Urban Agriculture: growing food closer to the urban consumer
Prof A Church (School of the Environment)
Food is concrete: augmenting architecture through community food-gardening on inner London housing estates.
The French poet and artist Jean Cocteau (1927) once stated that all art is anonymous, in that authors are rarely present when people view their art. This is also true of the built environment, which is largely silent of architects’ voices, filled instead by the hubbub of the daily intervention of residents. The PhD explores one intervention – community food-gardening – as it is presently emerging within six inner London housing estates.
In a series of interviews, estate residents explicitly expressed frustration at the “blank”, “bleak”, “disused”, “neglected”, “barren”, “grey” and “derelict” landscapes surrounding their homes, voicing instead a desire to re-use them “productively” through food-gardening. However, the PhD argues that while food is enunciated as the primary concept, it is a set of primary practices, such as the construction of the self-built, food-producing landscape, the creation of shared social narratives and the interaction with natural resources that dominate.
Thus the gardeners should not be confined by the urban food discourse, exemplified within civic agriculture, which seeks to link consumers to food production by its (re)localisation. Rather, what needs to be explored is the re-linking of residents to architecture, landscape, and the planning of cities. As one resident put it, gardeners are “amateur architects”, augmenting the pre-planned architecture with a bricolage of seasonal, quotidian, and playful performances. This challenges formal architectural space and place through soil, the growing of food, and its social harvesting.
Using multi-site participant observation, semi-structured interviews and photography, the research throws new light into this overshadowed everyday food-gardening activity that often falls within the penumbra of the productive, economic and environmental “feeding cities” UA discourse. It confirms that self-grown food, within the built environment, is a primeval and emotional scream muffled by our current relentless food supply systems. Similarly, postwar Town and Country Planning Acts have muted the multiple narratives of play, knowledge, and self-building that are finally escaping, fuelled via this tiny, self-made harvest.http://www.mikeytomkins.co.uk/