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Wedged between a 400-series highway and a densly-populated co-operative housing neighbourhood, Strathcona Community Garden in Ottawa's central-east end makes the most of a small green space.

Urban preservation
How greening small spaces can strengthen community roots.
Story by Jackie Wallace



Learn more:
• The Canadian Atlas Online: Learn more about this region

External links:
• Cuba’s Second Revolution
• The Death and Life of Great American Cities
• Canadian Central Experimental Farm

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.


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BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER

“There is always space if you want it... You don’t need to have a large spot; you just need to be creative.”
- Steve McFadden,
Ottawa Community Garden Network
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.”

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.”

CREATIVE CULTIVATION

Community gardens encourage an urban community’s food security.
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.

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 gardeners.

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

Development policy should not only create and protect green space, but specifically include gardens.
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.

“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.”


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