It never stops to amaze me how citizens engage with their cities even though with very little resources and no financial incentives at all. People are ultimately driven by a different kind of motivation. L’hortet del Forat is an urban garden located in the neighbourhood of El Borne, run voluntarily by a group of residents. They spend a significant part of their free time taking care of the garden where they grow vegetables consistent with organic farming.
The farm of L’hortet del Forat was created after city officials had come to terms with neighbours to provide a public space with some greenery that otherwise would have been part of the disastrous real estate boom in Spain.
For those who have never been to Barcelona: The neighbourhood of El Borne has been an upcoming area in the ancient part of the city that is home to emigrants who coexist with the aged local people and the young residents that have moved in lately, when the neighbourhood became so trendy. El Borne is a fantastic colourful mixture of people.
The volunteers explained to me how important the work at the garden is for the neighbourhood from a social point of view, because neighbours from the different communities living in El Borne meet at the urban garden to help. ‘And for the first time they were talking to each other’.
All the volunteers have a lot of ideas in mind for L’hortet del Forat and the neighbourhood. They have already started to invite children from the nearby schools to the urban garden and organize workshops with them. They show them how to grow vegetables and they build up a relation between the children, nature and healthy food.
And the project runs very well. The garden is accessible to everybody. They admit that sometimes vegetables disappear overnight, but these are ‘just minor losses’. They also have to fight mice, by now a common plague in cities. It has been very challenging since they didn’t use any chemical products, but it worked out finally.
With more and more idle ground made available to citizens by the city council, urban gardens like L’hortet del Forat are sprouting. Most of them don’t get any financial support from the city administration. However, neighbours organize themselves to manage the urban gardens through voluntary work and using their own tools.
What I find most interesting after all is to see what they do to encourage neighbours to get involved and how they share the benefits with their communities. I’d rather like to consider these urban garden projects from the social benefit perspective and not just for the sake of doing urban gardening, so much in vogue these days.
L’hortet del Forat is a good example of how inclusive an urban garden can be and to what extent it can benefit the neighbourhoods. Imagine how far these initiatives could go with proper incentives and consistent support and resources.