Life in the city in an apartment or condo is an energy efficient way to live, but it does have it’s drawbacks, like the lack of yard space with which to garden. Using public land for community gardens is a great way to get around that problem, by giving anyone who is willing, access to gardening opportunities. We have a few community gardens in Santa Monica, but the waiting list is so deep, the prospect of being able to use one seems pretty distant.
Every time I ride down Broadway Ave. on my way back from work I glance over at the community garden at Broadway & Park Drive, wondering if my wife and I will ever be able to garden at one of the plots. We signed up for the waiting list over a year ago, but our upstairs neighbors have been on the waiting list for more than 6 ½ years. It is nice that the community garden space is available, but considering how many renters without yard space there are in Santa Monica, and how few community gardens exist, it is a community benefit only a select few will ever enjoy.
Santa Monica also started a new garden sharing registry a few years ago, where homeowners and property owners can offer underutilized land of their own for others to garden, with the city facilitating setting up matches. It’s up to the property owner who they will allow, and for novices like myself and my wife, we’re a little intimidated to be gardening on another homeowners land when we barely know what we are doing. Not to mention the list of property owners on the registry is not extensive, and much more experienced gardeners are vying for those spots.
The exclusivity of the community garden plots, due to their scarcity, is why I would like the city to start really thinking about where community garden plots can be fit into into new public space being developed. There are a number of projects in the works that would create new public spaces, and if we ever want residents to have a realistic shot at getting a community garden plot, we need to start seeing new plots being created.
Such gardens can also become a small scale way to grow a little of one’s own food in the city, something that takes on more significance as food and fuel prices are climbing. Big cities will never be completely self sufficient for their food, it would require too much valuable land, but you can’t get anymore local than food grown down the street. When I toured the Mar Vista Garden Showcase by bike a few weekends ago, the gardeners at Walgrove Elementary were nice enough to offer up some veggies ready to be picked. So my wife and I had a fresh salad that evening from produce grown about 3 miles away that we brought home on bikes. Now that is low carbon dining.
One such space with the potential to add quite a few new plots in Santa Monica, would be the buffer zone being created between the future Exposition Light Rail maintenance facility and the Pico neighborhood residents. I realized this space is quite a deal larger than I originally imagined upon reviewing the plans at the recent Pico Neighborhood meeting about the site. Given the site size, and it’s intimately close proximity to residents, I think it’s perfect opportunity to create some more community garden space.
At the recent Pico Neighborhood meeting held at the Santa Monica City Yards, there was a lot of concern over the noise impacts of the coming rail facility, which is quite understandable. After lots of questions about the particulars of the maintenance facilities operations, everyone sat down to consider what the buffer space could become. There were a lot of good ideas, and some support from a few others on the idea of having community garden space. A woman at the workshop table even had a layout drawn in pencil of potential uses her daughter had put together
One interesting idea was to create a land bank, where the site would stay mostly minimal at first, and surrounding development in the area would pay into a fund that could add more improvements to the site. Some people expressed interest in particular facilities, like a recreation center. One comment went as far as to propose a sort of mini Main Street. While in the complete opposite direction there were others who were completely opposed to the idea of doing anything at all for fear of attracting unwanted traffic to the area. One commenter asked for lots of underground parking to be installed at the site. At a cost of about $50,000 per space, and the likely hood of such parking attracting more car trips, I cannot think of a more disastrous use of public land and funding for a site meant to buffer a neighborhood from surrounding development. Future meetings will have to work toward reconciling these different ideas, some of which are entirely incompatible with each other.
What ever goes into the site, I really hope at least a slice of it goes to community garden space. With the pent up demand as it is, I’m sure many in the community would appreciate expanded opportunities for gardening. If a building or buildings do go into the site, I’d like to see the roof space made active for garden space. The tops of buildings could be a real resource for greening the city if we start thinking creatively.
In the meantime my wife and I will make due with the sliver of outside window box our apartment landowners let us take over. We also have our little worm bin tucked behind the side of the property, converting our food scraps into more nutrient rich soil than we know what to do with at this point.
A lot of change is coming in the years ahead for Santa Monica, a new rail line, new development, redevelopment, and new public spaces are being carved out here and there. Tucking a few garden plots into these projects, or making some green roofs, could really open up the opportunity to garden in the city. Bringing people closer to their connection with the environment, and closer as a community.