Public space, public fruit

Posted by Alastair Otter on October 20, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead

In years gone by, village residents and even early city dwellers were familiar with the notion of “The Commons”, collaboratively owned and managed resources such as grazing land, rivers, forests and water sources. But gradually over time private ownership and corporate growth have whittled away at these all-important resources and today the idea of publicly-owned space and food is all but forgotten. There are, however, some that are trying rekindle an interest in public versus private space and the resources that can be developed in these.

Fallen Fruit

One of these is Fallen Fruit, a US-based artists project that offers a new way of rediscovering the Commons and aims to re-educate city dwellers on public versus private space.

At its heart Fallen Fruit is a mapping project that collects data publicly accessible fruit in various suburbs around Los Angeles. Most of the fruit mapped is on trees in private gardens and parks but which cross the border line into the public space of pavements and roads. Fallen Fruit – aka David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young – encourage residents of their suburb to pick these “public” fruits, tell friends there whereabouts and even plant fruit trees on their own property borders. The group also organises nightime “forages” involving residents who are educated about the public fruit available and the idea of public space.

Matias Viegener says that their are multiple motivations for the group, apart from its art origins. “One is ecological and environmental. We’re interested in changing the actual the organic shape of the city and suburbs. The other reason is social and cultural. We’re interested establishing relationship between people that don’t have existing relationships. LA is a very anonymous city. Most people don’t know their neighbourhood and their neighbours. It’s about walking, knowing your neighbours, knowing your neighbourhood.”

Guerrilla Gardening

Another project challenging the relationship between public and private space with horticultural tools is the UK-based Guerrilla Gardening.

Founded by London-resident Richard Reynolds, the Guerrilla Gardening website started life as a record of his own secretive night time gardening expeditions around his home. Frustrated with not having a garden of his own and by the generally poor state of public gardening in the area, Reynolds took to the street under cover of dark to plant flowers in land not owned by himself. He documented the progress of his garden on his website and quickly attracted other like-minded gardeners eager to improve their suburbs and cities with greenery.

Like the Fallen Fruit project, Guerrilla Gardening is as much about the plants as it is about public space and getting residents to get involved in improving their surrounds. In his recently released book, On Guerrilla Gardening, Reynolds talks extensively about the erosion of public space over the years and how there are few places left where citizens can simply enjoy being without being expected to pay for a drink or entrance fee. Using neglected public spaces, Guerrilla Gardeners aim to both make neighbourhoods more attractive as well as creating more spaces for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

Because guerrilla gardeners work with land that is not their own they technically fall foul of the law. Reynolds explains how this can very often bring them into conflict with authorities but how residents are generally more welcoming of the positive changes and very often get involved themselves.

Both the Fallen Fruit and the Guerrilla Gardening projects offer interesting approaches to challenging the perceived wisdom around food production, public space and community involvement.


2 Responses to “Public space, public fruit”

  1. Kerry
    October 21st, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    We were driving around suburbia the other day, and @Brettski commented that all the big open spaces under power pylons should be planted with veg for the community – either for those living there, or to set up as small businesses for unemployed people. Not sure if radiation implications of the pylons, but it’s tragic to see such a waste of space that could be put to really good use. Question: how to rally communities here to do this sort of thing.

  2. Alastair Otter
    October 21st, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    Kerry, That’s a good point. I’m also not sure how the pylons would affect whatever is growing there (if at all) but it does seem worth looking at. How to rally people? I wish I knew. Driving back from the Magaliesburg over the weekend we passed through a couple of shanty towns. Not a food plant in sight in any of them, despite being right in the middle of intensive fruit-farming country. Presumably they all buy fruit and veg from the rich farmers around them. It seems so sad that people don’t see the potential for using the space around them. And, understanding that a great deal of this is public space. I’d love to hear from someone with experience of community gardens on what does and does work.

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