December 13th, 2009
When the curators of the 2009 Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale began assembling exhibits for the urbanism and architecture showcase, they decided to focus on the theme of sustainability. It turns out that most of the artists, architects and designers who answered their call for submissions had the same idea.
“It’s almost a zeitgeist,” says Eric Schuldenfrei, one of the biennale’s four curators. “When you ask people for new work, the dialogue with nature is very strong. It might be subtle, but if you look for it, there is that element in almost every project in the biennale. It’s curated to an extent, but it’s also what everyone was already working on.”
Sustainability might be a buzzword, but the philosophy behind it goes far beyond a bit of greenery here and there. A scan of the biennale’s lengthy roster of exhibitions, installations, lectures and events shows a preoccupation with the question of how to reduce Hong Kong’s impact on the environment and bring city-dwellers back into contact with nature.
November 28th, 2007
Public space isn’t supposed to poison you. Last year, though, hundreds of Montrealers discovered that their community garden plots were contaminated with lead and arsenic. In some sections of the Plateau Mont-Royal’s Baldwin Garden, located on the site of an old quarry, lead levels were found to be nearly 1,000 times higher than the acceptable limit.
Cleaning the gardens has been a slow process. This past summer, 18 were declared off-limits to vegetable growers. It’s a hard blow for a city that prides itself on having one of the largest and most comprehensive networks of community gardens in North America, with more than 8,200 allotments in 98 gardens – used by as many as 15,000 people – scattered across the island.
Montreal’s city-wide garden program was launched in the 1970s, but after a thirty-year increase, the number of people who use it seems to have levelled off. Now, faced with the spectre of soil contamination, some are looking outside the box – or the garden plot, you could say – for more innovative and adaptable approaches to community gardening.
On a sunny and unseasonably warm October day, McGill University architecture professor Vikram Bhatt takes me to see one of those innovations: the Edible Campus, a small but highly-functional container garden installed on a concrete terrace at McGill’s downtown campus. In a few dozen plastic containers, spread over no more than 1,000 square feet, enough tomatoes, ground cherries, herbs and other fruits and veggies are grown to supply a full third of the food needed by Santropol Roulant, a local meals-on-wheels service.
“It has become so natural,” says Bhatt. “You couldn’t imagine that this was not here before. People hang around, walk through it, people sit on the steps [nearby]. It attracts more people around the area and it’s become a very attractive corner.”
Since it opened last spring, the Edible Campus has given a real sense of place to what was previously an empty space. Put a bunch of plants in some boxes on a concrete tarmac, it seems, and you’ll not only grow a large volume of healthy fruits and vegetables, you will create a spot where people can meet, mingle and interact with food they might otherwise find, processed and packaged, on supermarket shelves.
June 6th, 2007
Santropol’s old rooftop container garden. Photo by Jack Sanford
Is it possible to eat a university? A group of environmental activists, volunteers and McGill University researchers want you to think so. Last week, they launched the Edible Campus, a container garden located at the school’s campus in downtown Montreal.
Operated by Alternatives, a social and environmental advocacy group based in the McGill Ghetto, the garden will supply up to one-third of the food needed to feed Santropol Roulant’s meals-on-wheels program. At the same time, it will provide an opportunity for researchers from McGill’s Edible Landscapes Project to study the effectiveness of container gardening as a tool for urban food production.
“Gardens are not just a leisure activity,” said Dr. Vikram Bhatt, a professor in the school of architecture and the director of the Minimum Cost Housing Group, which runs Edible Landscapes. “They play a profound role in the lives of the elderly, immigrants and people who are just lonely.”