We call them concrete jungles, but they don’t need to be. There is good reason that people cluster together in cities, such a dense population and easier access to goods and services. City-dwellers have the potential to be less energy consumptive when they can ride bikes, walk and take public transportation. There are also some serious down-sides to urban living such as crime, poverty, and increased exposure to pollutants. Greening cities holds the potential to alleviate many of the problems of urban living, while enhancing the quality of life for all and increasing the local food supply.

Rooftop Gardens

Imagine a lush greenhouse, or open-air garden on the roof of your apartment building. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables growing, neighbors spending time together planting seeds and harvesting produce, rooftop gardens are a great way to enhance community. The rooftop garden movement is blossoming around the world. Chicago, Tokyo, France, Berlin, Copenhagen and other cities are now making rooftop gardens mandatory. Many are also incorporating rainwater catchment and solar panels for increased energy efficiency.

Rooftop Garden in New York

To grow a rooftop garden, there are essentially two approaches to layering the growing medium, diversifying vegetation, and installing irrigation on a green roof: intensive and extensive. An intensive roof is designed with an aesthetic and recreational purpose in addition to the functional benefits. An intensive green roof has a deep substrate, hosts a variety of flora, and requires significant investment for set up and continued maintenance. By contrast, an extensive garden is designed almost exclusively for its functional benefits, such as thermal insulation, fireproofing, and storm-water management. These benefits can be accomplished with a less elaborate plant core, shallower soil, and low-growing vegetation.
– Reviving the World Wonder: Why Rooftop Gardens Should Cover Urban Landscapes

Every Surface Can be Planted Indoors and Outdoors, Not Just Rooftops

Thanks to emerging technologies combined with botanical knowledge, there is an emergent art form that now allows artists to plant colorful, living walls! With a Masters degree in Science from Cal Poly Pomona in Regenerative Design and an undergraduate degree in Industrial and Interaction Design, Amanda Goldberg at Planted Design creates walls that change color and texture with plants bloom cycles. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they improve air quality indoors and outdoors.

Planted Design in San Francisco

Tackling Climate Change with Beauty and Innovation

Droughts, intense heat, and flooding are weather patterns associated with global warming. Madrid is responding to these issues by greening their city. Plants have evolved for millennia to be able to adapt to the harshest conditions. The notion of using plants to beautify, while making cities more energy efficient is a no-brainer. The added bonus is a reduction of pollution and smog in the air.

The city (Madrid) is spending millions to expand existing parks, and as many roofs and walls will be covered with greenery as possible. Twenty-two vacant lots will be turned into urban gardens. Paved squares will become parks that can suck up rainfall. Near the river that runs through the middle of the city—where a major highway was torn down in 2003 – the city is spending over $4.3 million to finish filling in the banks with trees.
– Madrid is Covering Itself in Plants to Help Fight Rising Temperatures

Milwaukee’s urban food forest would include permanent plantings and raised beds.

Food Forests

How about getting some exercise and eating local organic food in a food forest in your neighborhood? That’s the vision of Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, which is a 7-acre project in development adjacent to Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill. Planting fruit trees brings added shade with sweet treats in addition to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and making a happy home for birds and bees. Urban environments allow residents to stay connected with the cycles of nature – this makes for a better quality of living, which reduces stress and even crime rates.

The goal of the Beacon Food Forest is to design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem. – Beacon Food Forest

Community and Urban Gardens

Cuba is one of the permaculture capitals of the world. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 their economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half, and food by 80 percent, people had to learn new ways to live. There is a great film called The Power of Community, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, that shows the resilience of people prioritizing community gardens.

Growing your own food is like printing your own money.
– Ron Finley

Above, Ron Finley

There is something about spending an afternoon with your neighbors planting seeds. It creates a deepened sense of community, and connection between people and the land. There are techniques like sheet-mulching that allow abandoned lots to be reclaimed and planted with lush gardens. This trend is even making its way into the suburbs as people are rallying around the idea of planting food instead of lawns.

I am an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. A graffiti artist beautifies walls; I beautify parkways and yards. I treat the garden as a piece of cloth and the plants and the trees are the embellishment of that cloth. You’d be surprised what soil can do if you let it be your canvas.
– Ron Finley

Ron Finely is one of the most well-known advocates of turning ghettos into gardens while empowering local youth and creating healthy food. He started out by planting gardens in the thin strip of grass between the street-curb and the sidewalk. Low income neighborhoods rarely have access to organic and healthy food, and Finley changed this by planting seeds. If this can be done in South Central Los Angeles, it can be done anywhere!

Too often people complain about society without realizing that they ARE society. Efforts to green cities can happen from the grassroots with creative individuals, or from the top down with progressive legislation. Building community, personal health, cleaner air, beautiful neighborhoods are just a few of the reasons that greener cities are are gaining popularity and are the future of city building. Get your hands dirty and plant something that you can harvest with those who matter the most to you!

*Featured Image Art by Jessica Perlstein*

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Jacob Devaney

Jacob blogs for Huffington Post and others in addition to Culture Collective. He specializes in social media, and cross-platform (or trans-media) content and campaigns. Meditation, playing piano, exploring nature, seeing live music, and going to Hopi Dances are some of his passions. As a co-founder of unify.org, Jacob lives for community and believes that we are all interconnected with our own special gift to offer the world.

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