Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Throughout the past decades, urban development followed a trend of controlling (and even removing) nature within urban settings. Roots of this trend can be found in post-WWII history, when food production in city centers was necessary for survival and through this is still connected with the notion of need and poverty. In addition, the mainstream ideal of controlling, shaping and standardizing nature has also led to less natural urban space for citizens to actively engage in, i.e. for education or plant growing. All of these factors have contributed to severe challenges that a majority of cities throughout Germany now face, both ecologically (due to decreasing biodiversity within urban settings) and socially (because of an increasing estrangement of citizens and nature as well as a lack of ownership of citizens towards public spaces). At the same time, public financing is increasingly restricted, as cities and communities live off tight budgets and on debt, a situation that proves to be a difficult starting-point to meet these challenges, which are growing along with the trend towards urbanization.
On the surface, the consequences described are not always visible, and thus the public problem awareness is low. However, when diving into the expert sphere of urban development and biodiversity, the picture is a different one. There are extensive studies on the effects of decreasing biodiversity in urban settings – changes in microclimate, quality of soil, loss of genetic variety in plants for natural resistance to name some – and on the positive effect of nature on (psychological) health and social development. Scientists even caution against what they call a “nature-deficit-disfunction” in the development of children growing up in urban settings.
The challenge is manifold, then. It lies in raising awareness for the problem on a broad scale as basis for transition, finding solutions that invite the broad public to participate in implementing them and to make economically feasible cases for cities without extra budgets. The future of urban development lies in meeting this challenge of shaping healthy cities with high life quality for their inhabitants – and establishing it as a collective responsibility.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
On the basis of her experience with urban greening projects garden and media, expert Heike Boomgaarden created the first holistic urban gardening concept, which is applicable on a city or district level, customized to local needs and restrictions and which involves both city administration as well as central stakeholders such as citizen groups for sustained impact and an overall change of urban greening culture.
Key to her approach, which has successfully been implemented within the award-winning “Essbare Stadt Andernach” (Edible Town Andernach) in Germany, is the idea of moving issues like biodiversity, soil improvement, permaculture and planting of edibles from a niche practice into the actual center of civic attention. She does so through systematically and sustainably reshaping public areas in city centers by developing and implementing planting concepts with regional, diversified and mostly edible plants. All are available for all citizens to harvest free of cost. The effect is manifold; due to actively involving a broad range of citizens and giving them responsibility, there is a rising understanding and a strengthened identification of citizens with sustainability related issues in their surroundings. Also, her work creates new low-barrier education opportunities and jobs around eco-human development and reaches a significant cost reduction for city administrations through the change in greening and caretaking concepts for public spaces – a key selling point to cities, which face ever more restricted budgets.
This way, Heike offers practical solutions for urban settings and enables them to follow a trend, whose time has come: the growing need for serious sustainable development on the one hand and citizen demand for cities with high quality of life on the other. Making use of her media background, Heike markets the implemented projects broadly – and successfully. This allows not only to position them as brand-building role model projects, but also sends the message that fundamental change is possible and attracts followers to come.