By Gloria Chung
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel around Europe visiting different Eco Villages and to participate in the GEN (Global Eco-Village Network) conference in Sweden. This led to a visit of Eco District Augustenborg, an urban renewal program in Malmo, Sweden, funded by the EU and the local government, which won the UN World Habitat Award. It’s not surprising to have such a project in Malmo; the city is also home to the Scandinavian Green Roof Association, responsible for the world’s first botanical roof garden.
During my two-week stay in Malmo, Anton Pettersson from Transition Malmo showed me the wide variety of Transition projects flourishing in the neighbourhood, including an insect hotel workshop for kids, co-housing projects, a zero-waste supermarket, a tool sharing library and community gardens. It was on a visit to one of the many community gardens in Augustenborg where I meet Gunilla, Tom, Dorothy and Daniella, who touched my heart and redefined what it means to have human and nature connections. Sharing wisdom and kindness with each other, embracing diversity, exploring each person’s potential no matter his or her age or background, and developing the joy and happiness of working together all transformed the simple act of “gardening”into something much deeper.
Through the urban renewal program, which lasted from 1998 to 2002, Augustenborg was able to create many green open spaces and a high density of community gardens. The particular community garden I visited was established in 2012 and is led by Gunilla and Tom. All the community gardens are supported by local government, which provides funds for purchasing materials like soil, tools, plants, trees and seeds. Each garden also features insect hotels, and Gunilla and Tom’s has a forest garden of apple and prune trees, strawberries, blackberries and more, which will expand in 2018.
Gunilla shared the amazing story of how this garden has made a positive impact on residents, youth and even random travellers like me.“This garden is a melting pot for the neighbours. It is a place like a little language school, a place for sharing different cultural wisdom and a place to make friends,”Gunilla says with a smile. There are nine committed resident gardeners, including migrants from Bangladesh, Iraq and Zambia. The new migrants learn the Swedish language while doing gardening activities and sharing the plants and vegetables from their home countries. The interactions and diversity of people in the garden build connection and make the community stronger.
The garden has benefited the youth as well, Gunilla says.“Before, in this neighbourhood, there were young people, kids, running and screaming or breaking things. But now we are talking to them, we invite them to come over to join us to do some gardening. Sometimes, we see them walking by and we call them, ‘come, come join us. You are strong; you can give us a hand.’ They always say yes. They like to help out.” Inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness has inspired younger generations to be involved to make a change.
Eco District Augustenborg is a success story of how community gardens can bring the neighbourhood together to create a positive impact on each other and on the environment around them. How can we replicate this story in our own neighbourhood and in the world at large?