I spent Saturday morning volunteering for the Camden Highline, a project inspired by New York’s High Line.
That linear park stretches through the city’s lower West Side on former elevated train tracks.
Camden’s will use the derelict railway lines running parallel to London’s Overground.
The project will go to competition in April when designers will make proposals for the access and the landscaping.
For now Camden Highline’s work is focusing on Camden Gardens, one of the future access points, crossed by a railway and surrounded by traffic.
At present the park is largely underused but there are great trees, mature shrubbery and gloriously Euphorbia foetida.
The designers, architects Studio Mutt and landscape architects Howard Miller had approached their design with a light touch – an information stand, steps for seating and planters.
Our role, as volunteers, was to fill the containers with soil. A later shift took over to do the planting.
As we worked, what struck me was the carbon footprint and level of waste generated by even such a minimum insertion.
Each planter was surrounded by newly forged, metal sheets. Bags of soil and gravel had been shipped from Essex. Plants, all in plastic pots, arrived on trolleys wrapped in cling film.
When I asked Camden Highline’s project lead if a carbon or waste audit had been carried out on that day’s work, he admitted it hadn’t.
The challenge for Camden Highline’s competition is to balance the creativity of the competing designers with a real, hard look at the cost to the environment.
The route is already covered in pollinator-friendly vegetation that grows with minimal interference. There are gaps to be filled.
But will the existing vegetation be removed and replaced with plants raised in nurseries that need maintenance?
A path will be needed but will the key criteria, beside safety, be minimal impact on the existing permaculture, at minimal carbon cost and aiming for zero-waste?
I can already predict how many competition entries will claim to be a wildlife corridor. If the proposals destroy what is already there or comes at a high carbon cost, I don’t see the logic.