environment lifestyle transition towns

The citizen gardeners re-greening Paris

facade-vegetalisee-branlyThis summer the authorities in Paris hatched an imaginative new scheme. The city doesn’t have the ‘lungs’ that some other cities have, such as Central Park in New York or the royal parks in London, and its problems with traffic and air pollution are well known. Faced with the challenge of inadequate green space, they have turned to the citizens of Paris with an invitation to green up their city – or ‘végétalisons la ville‘ as the French has it.

Anyone will be able to apply to become a ‘gardener of Parisian public space’, receiving a permit and a starter pack of seeds and materials. The aim is to create urban gardens, green roofs, mini orchards, keyhole gardens, living walls, and whatever else people come up with, adding up to a total of 100 hectares of new greenery by 2020. In return for permission, citizen gardeners agree to avoid chemicals, and grow pollinator friendly plants.

What’s nice about this is that it addresses the usual concerns of those who would happily go out and garden their streets – is it legal? Do the council approve? If you do go and plant something without permission, will it just get dug up again? Many people, especially those in cities who don’t have their own gardens, would happily care for a tree pit or a planter on their street, but lines of responsibility aren’t clear. You can try and notify the council of what you’re doing, but there’s no mechanism for that. Or you can take your chances as a guerilla gardener, and hope your plants aren’t dug up as weeds when the council do their rounds. Paris is legitimising citizen gardening, and sending a clear message: ‘gardening in the streets of Paris, that’s allowed!’ says the headline on the council’s website.

By granting permits, the council gets all the necessary information on who will be responsible for a plot. The permits have to be renewed after three years, so there will be a degree of monitoring. With those safeguards, it’s over to Parisians to do what they like. The council invites “any and all forms of urban gardening”, including “aeroponics, aquaponics, hydroponics, permaculture, orchards, mushroom cultivation, above or below ground, edible walls, vegetable roofs, climbing and descending plants, sedum terrace installations…”

It’s a great idea. As an occasional and sometimes thwarted guerilla gardener myself, I’d value a scheme like this in Luton – another city with below average green space. As well as greening the area and making streets more attractive and biodiverse, the initiative would also build community and sense of place. It would give people a role in public space, enhancing a sense of ownership and pride. How about it Luton Borough Council?

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