Urban gardening in Berlin: contributions to city quality

Guerilla Gardening: triggered reactions

by Hans Pul

Although it is still freezing (at least here in Berlin), it is the time of the year for starting planning and planting this year’s vegetables. Around this time of the year, you can start planting carrots, spinach, lettuce, and radish. Depending on the location of your gardening efforts, this can contribute to the livability of your neighbourhood. Especially relevant in municipalities struggling with shrinking budgets, more and more residents make efforts to greenify, beautify and diversify public space through gardening. Not only can urban gardening contribute to city quality, it’s also a lot of fun. As an unexpected intervention in urban space, guerilla gardening surprises and triggers reactions from the public. The video above nicely captures that.

In this blogpost I will present some examples of urban gardening in Berlin that contribute to urban quality.

Prinzessinnengarten: gardening

As a first example, Prinzessinnengarten is a neighbourhood gardening project, located on a formerly empty plot at Moritzplatz. Currently, over 1200 people have been involved in gardening in Prinzessinnengarten. The project proves that resident efforts have the potential of beautifying urban space, transforming concrete plots into a neighbourhood meeting point with park-like qualities.  The Prinzessinnengarten project was initiated by neighbourhood residents, which highlights the important role citizen initiatives can have for urban green spaces, similar to the crucial role this played in the development of  New York’s High Line.

The garden is open to the public and attracts thousands of visitors yearly, as well as massive media exposure, nationally and internationally. Prinzessinnengarten features a garden café (see picture) and a small fruits and vegetables market, whose revenues support the garden. The project runs without financial support of the local government. As such, this bottom-up initiative is also sustainable financially, an often overlooked aspect of sustainability.

Prinzessinnengarten Cafe

Probably the most interesting aspect of the Prinzessinnengarten is the social function for the neighbourhood. The garden functions as a meeting point, a playing ground, a place to have a coffee or a beer. Urban gardening has the potential to get people in contact, that otherwise have little in common. The shared interest brings together gardening enthusiasts, hobby cooks, urban interventionists, migrant mothers, and creative industry hipsters. As such, it can contribute to neighbourhood liveability and possibly even to a sense of belonging and neighbourhood identity.

Although gardening projects can and do bring people together, this is not always the case, as projects can also be organised as loose networks. In a guerrilla gardening project on an other location in Kreuzberg a vegetable garden was managed through a scheme tracking watering and weeding activities. Interestingly, some of these participants supported their shared garden, although they hadn’t even met each other, but only knew each other through the watering scheme.

Frisch vom Dach

Other urban gardening projects focus on local food production. “Frisch vom Dach” (“fresh from the roof”) aims to use under-used roof tops for urban agriculture purposes, starting at Malzfabrik. The initiators of  Frisch vom Dach argue that the local production of vegetables and fruits can improve the sustainability of cities, as it reduces transportation costs and its environmental impact. They present their project here. As a side note: the city of San Francisco recognized these positive aspects of urban gardening and legitimized urban farming last year, allowing gardeners to sell their products on site.

Cookbook "Kreuzberg kocht"

Importantly, urban gardening is not an isolated urban function, but can increase a city’s livability through spin-off projects as well. In the case of “Ton, Steine, Gärten” at Mariannenplatz in Kreuzberg this includes a fruits and vegetables market, as well as a neighbourhood cookbook with recipes from residents titled “Kreuzberg cooks: portraits, interviews, recipes” (see picture). These activities are aimed at increasing food and sustainability awareness among urban residents.

The success of bottom-up projects like Ton, Steine, Gärten and Prinzessinnengarten triggered the Berlin government to dedicate parts of Tempelhofer Freiheit for urban gardening. Tempelhofer Freiheit is a park located on the area of former airport Tempelhof, and was opened in 2010. Although more top-down, the project stimulates residents to actively shape and organise their gardens themselves. The city, in other words, provides the framework but leaves space for input of city residents. Interestingly, the three “pioneer fields” of the project have been “filled in” differently by residents. On pioneer field 2 (bordering Neukölln’s Oderstrasse) a wide variety of gardens was created by residents, as can be seen in the above video (more here; in German).

Back to bottom-up: What are your urban gardening plans for 2012? Which flowers, vegetables or fruits have you planted, or are you planning to plant? And where; in your private garden, on the streets, in a neighbourhood garden or simply on your balcony?

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