Monday, January 16, 2012

Design Interview - Victoria Street Community Garden

This week I interviewed Scott McCready and Eli Lechter, designers of Victoria Street Community Garden in Houston, TX. They discuss how designing for a volunteer labor force impacted the design, and the challenges of transforming an abandoned parking lot into a thriving community space. The interview appears on the SWA Group Urban Agriculture Advocacy page, and can be read in full here.

[View of the children's play corner at the Victoria Street Gardens]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Forest Gardens - Mayan and Modern (Edible Gardens in Time)

A small island off the coast of Panama designed as an eco-tourism destination by Design Workshop for a private client, Isla Palenque is an intriguing project. Of particular interest is the agriculture program, which goes beyond the kitchen garden concept by proposing to grow the building materials for development in 'forest gardens'.

"The team recognized the constraint and expenses of importing food and building materials to the island and developed an agrotourism program that proposes three mitigating actions: an organic production orchard, an edible forest garden and the scattered plantings of fruit trees. The program was adapted to the local environment under the guidance of local farmers. Residents will grow much of their own produce in community gardens. Deforested lands are utilized for the growth of building materials, including palm leaves for thatch and bamboo for furnishings. Orchid and bromeliad specialty gardens offer public interest, planned in appropriate microclimates. Along the southern hammerhead where historic livestock activities once occurred, fruit trees will be planted and allowed to mature in order to screen future residential casitas. Until then, tree roots help stabilize the deforested land and provide produce for residents."

[Diagram of orchards and development over time on Isla Palenque, by Design Workshop via]

[Layers within the edible Forest Garden, diagram by Design Workshop via]

Phasing the landscape to anticipate, and provide for, future development is an important land-based sustainability strategy. It's hard to tell if the forest gardens have been scaled appropriately for the developments needs, and it would be interesting to see a construction materials need analysis, along with a forecast of food requirements for the residents and guests. Still, the project demonstrates how landscape can be understood as an active player in the making of a place, rather than an ornament after the fact. It also engages the tension between landscapes of leisure and labor in unexpected ways.

The idea of the forest garden on Isla Palenque reminded me of the Maya Forest Garden, a collaborative effort between researchers at UC Santa Barbara and indigenous farmers of El Pilar Archaeological Reserve on the border of Belize and Guatemala. On this site farmers work the land in the centuries-old  'Forest Garden' or milpa practice of the Mayan people. Researchers work with the farmers to understand how this agricultural practice might offer "a paradigm for future conservation of the forest and sustainable agriculture."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Looking forward

In place of the traditional year-end wrap up, I'm welcoming 2012 with a look-ahead. Starting the new year off right is a class in the L.A. program at UC Davis, entitled Food and the Built Environment, which aims to explore the "connections between food and the way we live". I'll be guest lecturing along with a host of other designers, activists and planners. A much-belated wedding present will soon materialize as a kitchen garden for my friends' sunny South Bay backyard (pictures will be posted!). As for Grow-City I'm excited for the upcoming two-year anniversary of the little blog that could. To celebrate I have a make-over planned for the site (in progress) along with a new feature focusing on the metrics of food landscapes.  As usual, I'm looking forward to blogging on another year of great design & agriculture projects, and hoping to see all sorts of new ideas on how to integrate food lansdcapes into our built environment!

What are you looking forward to in the new year?