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This is a great video from the ABC about how Perth city intends to install more pop-up gardens, green walls & encourage community verge gardening to cool the city down. Michael Mobbs who is doing this with his community in Chippendale Sydney & with the support of Sydney of Sydney Council (see – http://bit.ly/NJ6cpz) went over to Western Australia to advise on how to do this to City of Perth Council.
The video explains simply & in a nutshell why we need to green our streets & will likely enthuse you if you have been considering doing something with your own verge.
I believe that the more streets that are transformed, the happier the community in those streets will be. Verge gardening helps connect you with your neighbours & the wider community. It provides cheap food if you grow veggies & herbs & also beauty softening the landscape. It also cools the streets down saving money on cooling bills.
You can watch the video here – 6.5 minutes – http://bit.ly/LFkt89
The following is from a letter to residents from Lord Mayor Clover Moore, dated 27th January 2011.
“The City of Sydney has chosen Myrtle Street, & surrounding areas in Chippendale, as a trial site for how to create a ‘sustainable street’.
The aim of this six month project is to showcase the significant sustainable living features already established in parts of Chippendale and to develop and implement plans for further improvements.
We are looking at:
- Cooling the suburb (for example, by using different construction methods and materials in our roads, footways and buildings materials and also increasing tree canopy coverage);
- Reducing energy costs;
- Introducing more efficient street and footway lighting;
- Harvesting rainwater;
- Establishing additional road and verge gardens;
- Increasing the use of car share arrangements;
- Providing improved access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists;
- Creating streets, parks and buildings which cost less to build and maintain; and
- Growing more local food and increasing biodiversity.
We are working closely with local sustainability expert Michael Mobbs. The project will give people the opportunity to tour Michael’s ‘Sustainable House’ and see first hand how for 14 years he has used rain water, recycled treated sewage, harvested the sun’s energy to achieve energy and water bills of less than $300 a year.
This sustainable project will guide our plans to construct new kerbs, pram ramps and gardens at the Myrtle Street and City Road intersection.
I hope this exciting opportunity can lead to similar projects in other suburbs.”
Change is coming! Perhaps one day, all the sustainable living features listed above will be the norm in Marrickville LGA & across Sydney. I will post about any updates when they come.
Last August 2010 I wrote about Michael Mobbs, an Environment Architect well known for his sustainable house at Chippendale. He encouraged his neighbours to transform the verges outside their houses into sustainable gardens in at least 4 Chippendale streets. This is quite an achievement & has been very successful.
The bustling verges are immediately noticeable when you drive off Cleveland Street into the streets that are part of this project. The verges make these inner city streets look peaceful & it’s far nicer than looking at concrete or strips of lawn.
City of Sydney Council has come on board by openly supporting the project, supplying funds & signage, removing concrete & allowing some of Peace Park to be used. They may have even supplied the compost bins located on street corners & in the small park. Fruit trees have been espaliered along one side of Peace Park creating an eatable fence. It looks great & allows 4 fruit trees to grow without taking valuable space from the park.
There are vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, bay trees, wild raspberry, daisies, Grevilleas, succulents, native grasses & many other plants. There may even be potatoes growing under a couple of car tyres. Some of the plants are labeled with home-made signs making the walk just a little more interesting for people like me who can’t identify every plant they see.
I spoke to a couple of people who noticed I was taking photos & they were very proud of what has been achieved. Most of the small front gardens were also well looked after & many cuttings have migrated to the verge. The sheer variety of plants makes it look interesting. The street trees that were once encased in concrete are now sitting in the middle of well-watered composted gardens & would be wondering at their luck.
According to the signs, you can, “Pick any fruit, berry or leaf that you want to eat. These plants provided by local residents for anyone. We need to grow food where we live & work.” How lovely to see such generosity. Anyone who has grown vegetables & fruit will know that unless you bottle everything, there is generally more than you can eat when a crop ripens so sharing makes sense.
Using the verges to grow vegetables, fruit & other plants has many benefits.
- Removing concrete allows stormwater to go into the ground & this serves to keep your foundations more stable & stop movement & cracking walls. It also stops pollution entering stormwater drains.
- The immediate environment gets greener & this has proven to make people feel happier.
- Producing food cuts down grocery bills & gives people a huge sense of satisfaction.
- It also teaches children that vegetables don’t come out of clear plastic bags & that they need to take care of the earth & the environment. Most kids like gardening if they don’t have to work too hard or for too long.
- Add the concept of sharing to everyone like this community has done would have an accumulative benefit that spreads outwards into the greater society.
- Projects like this one bring people out of their homes & allow them to get to know each other in a non-threatening way. A close community is a safer community.
- As the soil gets richer & the plants start to grow & produce people would feel as though they are a part of something that improves the environment & helps each other.
- Verge gardening encourages innovative thinking in that there isn’t much land to use so people have to think of ways to maximize the space.
- It also beautifies & cools the area & creates community pride.
A few months ago, the then Mayor Sam Iskandar wrote in the Inner West Courier that he hoped many people would start verge gardens in Marrickville LGA. He said Council would help them by removing concrete in suitable places if they applied. We have a new Mayor now, but I’m confident that Fiona Byrne who is a member of Marrickville Greens also encourages verge gardens.
