Chang­ing the world one neigh­bour­hood at a time

David Suzuki and com­pany’s plan for their on­go­ing Home­grown Park projects

Midtown Post - - Daily Planet - DAVID SUZUKI David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy.

“Make no lit­tle plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and prob­a­bly will not them­selves be re­al­ized.” That was Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Daniel Burn­ham’s city­plan­ning ad­vice at the turn of the 20th century. More than 100 years later, he couldn’t be more wrong. Big, top-down build­ing projects no longer stir the imag­i­na­tions of North Amer­i­can city dwellers.

Small, cre­ative projects that make cities more liv­able are pop­ping up in un­ex­pected places: al­leys, front yards, va­cant lots and park­ing spa­ces. Whether its yarn-bombed street fur­ni­ture or guer­rilla gar­dens in over­looked spa­ces, these in­ter­ven­tions are help­ing to trans­form prop­er­ties and neigh­bour­hoods, one light, quick, cheap tweak at a time.

Last spring, res­i­dents of Toronto’s Palmer­ston Square took note when an old chalk­board sud­denly ap­peared on a tall, rusted school­yard fence that runs along their street — the first salvo from two par­tic­i­pants in the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion’s Home­grown Na­tional Park Project.

Passersby were en­cour­aged to write their de­sires for green im­prove­ments. Neigh­bours be­gan meet­ing. One fam­ily filled a per­pet­ual pot­hole with flow­ers. Oth­ers put benches in their front yards to be­gin “park­i­fy­ing” the block. Graf­fiti knit­ters yarn-bombed the chain-link fence. An artist and lo­cal kids cre­ated a DIY out­door ver­sion of fridge mag­net po­etry with plas­tic pipes cut in half, painted with words and hung on the fence with sim­ple S-hooks. Two gar­den planters were dug into spots where trees had per­ished.

This spring, res­i­dents suc­cess­fully funded a project to re­place the en­tire stretch of as­phalt with a large pollinator-friendly gar­den. There’s even talk of re­mov­ing the fence. The rip­ple ef­fect: People from nearby streets have started or­ga­niz­ing their own in­ter­ven­tions, like a pollinator gar­den at the day­care and moss graf­fiti in an al­ley­way.

Re­plac­ing pave­ment with a pollinator gar­den on one small street won’t solve the vast is­sues our com­mu­ni­ties face, but lit­tle spa­ces per­haps hold the great­est po­ten­tial.

To make our cities truly green, we must bring na­ture to the oft­ne­glected bits be­tween parks and ex­ist­ing green ar­eas. Streets and side­walks ac­count for about 80 per cent of a city’s pub­lic space. Pri­vate spa­ces like yards, rooftops and bal­conies cover more than half the ur­ban land­scape. Stretch­ing our vi­sions of ur­ban green space to in­clude these al­lows us to reimag­ine the city as a vi­brant green mo­saic.

Squeez­ing more na­ture into cities re­quires cre­ativ­ity. It also needs par­tic­i­pa­tion from home­own­ers, property man­agers and ex­perts from fields like land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban plan­ning.

That’s why the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion and Work­shop Ar­chi­tec­ture launched the Home­grown De­sign Chal­lenge, an open com­pe­ti­tion that pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to present ideas for low­cost, easy-to-im­ple­ment land­scape de­sign so­lu­tions for front yards, back­yards, bal­conies, school­yards and laneways that pro­vide en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits.

What can we take from this rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave of small, cre­ative in­ter­ven­tions? That res­i­dents can play an ac­tive, hands-on role in trans­form­ing the places they live, work, play and share. Mak­ing your com­mu­nity truly greener is a tall or­der. But start­ing small can pay big div­i­dends.

Play an ac­tive, hands-on role in trans­form­ing where you live

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