The green city?

Last weekend was a big date for the German urban gardening scene – the third nation-wide urban gardening meeting took place. And it was a big day for me particularly, as me and my urban gardening team in Nuremberg had the honour to host this big event. We had about 80 guests from more than 40 different garden projects. The atmosphere was fantastic and it was a great opportunity to get a boost of motivation for the work we do. I’d like to take that chance to tell you a bit about urban gardening, what it is and why it is so important.

Urban gardening summarizes a phenomenon, which in this particular form developed around the 70ies in big US-cities and at some point came over to Europe. Of course gardens have practically always been to some extant part of the cities, but those gardens were rather different as they weren’t necessarily for subsistence purposes nor where they solely aesthetic. It describes gardens that are located in urban areas and usually initiated by a neighbourhood. Usually people grow their own vegetables and fruit there – and one aspect is indeed to grow your own food. But those gardens are often taken care of by people, who don’t depend on the food. There reasons for gardening in the city are different. When speaking about urban gardening though one have to always keep in mind that all projects, all engaging individuals are different…

From my experience – and I have been engaging in that topic for around four years now – the reason why people spent their time gardening in the city is for instance the wish, to be part of a community again, to break out of the anonymity of the big cities. We want to do something that makes sense, something creative and create something. We grow their own food in order to see how this works – and where those vegetables in the supermarkets come from. It is also about appreciating food more again. And I can tell you, that’s what happens if you see your food growing from a tiny seed to a vegetable. And when you see how much effort that takes. We want to know what we eat, because we grow it ourselves, usually all organic because we don’t want to eat poison.

Reclaim the city

But for me urban gardening goes much further. It is about the question, who owns the city. Most urban gardens are on so called wastelands. Forgotten parts in the city that up until then no one cared about. So those gardens often have to be very creative – as for instance they cannot plant in the ground because it is ceiled by asphalt or contaminated from former industrial use. So we plant in anything we can find, boxes and sacks, often recycling other materials, which is also quite important for many projects. Urban gardening tries to stand against commercializing every bit of our lives, pulling power back into our hands. We want a greener city – so we make the city greener ourselves. We want fresh, healthy food – so we grow it ourselves. We want to teach the kids in our communities about the environment, all the life-cycles and which part insects play in it – so we create the places where this is possible. We want to create the city to our liking. So we reclaim it, we go on empty surfaces and start there something great. Urban gardens are fields for experimentation. When I look in our garden it’s crazy how many people came there in order to realize the ideas that they have had for ages. Or they come up with something new and just try it out.

Investments and gentrification

Cities, often particular areas, are hotly contested spaces. Nowadays everyone who lives in a bigger city has at least heard of gentrification. Investments on the housing market often end in skyrocketing housing costs – slowly pushing away long residing, low-income residents. So occupying wasteland and do gardening on it is – or often becomes – a political statement. Keeping the city and its spaces for those, for whom it should be – the people, who live in it. And that often is not that easy. Many projects – mine in Nuremberg too – are not considered long-term solutions for the areas they are at. And they are expected to move, as soon as someone plans to do something profitable with the ground. Built a new shopping centre for instance or – especially in gentrified areas – luxury homes for wealthy folks. And the gardens then need to go. The real dilemma is though, that those community gardens often even fuel gentrification-processes, because they are not rarely initiated by “pioneers” such as artists, students and young intellectuals. And they then in reverse make the area more attractive.

Colourful tomatoes

We as urban gardeners also try to contribute to and safe biodiversity. Due to insane EU seed-regulations, profitmaking, convenience and seed-monopolies of firms like Monsanto the amount of different kinds of, lets say, tomatoes that are sold in the supermarket is as low as maybe five. But there are far more than 8000 kinds of tomatoes! And the ones you find in the stores are often not there because they would taste so great – it’s usually the kinds you can easily grow industrially in huge masses with thick skins so that they are good to transport. I must say I have never had an as incredibly tasty tomato from the store as the ones we grow in our garden.

I could fill pages about why it is an awesome idea to start a community garden in your neighbourhood if you’re playing with that thought. You will simply learn so much, about food, about politics in the city, about group-processes and about yourself. But I will stop here and hopefully have the pictures do the rest, in case you’re not convinced yet 😉

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