Lecture explores urban forestry in Europe
The lecture, entitled ‘The Emerging Role of Urban Forestry in the New European Urbanism’ saw Professor Simson examine the concept that urban forestry was born in the UK by the Quaker Industrialists of the Industrial Revolution.
He traced how the concept evolved, initially through the Garden City Movement, and discussed how subsequently urban forestry has been developing research – work that Leeds Beckett has been involved in – and making progress up the political agenda in Europe.
Professor Simson said: “Human beings have had a long, deep, cultural relationship with trees, woodlands and the landscape. This relationship transcends national cultures, and sits happily as an equal alongside our scientific, economic, ecological and spiritual relationships. Indeed, as W. H. Auden reminded us, ‘A culture is no better than its woods’.
“There are those who believe however that, as Europe became a collection of urban communities - the UK officially becoming urban in 1851 - these links with trees became outdated, as other issues became more pressing. They couldn’t be more wrong!”
Professor Simson, who conducts his research in Leeds Beckett’s School of Art, Architecture & Design, has been interested in trees and their relationship with people and place from an early age. After leaving school he worked in the forestry section of Watford Borough Council where he got involved with designing and planting a number of large trees in the High Street – trees that are still there today. Subsequently he studied Landscape Architecture at what was then Leeds Polytechnic and achieved a distinction.
Professor Simson developed an interest in the Quaker Industrialists of the Industrial Revolution, in particular their belief in the quality of place for people, and he subsequently joined the landscape team in Telford New Town, which included the settlements of Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge, where the Industrial Revolution began. He was tasked with designing and running the Afforestation Programme for Telford, which he did for more than 10 years, planting six million plus trees in the process. He also started research which is still on-going into yew trees, their ancient heritage and close connections to people and place.
Following his time at Telford, Professor Simson and colleagues set up a private landscape bureau, before he returned to Leeds to join the academic team at Leeds Polytechnic, here he later became Course Leader for both the undergraduate and postgraduate Landscape Architecture programmes and was appointed a Reader in 2004. His New Town urban forestry work triggered interest from future European colleagues, and his European urban forestry journey - which is still developing - began.
Having been involved in a number of EU research projects on urban forestry, Professor Simson travels extensively, both nationally and internationally, giving presentations and contributing to workshops and seminars on urban forestry and urban greening.