I promised in the last post to write about some of the more ephemeral, hard-to-specify values of landscapes such as Kilmahew and the North Kelvin Meadow. This is still to come, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share my representation to the Glasgow City Council over the development that is proposed for the meadow in the new City Development Plan. An attempt to specify the unspecifiable… for planners!
REPRESENTATION ON CITY DEVELOPMENT PLAN, HOUSING PROPOSAL # HO23
“As a postdoctoral researcher in human geography, who also happens to live across the street from the Meadow, I have both personal and professional reasons to value this space in its current state, and to oppose the development proposed for it. I describe these reasons in more detail below.
PERSONAL AND COMMUNITY VALUE OF NORTH KELVIN MEADOW
My family uses the meadow on a regular basis for multiples purposes; it gives us all great pleasure to spend time there, and as new arrivals to Glasgow, has been the single most important avenue through which we have come to feel at home here. A partial list of things we can do in the meadow and would not be able to do elsewhere includes:
social activities: picnics with family and friends; regular interactions with known neighbours, meeting other people in the neighbourhood
urban agriculture: vegetable gardening (we have an allotment and help with the new community beds); composting of our fruit and vegetable scraps
cultural and educational activities: attend a variety of family-friendly cultural events (e.g., storytelling, film screenings, puppet shows, concerts, parades and much more; Saturday morning outdoor learning club; exploratory play and nature education with our toddler
physical rejuvenation: the open and semi-wild character of the meadow makes time spent there relaxing as well as invigorating
Living across the street from the meadow is literally the best thing about living in Glasgow as far as we are concerned. The last item on the list (exploratory play and nature education) is particularly important to me as a mother. Though my daughter enjoys a good play park as much as any toddler, she is at her most imaginative when we go to the meadow: creating spaces in the Children’s Wood where she can act out whatever scenario she dreams up, wandering through the long grass, hiding under shrubs, playing in the willow hut, and so on. It is exactly what she needs after her more structured day at nursery. In the course of these explorations, I am able to show her different plants and bugs, help her to identify the sounds of birds, and smell different flowers and herbs. Not only is this an educational opportunity not easily replicated in more manicured urban spaces, it amounts to very high quality time for us, since she can safely lead me where she pleases (without worrying about bicycles on the bike path, or getting lost in a crowd of people at the botanic garden, for example).
Our enjoyment of the meadow as a green space has also led me to become actively involved in caring for it, which has in turn generated friendships, and participation by our family in different organized activities (e.g., composting, litter clean-ups, community gardening). I discuss the importance of these activities further below, but for now emphasize that this attachment to, and active participation in, the meadow has been crucial to us feeling happy, connected and at home in our new city.
PROFESSIONAL OBSERVATIONS OF THE SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL VALUE OF THE NORTH KELVIN MEADOW
There are two major kinds of benefit that I observe in the Meadow in its current state:
Biodiversity in-process. As a playing field unused for 30 years or so, the Meadow represents a unique site of ecological change. Here it is possible to observe biodiversity in process: as something that is still happening to the site, and which can be enhanced through human intervention, rather than something already achieved by nature, and for which the only human contribution is protection. The cultural as well as environmental value of such sites has been documented in a number of scholarly works recommending a more pragmatic, creative approach to questions of biodiversity (see examples below). As a researcher interested in relations between human beings, plants and non-human processes of growth and change, I have spent much time exploring the meadow, and the possibilities for enhancing its biodiversity (particularly in vegetative forms). Some of this work has been documented in preliminary form on my blog: http://www.communicativelandscapes.wordpress.com and will be incorporated in future academic publications of a more formal nature. I can report from my investigations that many new plants (at least eight but probably more) can be added to those recorded on the plant survey conducted in 2011. The Meadow is a site that is increasing in quantity and diversity of plant life every season. Most of these plants have arrived on their own, but some of them have been planted by community members. For example, several species of fern were transplanted there by a colleague and I this past fall, as an experiment regarding the means of enhancing processes of naturalization and colonization already in process. These ferns currently reside in areas of high traffic in the Children’s Wood but are, nonetheless, thriving. I view the Meadow as a site for continuing research into how community members might take on activities of tending semi-wild urban spaces so as to maximize biodiversity while maintaining high social, recreational and educational value.
