Public Green Spaces That Really Deserve Investment

As a director of Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL) and founding director of Brixton based ‘The Edible Bus Stop®’ (EBS), Mak Gilchrist, has a passion for encouraging the growing of edibles in the urban environment, the breaking down of neighbourhood barriers by generating conversations and creating landmarks of pride for communities. Resident of Brixton for over 30 years, she, along with the team at the EBS and fellow directors of Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL), are firm believers in the importance of keeping public land public and crucially, accessible.

“A recurring thread of The Edible Bus Stop® (EBS) projects is the importance of keeping public space as a public asset. This also forms an integral part of IEL’s philosophy. Selling or leasing public land provides only a short-term solution to the holes in borough council’s budgets. Particularly, when it forms such a vital asset to urban life, especially in the crowded and polluted London environment.

The original Edible Bus Stop on Landor Road SW9 was born out of a feeling of unease at the prospect of the neighbourhood’s one green space being sold off to private developers. What started as an ad hoc guerilla garden, had public opposition see off an outline planning proposal. Thanks to support of IEL in the early days, within two years, the newly landscaped garden, now known as the Kerb Garden, became the first of the Mayor of London’s Pocket Park schemes to be realised.

The EBS continues to grow its Edible Bus Route TM , which currently consists of three growing spaces and a fourth in the germinating tray. Following the 322 bus route, it makes use of existing transport infrastructure to connect communities. The Hoopla Garden in West Norwood grows native and wild plants. The Edible Bus Garage in Crystal Palace sells its herbs at the local farmers market. Each garden is individual, with the neighbourhood it sits within tending to its needs. All improve an area’s look and feel, offer wellbeing benefits, enhance biodiversity and aid in the reduction of air pollution. However, the prevailing theme is their edibles. WE ALL EAT.

EBS started in Brixton but now works across London. Next month will see the realisation of an ‘Edible Avenue’ installation in Thessaly Road SW8. The project creates links between New Covent Garden Market and local residents by creating an animated and playful public growing space. This will be a platform of communication that forms a narrative as the area changes.

“Unlike traditional community gardens, our spaces are open and inclusive 24 hours a day, and balance form with function, with a strong emphasis on design. They are the essence of a shared public space and asset,” says Mak. “With ever shrinking local council budgets to maintain green spaces, the community taking responsibility and coming together is something that is not only a necessity, but a ideal way for locals to meet and work for a greater good.” IEL believes that these gardens are a perfect example of community empowerment in action, but despite there being a consensus that growing spaces are a quick and easy way to enhance the wellbeing of an area, it is difficult to attract private finance. Edible Avenue is an exception.

So why is it so hard to attract private investment into green spaces within the urban public realm? “Consider the controversial Garden Bridge,” said Mak. “Its’ costs are huge at an estimated £175m, and its accessibility is already being called into question, yet public and private money has been found. Doing sums on the back of an envelope, its current budget roughly equates to thirty-three new pocket parks per borough. There are thirty-three boroughs…

Those pocket parks could make a massive difference to how London looks and feels, not to mention having a far greater impact on London’s air quality than a bridge with planting. Growing spaces must be valued and kept safe guarded. Without them, city life would be far less bearable.”