Is Urban Gardening Providing a Way Out of the Dilemma of Climate Change in Cities?

By Kristin Sander.

The global temperature rises of more than 0.9 degrees since the last 19th century, the five warmest years on record where taking place since 2010 (NASA 2017), the ocean is showing warming about 0,15 Celsius since 1969 (Levitus 2009), between 1993 and 2016 the Greenland ice sheets lost 281 billion tons of ice sheet per year (NASA 2018), all over the world the glaciers in the mountains are retreating, in the last century the global sea level rose about 20 centimetres (Church 2006), the number of intense rainfall events has increased over the last years and in the oceans the acid contents has increased by about 30 percent (National Academic Press 2016). The characteristics of the climate change are more significant than years before.

The exhibition Collapse – human being in an unpredictable world addresses the situation of nature disrupting our world. Sometimes nature is challenging us to see and experience the world from a different perspective. This is what happens in Collapse. The exhibition focuses on three different types of groups at various times who had to control nature in a new way. First, the exhibition invites the visitors to discover the world of pioneers which explored the Oslo fjord after the ice sheets melted. An animated map provides information about the change of the Norwegian coastline during the ice time and shows that within 300 years, the entire Norwegian coastline was occupied (picture 1). Furthermore the newcomers from the east and west brought new and more efficient tools which were better adapted to the new living environment.

The second part "Tapu" is about a world where gods hold the keys to life. On the one hand the gods can improve one life’s, but on the other hand they can also destroy it. The part about the urban pioneers concerns the question if our current lifestyle is affecting the climate and if it is only a matter of time until the earth will be unsuitable for human habitations. The third part of the exhibition “Kollaps” is about urban gardening and presents specific examples how inhabitants of cities nowadays are discovering different ways of growing food in urban areas. But it's not only about growing food, it's about "rethinking our relationship with the natural environment, about strengthening communities, and about how past traditions can be combined with modern technology to find solutions to the problems that face us today" (exhibition scoreboard).

These days more than 30 percent of the population lives in the city and moving into the city continues to grow in popularity with each passing year. In the next thirty years it stipulates to increase up to 60 percent. But the people living in the city started rethinking their understanding of urbanization. They started to understand the ecological system and their influence on it in a new way (Grimm, 2000). There is a clear parallel between urbanization and global change. Even though cities constitute only a two percent of the surface of the earth, they produces more than three-quarters of the greenhouse effect. People from all over the world, whether they are living in developed or developing country, in small or big cities are trying to understand their place of the urban ecological system. An ecosystem is the „piece of earth of any size that contains interacting biotic and abiotic elements and that interacts with its surroundings“ (Grimm, 2000). This system also includes the humans.

In the last years some people have paid attention to the potential of green spaces in the city. They started urban gardening. A project to improve the negative effects of the climate change in urban areas. Even if it can't replace the nature it provides physical and social benefits for the urban ecosystem (Demuzere 2014). One of the physical profit is the positive effect on the CO2. The plants are removing the CO2 through photosynthesis during the day and are releasing it at night by respiration. Furthermore it can be a thermal comfort and reduces the energy use. The urban gardening projects can provide shade and as a result it can reduce the air and surface temperature. Furthermore a green roof reflects more sunlight and can cool a building in summer and can heat it in winter. Moreover it can reduce problem with flooding and can improve the water quality (Demuzere 2014). The physical benefits impact health benefits as well, as people are being more active by traveling healthier. They are going for a walk or taking their bike whereby the carbon emission decreases. Besides the mentioned physical benefits, urban gardening provides social advantages. People engaging in urban gardening projects are starting to share their small gardens on the rooftop with their neighbours. Also they are starting community gardening (Grimm 2000).

The exhibition offers an open access to the topic by providing an introduction to various types of urban gardening. It invites the visitor to discover the world of urban gardening by reading books or watching short videos of people who have tried growing food in their own apartment in the middle of New York. The reader’s corner is made of wooden pallets which corresponds to the theme of doing something yourself. Furthermore a wheelbarrow with books instead of soil in it links the topics of gardening and educating about this modern topic.

There are already people all over the world, who try this popular topic of urban gardening. One example presented in the exhibition is Ron Finley from Los Angeles, known as "The Guerilla Gardener." He got tired of driving an hour to get his vegetables and started attending a gardening class instead. Subsequently, he started planting a garden on the sidewalk next to his house. Over time, he got his neighbours involved. Nowadays Finley’s garden domiciled different types of trees, like an orange tree, an apple tree, herbs, such as rosemary, mint or fennel and various types of vegetables. His aim is to spread his project of "Guerilla Gardening" all over the world. Therefore he took an important first step by teaching children about fruits and vegetables and where it comes from. Picking their own vegetables is a significant event for the kids, as one girl said after learning urban gardening from Finley, "I know our food is real, because I see us picking up the food here."

On the other side of the US there is Britta Riley who started the "window farm moving" in 2008. In Brooklyn she had no garden and started making an own greenhouse in her windows by using disposed bottles. She posted her instructions on the Internet and people started commenting and responding her idea. From all over the world ingenious, architects, designers, analysts and more shared their knowledge about urban farming. As an example a student from Australia drew a floor plan on how to lift the air up. The "window farm moving" is a specific example how new technology and the Internet has been used to share knowledge about urban gardening. They ended up with three different versions of window farming.

In Kibera, the second largest slum of Africa, the people started urban gardening for a different reason. Nairobi has a fast rising population and more people are moving to the city in the hope of a better life. But more than half of the inhabitants are unemployed and live in severe poverty. The Kibera Community Empowerment Organisation supports urban gardening. It provides the inhabitants access to fresh food like vegetables and fruits. Apart from the good food, it brings money and life to the city Kibera. Their kind of urban gardening consists primarily of sacks. These sacks are filled with soil, stones or drug to release the water. Sometimes it's even only dirt in the sack, because soil is hard to obtain. The inhabitants of Kibera are poking holes in these sacks to plant their vegetables. They developed a specific technique to make the most of it.

The different stories shows that it is possible to grow food even in urban areas. But therefore we have to understand how living things work together. Nature is made up of various ecosystems. The human is a part of this ecosystem as well. And we have to recognize the advantage a city can offer. In order to build a sustainable future, inhabitants of cities have to help each other, they have to share their knowledge and to use new forms of technology. It isn’t possible to stop the global temperature rise from today or to establish the ice sheets again. The climate change can’t be reversed but we can improve it by doing projects as urban gardening.


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