Byhaven 2200 – Community Urban Garden

Byhaven was a LAND center

Food was grown in raised beds storing carbon in the ground and bringing a huge biodiversity to Copenhagen from 2011 til May of 2018. The garden was at the corner of Hørsholmsgade and Stefansgade. Nørrebro, DK-2200 København.

10402434_10152606171585050_8043197511135304684_nIt was an open project to anyone that wanted to take care of the garden.
Based in Urban community gardening, Nursery, Forest gardening, and wild foods, all used in the outdoor kitchen,and the clay oven.

The most important aims of the project were:

  • To show alternative ways to use and relate to public spaces such as parks and green areas in the city,
  • Create awareness about environmental problems and promote sustainable solutions.
  • Learn by doing, to grow local food products and other useful resources such as medicinal plants.
  • Improve the social relations in the neighbourhood and aim towards strong community bonds.

There was many activities happening in Byhaven, from guided tours and common meals to small self organise workshops, gift circles, birthdays, official arrangements and festivals.

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Why is it gone?
It is impossible to be certain on what was the detonating factor for the project to fall apart. A series of  events that turned into an spiral of erosion that finished with the municipality removing with big machines most of the structures in the garden,  most high beds with all their trees, bushes, flowers and even the pizza oven.
For everyone that knew the garden our hearts felt up with sorrow for the destruction of such a magical space.
For the sake of learning from the situation in this lines I will try to make sense of how the project got to fall apart like this. It might help other similar projects to endure longer in time.

The first 3 seasons where full of enthusiasm and excitement. We were creating a garden in Nørrebro park!
Few people knew each other well from before, we mainly met in the garden. There is where we enjoyed to be, and where we became really good friends. It was fun to spend time together in the garden so naturally a quite broad and still fluid group of  core member emerged. We were all taking responsibility but it never felt as a heavy load for anyone because we were many and we loved to do the garden tasks together.
In the 4th-5th season there was a key change. Many of the most active members moved away from Copenhagen into new and exiting projects in Denmark and abroad.
I was one of the few that remain taking care of the garden trying to keep the memory of all that we had done and the reasons why behind.
As every season new and beautiful people joined in and kept the ball rolling. As well we had created a perennial garden, so even that there was few hands to manage it, as soon as the spring arrived the garden thrived.

Another crucial factor influencing the  internal destructuring of the core group had to do with the relationships within garden stakeholders.
Since the beginning there was a  group of neighbours that enjoy to use the social space for hanging out drinking. From the very beginning we did all we knew to integrate us with them and vice-versa. But as is normal with any group we also went throw “Storming” phases.
Simultaneously to the active member group getting reduced the local alcoholics group grew with people from other areas of town that now enjoyed to come and hang out in the garden. They became very predominant in the space. This influenced many new volunteers to not take leading roles in the garden. They felt intimidated and exhausted about having to do all the social work attached to the gardening work.
Suddenly the garden felt more as a burden than as a joy!

We were aware of this so we were doing all we could to revert this situation. We ask the municipality for help and a social worker came a couple of times to give us a hand. But I never saw a true result from that. So we kept on exploring options. We could see already that it was all about were we put our focus. If we where doing cool stuff and enjoying the garden then that is what it will be.

So we tried to make more appealing for people to come and take  initiative by using small funding as an economic incentive for members that hold small workshops and made stuff happen there. But it did not help. We had always done the garden activities primordially because we enjoyed it, not for money.

We could see that the fact of having a very natural looking garden with a big diversity of plants scattered all around the garden was beautiful but it also made it harder for people with little knowledge to know  how to manage it.  For that reason some of the most knowledgeable gardeners where giving plant tours and guiding the volunteers in the working days. But we were few and we wanted more people to get responsibility for the plants.

One of the most interesting methods we used for this was to give people responsibility for specific plants of their interest. The harvest was for all to share, but each gardener will take responsibility for the harvest to be ready to share with the group. In that way, people could choose what to take care of according to their interest and will for engagement. As their is some perennial plants that need very little attention, while some annual plants need constant care.
It work nicely for some time. and for ensuring that people learned about their plants we made a mural in the kitchen furniture where they draw the plants and their names. But short after it was covered in graffitty. Few people kept taking care of their specific plant.

Several times we also tried to reach again the neighbours. Some did organize private events in the garden (As birthdays or other celebrations).  but very few were actually engaged with keeping it alive, and some of the ones that were engaged in the first years where not part of the garden any more.

In 2018 the few core members that did not prioritize any longer their time and energy to keep running the garden closed the contract and gave it back to the municipality.
The municipality said that they where going to keep running an urban garden there. I think no one expected that they where going to completely tare apart the one that was already there…
Clearly the municipality has a different idea of what an urban garden should look like.

I console myself by accepting that as in nature there is life and death, and from the death of each autumn new reinvigorated life can grow again in the spring. In the same way from the death of this project maybe citizens in Copenhagen notice the importance of such garden spaces an take much more determination to participate in them.

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