The September 2010 Eco Edition of Marrickville Matters said Council was starting up Groundwork, a grassroots sustainability project where people will be taught various gardening techniques & “designing, installing & maintaining gardens – especially non-traditional ones like on verges & roofs.” This would certainly be something good to be involved with.
If you look there are many, many verges around Marrickville LGA where verge gardens would be suitable. From experience, you only need to start doing it to garner the interest of your neighbours & it is nice to have that bit of extra land to play with. If we all did it, Marrickville Council could save up to $2 million a year in verge mowing costs. That money could be used for other things such as street tree planting, which is another way we can benefit.
I last wrote about Michael here – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/verge-gardens/
The Good Weekend 21st August 2010 there was an article called The Enriched List. Michael Mobbs was first up in a list of 14 people on The Enriched List & described as a ‘Sustainability Advocate.’ I really like his work & ideas for living in an urban environment.
Michael Mobbs was given a whole page photo leaning against a bale of hay, holding a chicken with rootstock sitting on a sandstone wall behind him. First impression anyone who didn’t know of his work would have is he is a farmer, not an Inner City resident of Sydney standing in his own small terrace garden.
The article goes on to say Michael, an ex-lawyer, has had an interest in sustainable design for more than 20 years & is a consultant on sustainable food, water & energy projects for residential & commercial sectors.
Michael transformed his Inner City house 15 years ago. He uses solar power & collects rainwater from his roof to wash clothes, flush the toilet & water the garden. He keeps bees & also started a community verge garden in 2008 for food production. His neighbours participate in this.
They have 13 compost bins out on the street that are used by locals as well as other people in nearby suburbs. The compost bins – each turn 3 tonnes of food waste a year into 1 tonne of soil (& he says, remove an estimated tonne of carbon out of the air). The public garden has had huge support from residents & has led to Sydney City Council & other local councils changing their policies to support growing food & composting in the streets.
The residents at Wilga Street Dulwich Hill have a community garden on their verges. Their compost bin collects food waste from Oz Harvest & some of the local restaurants. It hasn’t been going for long, but already there are vegetables growing & passion fruit climbing a power pole.
I am not aware of many public community gardens across Marrickville LGA though I do know one is in the process of being set up in Denison Road Dulwich Hill. Council recently said there is no room for one in Marrickville South.
Marrickville Council spends around $2 million a year mowing the verges across the LGA. Many of the verges are unkempt areas with dumped rubbish, only looking good a fortnight after the mowing.
North Sydney Council stopped mowing the verges last year hoping that the residents would take over & mow their patch outside their house. It didn’t happen for the most part. Eight or so months later the grass was thigh-high forcing the Council to restart mowing services. Thing is, North Sydney Council stopped mowing to save money so they could have money to put in other areas to benefit the community.
I was surprised that the residents refused to mow the verge outside their house. Marrickville Council does ours, but often enough, my neighbour will do everyone’s if it starts to look scraggly. Another neighbour of mine used to mow the verges across the road as well, but he was exceptional.
Imagine if we decided the way Michael Mobbs is going is a good thing? Free land out on the verge, a place to grow flowers, plants & veggies. Compost bins to collect food, waste which will cut down on the weekly bin load & pay us back in free compost for our gardens.
People would meet & talk with each other on the street, friendships may occur, shopping bills are likely to be less because we are growing some of our food, our kids learn about food production & about taking pride in the neighbourhood & social responsibility.
Other benefits such as less Heat Island Effect as green & growing plants reduce the heat dramatically & with less heat, our cooling bills will drop. Less vandalism, probably less graffiti as this generally does not occur in pretty well-kept areas, activities for people to do, people deciding to walk because there are interesting things to see.
Perhaps traffic would be slower as I imagine that verge gardens would have similar effects, like street trees slow drivers down. Or maybe they will all drive at 40kpm because they want to have a look at the gardens…
This is probably not an exhaustive list of the benefits of verge gardens, but is what I was able to think up as I wrote. If these benefits are so easy to think up, then why aren’t more of us doing it? People do consider the space outside their house as theirs when it is convenient – my parking space, my street tree to get rid of if I choose for example, yet when it comes to taking care of it, we immediate abdicate to Council.
I’d like to think there would be many of us who would consider transforming the verge outside our house. If growing veggies is too much of a leap, then perhaps a few plants, especially low growing natives that do not need much care, can be pruned so they do not become a visibility issue for drivers & will serve as restaurants for birds.
We have done it & the amount of people who ask us how can they get Council to do the same for them is astounding. Everyone loves it & they think it has improved the neighbourhood. Some have said things like, “I always feel good walking past here.” Green spaces have that effect. Lawn or concrete doesn’t.
You can read the article about Michael Mobbs as well as view a 2 minute video here – http://www.smh.com.au/advertisers/enrichedlist/michael-mobbs/
The Enriched List of 14 people can be found at - http://www.smh.com.au/advertisers/enrichedlist/
Michael Mobb’s own website can be found at – http://sustainablehouse.com.au/