Key Takeaways from the Urban Gardening Growthshop

Urban Guerilla Gardening

Yesterday approximately 100 people attended the Urban Garden Growthshop in Aarhus to green the city. Alongside the planting activism the organisers, Center for Urban Kunst, had put together an interesting seminar. The seminar speakers included both academics and practitioners from arts, urban planning and related disciplines.

Some of the main things I took away were:

Lone Koefoed kicked off with an insightful presentation about public space and outlined four main strategies for creating street art or interventions in the public space:
a) The temporary
b) Emphasise detail
c) Surprise
d) Change our perspective

Lone Koefoed also dwelled at the fact that life in city space is often staged through the commercial, offering the example of how expensive caf├ęs in Aaarhus own the right to serve edibles in the public urban space along the banks of the re-opened Aarhus river.

In his presentation Jesper Elg discussed his experience of working with art in public space. Interestingly, Jesper talked about street space and public space as an alternative to commercial space. Jesper works with large public works of art and recently invited the American artist Shepard Fairey to Copenhagen to work on eight murals, temporary works in the public space. For Jesper a key theme for this type of work is to make public spaces which are in dialogue with users and citizens.

In her presentation Kristine Samson talked about the performative city. She talked about urban gardening as an urban phenomenon. She also talked about new ecologies in the performative city, in Copenhagen this is exemplified by events like Copenhagen marathon and the music festival Distortion. Referring to the French philosopher Georges Bataille, she talked about operative architecture and suggested that urban gardening could be seen as being operative in this type of way too. Kristine suggested a long list of ways to do urban gardening – here are the three first:
#1 Guerilla gardening and urban activism – contesting the masterplanned city
#2 Pimp your pavement – skilling up, building identities, aesthetic
#3 Reuse/recycle the materiality of the city.

Trevor Davies, who is heading up Aarhus’ bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2017 shared some of his thinking around what makes cities successful. He sees a trend of cities which define ethical paroles as becoming the frontrunnners in the coming years and mentioned Toronto as an example. Also cities are removing themselves from the national discourse because this discourse is no longer useful for them. He also mentioned that when we talk about public spaces in cities, we need to use these also to exhibit in public our issues and challenges as citizens.

Finally, Louise Fabian from Aarhus University gave and thought-provoking presentation on how DIY urbanism usurps public space with a series of strategies – and finally asked whether events like the Urban Guerilla Gardening workshop signify a new bottom-up urbanism and if they do – how can we interpret this?

The event also had a visit by the Danish Minister of Culture who asked the panel the interesting question of what can be done to leave space in cities for experimentation for new thinking and innovation in cities. I will leave this question to you to answer.

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