Creating a tiny green public space

On my street is a small asphalted space much the size of a car-parking space (standard size 4.80 x 2.40 m).  In fact, as I discovered it is a car-parking space (more on this coming) but it’s not attached to a house and it’s more of a pavement extension than an obvious space for parking a car. 

Most of the time it is a fly-tip site, with pallets, walking frames, black dustbin sacks full of who-knows- what, an assortment of derelict furniture, buggies, washing up bowls, and various other abandoned stuff.  Very occasionally the site is cleared.  I’ve never seen a car parked on it. 

More or less monthly, since I’ve lived on that street, I’ve taken a photo and sent in a fly-tipping report to the local council per their instruction to report fly tipping

A couple of months ago, fed-up with walking past such an eyesore,  I hit on the idea of making it into a tiny community garden or a pocket park.  You could argue that a car-parking space does not easily transform into a ‘garden’ or a ‘park’.  It’s small, it’s tarmacked, it’s got no water source, and it attracts fly-tippers.  However, think large balcony and what people do to transform those into oasis of greenery, tranquillity and veg production.  I got carried away by the vision of a lovely small space with a mural (there is a wall on one side and a fence on one end), with vertical planting, with large planters with trees and low maintenance shrubs and flowering plants, and maybe a sculpted ‘installation’ made from stuff salvaged from the fly tipping.   

I posted a notice on NextDoor asking if anyone on the street was interested in helping with the transformation.  I wrote to the local councillor making the proposal.  (She didn’t reply).  And when I got an email from a named council employee asking for the precise location of the fly-tip I’d sent a photo of, I told her of my idea.  

She, the council employee, did reply, telling me that the site was a privately owned car-parking site.  She had located the owner and, if necessary, she would, as Planning Prosecution Officer, issue an enforcement order against fly-tipping.  I asked her if she would ask the owner if we could convert the site into a tiny community garden – based on an assumption that having a garden will stop the fly-tipping. 

So far, the notices about 24 hours CCTV monitoring have had no effect.  (Maybe because the notices are not backed up with actual CCTV or monitoring).   It seems that the owner agreed with our assumption that a garden might deter fly-tipping, as a week or so later, we got the email saying she agreed to us using the space to make a tiny garden for street residents to enjoy.   We were off.

The ‘we’ is me and one of the neighbours who replied to my NextDoor posting.  I had four replies from people who said they would like to help.   As it happens only one followed through and she has now become, in the couple of months since the post, a firm friend and enthusiastic advocate of the garden.   

We’ve now got a date to have an ‘on site’.  Our plan is to leaflet the houses in street a few days before the Saturday where we’ll be sitting in the space – I wonder in what kind of fly-tip debris?  What we’ll be doing ‘on site’ is encouraging people to stop for a chat about it, and hopefully volunteer time, skills, enthusiasm, plants, ideas and so on. 

We’ve got a couple of give-aways to encourage them to stop.  One is, give them a sunflower seed, a seed pot, soil, and instructions on how to plant and nurture.  Our thought is that by August we’ll have a street where each house has a sunflower in the garden that we can take a picture of and put them on the community noticeboard we’re planning to have on the space.

Kitting the site out has given us pause for thought.  This is not going to be cost-free or straightforward.  There’s no water on the space, so we’ll need low maintenance, drought tolerant plants, that don’t attract vandals or theft.   Then there’s the question of planters – how big, where from, how much, how will we get them on site, where will we get soil/compost, how will we water?  

Many others have set up community gardens on a much grander scale than ours.  So there’s lots of info we can tap into.   We’ve visited a couple and got ideas on styles of planters (light to put in place, immovable with soil in), also on the types of rules gardens impose, and the range of info they give.  I liked the ‘Garden Jobs’ posted on a blackboard in one of the gardens that reads ‘Taste a berry, smell a herb, listen to the birds, sit and enjoy’. 

We’ve been advised, by those more experienced than us, not to have a bench on our space. Our neighbours are worried about it attracting vagrants, drug dealers, loafers, and loiterers, and it seems that this may be the case, so we’re going to go along with the advice whilst thinking it sad that, there may be difficult experiences that have led to it.

Beyond the planters and plantings there are considerations of fund-raising, insurance, keeping it going beyond the initial enthusiasm (assuming we get that).   Neither of us is keen on having a ‘committee’ or a formal organisation behind it but we may need some kind of collective.    Neither are we keen on handling money but that may become essential – but someone has told us about Open Collective which could make the money side easier if we have to go down that route.

The Guerilla Gardening site ‘a growing arsenal for anyone interested in the war against neglect and scarcity of public space to grow things’ has some good info, and our local Voluntary and Community Sector Support Lead sent masses of brilliant guidance. 

The next few weeks will see if our efforts are going to result in the makings of a lovely green, community space, we’re going to do our best to make it so. 

How would you set about creating a small community garden?  Let me know.

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