Pitkeathley

    Simon Pitkeathley

    Simon has been CEO of the multi-award winning Camden Town Unlimited, since 2007. As well as being CEO of Camden Collective, Euston Town, Camden Highline and Alternative Camden, he is also currently Co-Chair of Cross River Partnership and Chair of Camden Giving. Simon sits on the London Enterprise Action Partnership (LEAP) and is its Champion for Small Business.

Image: Camden Highline ground level view © Hayes Davidson