Love Square: Future proofing the city

Are people and nature destined to be adversaries? A new model of urban green space seeks to show the way forward in bringing together people and nature in a modern city.

The Love Square logo. It is a painting of a garden with lots of purple and yellow flowers and green trees. Two people are sitting on a bench.

In an unassuming part of Sheffield city centre, near the law courts, is a patch of space showing the green shoots of change. The Love Square project is led by Professor Nigel Dunnett from the Department of Landscape Architecture, working in close partnership with Sheffield City Council and local community groups.

Supporters include local business groups, arts organisations and Autism Plus, who will help to maintain the garden and use it to support more than 200 young people with autism and learning disabilities.

Researchers working on the project are building an inspirational example of a new type of ‘smart’ urban eco-park, combining nature and wildlife with artworks, social and activity spaces.

A coffee shop housed in an old shipping container will provide another reason to stay a moment longer and enjoy the surroundings. It brings health and wellbeing benefits that come with spending time in green spaces, including improving air quality in the city.

It’s not all about looking beautiful: Love Square has a crucial practical purpose. In June 2007, the whole of the surrounding Riverside District of Sheffield suffered catastrophic flooding as a result of several days of torrential rain and the resulting excess runoff filling up the River Don to bursting point.

Research shows that one of the main factors contributing to the increased severity of urban flooding is the dominance by hard surfaces in typical built developments – roads, pavements, car parks and rooftops. All of these shed water during storms, and often there is nowhere for that water to go, or there is too much of it for the drainage system to cope.

Love Square’s rain garden is designed to provide essential urban “greening”; increased soil and vegetation coverage, able to soak up extra rainfall after a storm, helping to reduce the danger of flooding.

Researchers hope that Love Square will be a valuable training and learning resource with a strong legacy, enabling young people from many backgrounds to interact with, develop, make and maintain a new garden.

Love Square isn’t just for Sheffield. The team want to lead the way across the country so that the project can point the direction for a new way to transform cities and strengthen their resilience to future extreme weather.

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