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Urban spaces meet the need of the human mind

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The kind of comparisons Martin Pawley (AJ 21.09.00) uses between the processes of the natural world and our own urban life are an often necessary way of rationalising human behaviour in cities.His likening, however, of open spaces among barnacle populations to our modern cities is a very weak link indeed.

The 'barnacle' explanation for our own desperate filling of 'gaps' in our cities, classes such open spaces as having no 'practical function'. They are considered as they increase in number, according to Pawley's quoted scientist, to be likes holes in a coat; threats to the urban fabric.

He is wrong on two accounts.

First, to view open spaces in cities as purely structural defects among urban conurbations and secondly to equate the behaviour of land developers to that of simple-celled shell creatures (although I sometimes wonder myself, if this is actually true).

The gaps in our cities are often brought about by impractical building conditions such as river deltas, or in the case of Edinburgh, ancient volcanoes. These treasured spaces satisfy many of the basic needs of the complex human mind. Challenge, freedom of movement and rites to communal gathering are all to be found in open public urban space.

If it is the 'bomb sites' and derelict industrial land that, Pawley believes through comparisons with nature, pose a threat to the success of the city, then he should learn the irony that these spaces are those with the greatest diversity of ecology in the urban environment.

We should all realise that as our supposedly under-used open spaces are being snapped up by developers, cities will lose a vital part of their character. The mega-structures Pawley craves need more than just the planned parks, boulevards, and squares to survive.

Ben Hilder, landscape architect, Reigate, Surrey

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