Social learning and innovation. There is a growing body of research in human geography and other disciplines of the social sciences that identifies the social importance of a contemporary ‘commons’: land and physical resources that are held in common among members of a given community, and managed collectively (see below for a couple of examples). Community managed allotment and collective gardens are a good example of such sites: through the process of figuring out how best to share collective resources, how to acquire support, resolve disputes and solve logistical problems, community members develop forms of social organization (not to mention friendships) that are valuable above and beyond the output of the gardens. A community that can manage its collective spaces is also one that can negotiate diversity, solve problems and provide support to its members in a variety of sustainable (because pragmatic and local) ways. Such spaces are particularly important in cities, where social ties are often otherwise challenged by cultural difference and mobility. I have recently started a dedicated Instagram account (@ilovenorthkelvinmeadow) as a means of documenting the changing landscape of the Meadow and its social and ecological vitality.
The North Kelvin Meadow is an excellent example of an urban commons. Not only has it become the focus of a variety of innovative, extremely well-attended cultural and environmentally educational events, sharing its use has provided community members the means to address both ongoing local problems (with litter, dog fouling and vandalism), and larger societal issues around physical fitness, food security, social isolation and environmental engagement. The kinds of connection people make while participating in projects and events associated with the meadow are thus both culturally innovative and socially sustaining in profound ways. What is important to emphasize, is that the majority of these activities, and the capacities they have helped to generate, would not be possible without the space of the Meadow. As geographers Lynn Staeheli and Don Mitchell argue in their recent book The People’s Property?, building and sustaining community requires a physical space proper to that community: in the case of the meadow, an open-ended, semi-natural space provides the perfect focus for environmental learning and social empowerment.
In summary, I believe the North Kelvin Meadow to be an extremely valuable urban amenity in its current, open, semi-wild state. From a personal perspective, my family and I make frequent and meaningful use of it. Were it to be developed into condos, we would likely move, and I don’t expect we would find another space to replace its role in our lives in the city. From a professional perspective, I see its rapidly increasing biodiversity and its social and cultural vibrancy as a highly valuable urban amenity that is unique to Glasgow, but currently unrecognized as such. In many ways, Glasgow is a very green city, but this is something that was a pleasant surprise to my husband and I upon moving here. We wondered why the City Council has not made more of its abundant green spaces, impressive bird population and numerous waterways in its promotion of the city to tourists as well as businesses and employees considering relocating here. With support, sites like the meadow could become one of the cultural and environmental innovations that Glasgow becomes known for—not just beautiful museums and innovative real estate developments, but also support of more grassroots initiatives, especially ones that display the more edgy, fun side of the city’s popular culture, and which set it apart from Edinburgh. That is the city that I see from the meadow, and one I am inspired to contribute to and care for, should it be allowed to prosper.”
(a creative, pragmatic approach to biodiversity):
Clément, Gilles. (2007). Le jardin en mouvement. 5th ed. Paris: Sens & Tonka.
Clément, Gilles (2006). “Working with (and never against) Nature.” In environ(ne)ment: manières d’agir pour demain / approaches for tomorrow, 90-103. Edited by Giovanna Borasi. Milano, Italy: Skira Editore.
Marris, Emma (2011). Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. Bloomsbury.
(research on the social importance of present-day urban commons)
Eizenberg, E. (2011). Actually existing commons: Three moments of space of community gardens in New York City. Antipode 44 (3): 764-82.
Staeheli, L.A. & Mitchell, D. (2008). The People’s Property? Power, Politics, and the Public. Routledge.
Tornaghi, Chiara (2012). Public space, urban agriculture and the grassroots creation of new commons: lessons and challenges for policy makers. In André Viljoen and Johannes S.C. Wiskerke, Eds. Sustainable Food Planning: Evolving Theory and Practice pp. 349-64. The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers.