How greening small spaces can strengthen community roots.
Story by Jackie Wallace
Under its postcard-perfect veneer in the shadow of the Peace Tower
and beyond the grind of government, Ottawa has the largest agricultural
economy of any major city in Canada. But that does not necessarily
translate into the city capitalizing on its potential for urban agriculture.
As a city said to be on the cusp of a boom, Ottawa needs to move forward
under planning policies that make the best use of its existing urban
space to benefit its citizens.
For an urban centre, Ottawa is an oasis of green space. The city and
the National Capital Commission maintain parks, pathways, an arboretum
and an experimental
farm. But by reserving small, undeveloped spaces to be used for
community gardens in the city’s urban core its citizens can gain
more than just recreational areas, but places that socially integrate
and, literally, feed the community.
BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
In her groundbreaking book, The
Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs views cities
as ecosystems comprised of two working parts: one created by nature and
one created by human beings. She sees this model as abiding by the same
laws as any other ecosystem, requiring diversity to sustain itself. According
to Jacobs, the “more niches for diversity of life and livelihoods
in either kind of ecosystem, the greater its carrying capacity for life.” She
continues to note that “many small and obscure components — easily
overlooked by superficial observation — can be vital to the whole,
far out of proportion to their own tininess of scale.”
|“There is always space if you want
it... You don’t need to have a large spot; you just need
to be creative.”
Ottawa Community Garden Network
This is how Steve McFadden, coordinator of the Ottawa Community Garden
Network, sees the nooks and crannies on of the streets of Ottawa. “There
is always space if you want it,” he says. “You don’t
need to have a large spot; you just need to be creative.”
According to McFadden, community gardening is relatively new in Ottawa.
The network was formed, and began receiving funding, in 2000. Since that
time, 19 community gardens, which vary from two to 350 plots, have been
established. Some are on city-owned land, such as community centres,
and some are on private land, such as churches. As the city has no official
policy in place concerning community gardens, each garden is autonomous
and its community responsible for finding ways to maintain and fund itself,
while the network acts as an advocate and facilitator on their behalf.
|Community gardens encourage an urban community’s
The city’s community gardens are as diverse as its communities
of gardeners. Some choose to solely grow flowers, others are nurtured
communally and their bounty shared, some have individual plots for
personal use, while others are equipped with raised beds for disabled
Community gardens encourage an urban community’s food security,
allowing citizens to grow their own food or for others to donate what
they have grown. The gardens also combat two forms of alienation that
plague modern urban life, by bringing urban gardeners closer in touch
with the source of their food, and by breaking down isolation by creating
a social community. McFadden also posits that active communities experience
less crime and vandalism.
PEOPLE VERSUS DEVELOPMENT
As the City of Ottawa moves forward, community gardens should be standardized
and development policy should not only create and protect green space,
but specifically include gardens. McFadden sees Montréal as
a glowing example that he hopes Ottawa might look to follow.
|Development policy should not only create
and protect green space, but specifically include gardens.
“The island of Montréal is one of the most densely populated
and concentrated urban centers in the country,” he says. “Yet
there are 200 community gardens on the island.” An example of
one policy which he sees having worked there is for land owners to
receive tax breaks for donating land to be used for community gardens.
”It’s the will of the people versus development,” says McFadden. “I
like to think that ultimately it is the voice of the community that makes the difference.”