Andrew Grant, founding director of Bath-based landscape architecture practice Grant Associates, has a fascination with creative ecology in the design of sustainable cities, landscapes and public spaces. He explains his approach ahead of Forest of Imagination in Bath on 28–30 September

Bath is such a beautiful but frustrating place to live. It has a timeless elegance but wants to be contemporary. It has massive extremes of wealth and poverty but wants to be inclusive. It sees itself as international but is pretty parochial in its vision. Despite this there is absolutely nowhere like it in the world and I feel privileged to have called it my home for 30 years. At the same time, I believe serious changes are needed in the governance and attitude of the city leaders towards the community and the physical setting of this World Heritage Site. We are living in one of the most amazing cities on the planet, a jewel of Britain, full of ingenuity and creative ambitions for the future, and yet the city itself fails to project an image of contemporary imagination.

My work as a landscape architect has taken me across the world from Singapore to Sydney to Madrid to Doha to Bangalore and Madagascar. The projects I work on are often pioneering adventures in urban planning and design of which the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is probably the best known. In each of these projects the challenge is how to find the right balance between built form, landscape and ecology while creating new environments that are joyful, memorable, healthy and fit for the future. I always have Bath in mind when designing as it really is the ultimate landscape city where the marriage of landscape and architecture is in plain sight. However, it is not perfect and there is lot to be done to take this great city into the future, including recapturing the identity of Bath as an artistic, safe, accessible, child-friendly, biodiverse, welcoming and entertaining place.Forest of Imagination 2016 beside the Abbey

I started Grant Associates more than 20 years ago to explore a new way of planning and designing sustainable cities, landscapes and public spaces. During that time we have worked on a number of Bath projects including Wessex Water Operations Centre, University of Bath and, more recently, the planning and design of Bath Western Riverside. This last project has seen a whole network of green spaces and streets opening up this stretch of the river corridor as part of a wider strategy to reimagine the whole river corridor as a linear park through the city.

A big challenge for Bath is the ongoing battle between limiting change as opposed to opening up opportunities for more radical contemporary interventions. From my perspective I see a need, and real opportunities, for the creation of a truly contemporary landscape setting and public realm that is entirely complementary to the World Heritage Site built environment. This would include a bold and radical curation of contemporary public art throughout the city and its landscape alongside fewer cars, more walking, more cycling, more green, more water, more trees, more wetlands, more wildlife, more beauty and much more play.

“I always have Bath in mind when designing as it really is the ultimate landscape city where the marriage of landscape and architecture is in plain sight”

Late last year I was invited to take up the role of chair of the Bathscape Landscape Partnership which brings together a number of influential organisations concerned with conserving the whole landscape setting of Bath, all while making it more accessible and better appreciated by residents and visitors. We are waiting for the final decision from the Heritage Lottery Fund on whether the Bathscape bid for £1.8million is successful. If so, this will trigger a wide range of amazing projects across the whole of the Bathscape landscape over the next few years and we hope this will kickstart a transformation in the way the community of Bath engages with the incredible cultural and natural assets of this landscape city.

These projects fall into four main types: ‘Conserving and Restoring’ projects will look to improve the physical and ecological conditions of selected valuable grasslands and woodlands that form much of the setting alongside the management of key vistas and views. ‘The Therapeutic Landscape’ projects build on the therapeutic heritage of Bath through its hot springs and tranquil landscapes and focus on connecting people with the health and wellbeing potential of our local nature and greenspace. ‘Access’ projects will provide strategic improvements to the routes to and through the Bathscape area including the circular walk around the city and radial routes from the city centre. (Last year’s Bathscape Walking Festival highlighted the appetite for more walks around Bath and this year it will be taking place again from the 15– 23 September.) The ‘Learning and Training Skills’ projects will provide high-quality interpretive media of Bathscape alongside engagement projects for local people, schools and businesses to discover more about Bathscape or learn new skills to look after this amazing landscape.

I took on this role as I think it is really important for many more people to engage directly with our local environments and not take them for granted. I also believe we have a duty to be more aware of global issues and through working in collaboration with like-minded organisations and individuals we can make a huge difference.Forest of Imagination 2017 at Bushey Norwood, part of Bath’s Skyline Walk

Forest of Imagination is an example of the transformative power of creative collaboration. This annual pop-up project, now in its fifth year, has created a unique network of creative relationships across the city, binding schools, universities, creative industries, the council, local and international artists and the local community into delivering memorable and meaningful events in the city. ­­­­­­From 28–30 September, Forest of Imagination 2018 will transform Kingsmead Square and streets down to the River Avon, creating four unique Future Forest areas. The free three-day event, launching in partnership with Bath Children’s Literature Festival and hosted by Bath Spa University Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries, will see workshops, installations and sound sculptures, created with artists and businesses both local and international, providing a free creative experience for everyone in Bath and shining a light on the importance of nature in urban spaces.

For me, I absolutely love the way FoI transforms parts of the city in a surprising way, typically based around a strong environmental message. This year the focus is on the future and the regeneration of neglected urban spaces using nature and green and blue infrastructure to create new experiences for people and wildlife.

In 2016, we used Madagascar as a binding concept for the various installations and interventions around Bath Abbey. This was a way of signaling a need for us all to consider what is happening elsewhere in the world and especially those places at the forefront of environmental and social crisis. Through that, Grant Associates became aware of the work of Bristol Zoo in Madagascar and we since have assisted the zoo with fundraising and joined up with local Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios Architects and Buro Happold Engineers to help the zoo design and deliver a world-class research camp right in the heart of a fragment of forest to study and conserve the critically endangered Blue-Eyed Black Lemur.

When I set up Grant Associates 20 years ago the slogan for environmental action was ‘Think Global, Act Local’. I despair at how inadequate this philosophy has been in effecting real change at a global level and I truly believe we all have to step up and engage with the environmental challenges across the globe, wherever they occur. Today we should all ‘Act Global, Act Local’ and it is certainly my mission, and that of Grant Associates, to make a difference here in Bath while­­­­ trying to do something on the world stage.

• Bathscape Walking Festival, 15–23 September; bathscapewalkingfestival.co.uk

• Forest of Imagination, 28–30 September; forestofimagination.org.uk; grant-associates.uk.com

Featured image: Forest of Imagination 2017, with Andrew Grant and Penny Hay seated in the centre