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Urban Gardening - Greening Cityscapes

© Kat Morgenstern, March 2009, all rights reserved.

Life is no cherry picking these days, especially not for those thousands of people who have been hit hard by the ongoing economic crisis, who have lost their jobs or find themselves left with much less financial power in their pocket than what they have been used to.

First it was oil, now it is food - we are daily reminded of shortfalls in production and rising costs that make it harder and harder to feed a family. Our dependency on store bought products and the agro-industry raises a lot of questions regarding our freedom of choice and the fulfilment of basic human needs. Only a few generations ago our forefathers were still largely self-sufficient, producing most of what they needed on their own homesteads and farms. But the lure of modern conveniences and better paid jobs has lured many to the cities in search of a better life. Under the ever hailing banner of progress we have abandoned the land.

But now we are beginning to realize some of the drawbacks of living in urban environments. In many cities a house with a garden costs a fortune. Miniscule apartments are more the norm - a dilemma for those who want to regain some independence from the commercial food chain.

Yet, there is hope -- even in places like NY or LA or London it is possible to grow your own food. Urban garden allotments are part of most European cityscapes. They have played a vital role in providing city folks with their own little green oasis. They are utilized both, for recreation and for growing food. However, these plots are often hard to get, waiting lists are long and it is not that cheap to lease your own plot of land. Often there are restrictive by-laws and regulations devised by the organizations that manage such gardens. Sometimes neighbourly relations are not so great, as different people have very different ideas of gardening and some people mind their neighbours approach. But still, at least this traditional form of urban gardening has managed to survive into the 21st century, which, considering the pressure from city developers they are often faced with is a feat in itself.

But in recent years a new and alternative form of gardening has sprouted on abandoned lots of many city-scapes in the US, UK and Germany, an altogether more communally minded initiative - the idea of community gardens. These can be legal - if the land has been donated, or illegal, if gardeners basically pursue the pleasure of gardening in an unauthorized manner by simply starting to green some forgotten corner of the city. Sometimes such guerrilla gardens are tolerated for years - until one day developers move in and bulldoze the plots to make way for a new mall or parking lot. But, while it lasts, such initiatives grow more than just food - they bring inspiration and a sense of cooperation to communities. Research has shown that especially in deprived neighbourhoods the social benefits of such gardens should be reason enough for a city or land owner to legalize the projects: community gardening helps to create social networks and lowers crime rates. It brings people together in an effort to provide for themselves and to beautify the neighbourhood. All of a sudden people start talking to each other and start sharing their lives - helping each other, swapping seeds and the fruits of their labour and taking pride in their joint efforts.

Guerilla Gardening

There are some people who take urban gardening even further. To them, a plot of abandoned land is a scar on the face of mother earth waiting to be healed. And in an effort to beautify the urban landscape they go on 'digs' to plant a bit of colour in a forgotten plot or throwing seed bombs. Such initiatives are good natured, but are not necessarily regarded benevolently by authorities. However, surprisingly a lot of 'ordinary people' really like the idea and covertly or openly support the green guerrillas - and afterall, who doesn't appreciate a beautified and greened up urban landscape?

There are many ways to become active and join a local network of urban gardeners. The rewards are more than just a little bit of regained independence from the food industry squeeze - you will not only discover a whole new network in your neighbourhood and meet new friends, but also know that you are part of creating an oasis in the urban concrete desert landscape.


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