Talking the walk


I really have been making a more concerted effort in the last week or so to start using social media properly to publicise my sustainability and landscape architecture work. I have sorted out my linked in, tweeted at least a bit, and look, am I not thus blogging?

I am not, however, fooling myself that any of these actually count as ‘doing’ something : although it may turn out in the end to have been economically useful all along, I am not paid by the word (or even, at all) and although I am consuming energy, I am not producing anything, apart from maybe some amusement, and some CO2 emissions.

Because of my current work I have been reading a lot around permaculture, urban food growing, sustainability, transition movement, food education, etc. and initially, it looks like there’s quite a buzz going on in the UK, and definitely in the uber-something bit of NE London where I am.  City Farmers, City Leaf, Capital Growth, Project Dirt, Community Gardens, Growing Communities, Organic Lea, Food from The Sky, it’s all apparently going on.

I worry, though, about the sustainability of these projects : when the buzz has gone, and the inputs of funding and time of the highly-trained and committed visionary professionals I keep meeting at projects are gone, can these places carry on developing?

For example, food from the sky is an amazing project : the roof of a supermarket in north london has been transformed into a food growing garden.They got 300 old plastic recycling boxes, and craneloads of earth up on to the roof, and the community are there in their free time cultivating veg that can be sold in the supermarket below. I like this project, and am inspired by the vision and energy of the people who have made it happen, but I wish it was more sustainable, in terms of working with the natural systems which are the basis of life on earth. A plastic box on a roof is fine for a year or two, but is too small and too isolated to ever become part of the earth’s ecosystem. Now there are no snails, but they will come, and so will vine weevils and other pests : they can be controlled organically, with inputs of labour, nematodes, compost etc, but it all seems a bit, well, extra.

What puzzles me is why they ignored all the unused land that lies all around us : housing estates are wastelands of grass, which seems to function only to be mowed and display dog poo. Historically social housing providers have been very protective of these spaces : making clear that the grass is not to be played on, but to be preserved, perhaps for the  imaginary family stroll and picnic that was pictured in the original architects’ visualisations all those years ago.

Land like this is much more likely to be built on than to be used to grow food. This guy Mikey Tomkins  has done some interesting academic work around Hackney and Southwark, about exactly how much food could be produced by  using the capital’s vacant spaces :  http://edibleurban.co.uk/.

Anyway : as Build and Blossom, we are currently in the process of trying to convert shrub areas in the Pembury Peabody Estate to food production using permaculture principles. We are working slowly with Peabody, climbing over hurdles as they come up, keeping our patience, and refusing to let go of our vision of taking back the land from the corporations and authorities. I see it, perhaps grandiosely, as a reversal of the enclosure acts, whereby the peasants were kicked off the land by the government aristocrats, and herded into the cities to provide near-slave labour for the industrial revolution.

This land is ours : get yer seeds out!

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