IT HAS BEEN JUST OVER A YEAR in the making, from community consultation to construction, but Carss Park Community Garden is now reality.
Food, a jazz band, Kogarah City Council's mayor and general manager, councillors, directors of departments, various staff, community gardeners and representatives of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network — they all came together in the warm Spring sunshine for the official opening on 19 November this year.
Design for participation
The project began when Faith Thomas (Living Schools) and I were hired by Council to start a community garden and to develop policy directions for Council to enable community gardening in the region.
During a community consultation in the different parts of what is a large local government area, Faith and I gathered together people who were to form the initial, core group of gardeners. This was followed by two on-site, participatory design days during which the core group were guided through social and site design. Included in social design was planning how the gardeners would make decisions, deal with disagreement and ensure the smooth functioning of the community garden.
The site design day brought a participatory site and needs analysis and the development of a number of concept plans. These went to Council landscape architect, Anthony Parker, who produced a final design for the community garden from them and negotiated it with the gardener group.
Including the core group in the process all the way through was designed to encourage a sense of participation and ownership of the project, something Faith and I have found of value in previous community garden and other projects.
The site is an old bowling green that demographic change has left in disuse. The soil is loamy, the site flat with good solar aspect and drainage. Participants cover a broad age range, from the twenties to retired.
First to be built was a set of shared gardening beds edged, like the Randwick Community Organic Garden, with roofing tile seconds. A local source for these was located. A row of citrus was established along one border of the garden. These were brim full of vegetables on the day of the official opening, and lettuce, carrot and zucchini were harvested.
As the shared beds were being established, work on the council-funded strawbale classroom started. This is to be a facility open to general community use so as to maximise its usage. Designed by strawbale building specialists Huff n/ Puff and constructed by Living Spaces, community gardeners participated in the building of it and Council offered places in an on-site, strawbale building course offered by Huff n' Puff.
The building features:
- rendered strawbale construction
- two separate enclosed spaces, one the classroom/meeting room, the other a small kitchen and toilet with disabled access; the rooms are separated by a covered breezeway
- a timber deck on the northern side has been edged for sitting
- timber used in construction was certified as the product of sustainable forestry with the exception of a repurposed telephone pole that was put to use as a structural element
- recycled doors and windows were installed
- the iron roof harvests water from where it flows into two rainwater tanks and is used for garden irrigation
- the building was designed by Envirotecture's Tracey Grahame and crew.
The classroom now complete, the gardeners are to start construction of allotments, enabling the community garden to offer both shared and allotment growing opportunities. Like the shared gardens, the allotments will be of the mulched, no-dig type.
The approach to the community consultation and participatory design process originated with Faith and my experience in community garden planning, design and training, and from our experience as community gardeners.
The processes we employed borrowed from landscape design, community engagement, facilitated processes (such as the World Cafe that we employed in part of the site design process), permaculture design and action learning. The task was to use these to create an overall process that was inclusive of the gardeners. We wanted to create, with the gardeners, a social design that would encourage gardener self-management in cooperation with Council, as gardeners developed their organisational skills over time. As in any consultation of this type, our aim was to select tools appropriate to meeting the needs of the gardeners, who are the main users of the site, rather than apply some pre-existing process in a template-like manner.
As well as Anthony Parker, credit must also go to Council's Sustainability and Waste Education officer, Fiona Stock, who smoothed the way through Council for Faith and I and the gardeners. General manager, Paul Woods, also deserves credit for his support for the garden idea.
The Carrs Park Community Garden stands as an example of what can be done when a local government wants to enhance the recreational and community facility options available to local people an acts decisively to make it happen.
The process that took the community garden from good idea to reality shows that the mantra CREATE > SHARE > COLLABORATE > DESIGN > MAKE can lead to community initiatives that improve social options and opportunities in an area and enable a new, participatory approach to citizen engagement with public open space.