“In my world, nature is with me and she is listening.”
Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami, Brazil
Camden Highline is such an exciting project: a chance to reclaim, reuse and reimagine. So when the international design competition call went out, we were eager to get involved. The invite asked for our thoughts on the subject of humans and nature and the creative tensions that exist between an urban environment and the natural world. Here’s our response …
The Yanomami don’t see a divide between nature and themselves. For them, humanity and nature are one.
Of course, Davi whose home is the Amazon rainforest doesn’t think much of our cities, with their speed and overcrowding and noise. “In the city, you never clearly hear the words that are addressed to you. You press together to understand each other when you speak. Your hearts beat too fast.”*
Davi would almost certainly agree with EF Schumacher who wrote in Small is Beautiful that if humans talk of a battle with nature, they will always be on the losing side. Covid-19 is a lesson in the need to respect balance.
Cities are largely felt to be about people, with nature as something other. In reality there is no divide: cities provide ‘novel’ habitats and their landscapes evolve like everywhere else.
This part of Camden feels intensely urban, a place of stories, entrepreneurial and surprising. The Highline offers a new portal into the natural world even while it intersects with busy streets and trains speed past. It needs to be an equitable place, to attract, welcome, comfort and delight the entire local community. So, potential social and cultural barriers to access need to be considered as carefully as the physical barriers.
Most people will move more slowly along the Highline than below it, transported by open skies and city views, experiencing the unwinding of its own story through a sensory mosaic. Behind the scenes, it will perform as a rich and healthy ecological system, a place where nature tempers the changing climate. In colonising this derelict line, nature has already created moments of unexpected beauty. Moments to savour and learn from.
For those who can only spare ten minutes to walk the Highline, it will be visually stunning and feel distracting whatever the season. In collectively making anew, we will unpick, reassemble and add definition and structure, creating a new city path that connects into the wider area.
Just as the Roundhouse – a repair shed abandoned when trains became too big to fit – was turned into Camden’s cultural heart, so the Highline offers up the chance to create something special. It will be designed for a future London where the climate is close to Barcelona’s now, working with nature rather than trying to triumph over it. A pioneering place where people can connect to the landscape, work with it, learn from it, perform in it, play in it, watch fruit ripen – finding something new with each visit.
Robert Macfarlane writes that time is kept and curated in different ways by trees and is experienced differently amongst them. So, it will be on the Highline, where time will slow but our hearts will beat faster for all the right reasons.
Click here to view the 75 Camden Highline competition entries.
* Survival International