London Mobility was an excursion to the Hackney area in London to reconsider the reality of the commons – in this case, a space that is free to be accessed and used by everyone. With the help of the Unigrowcity exchange network, we researched such commons in the Hackney Marshes and the surrounding neighbourhood, focusing on two primary applications that challenge and reinstate ideas of public ownership: food and dwelling. By visiting many projects and people we gained insight into practical approaches toward climate change, sustainability, and healthier and more equitable ways of living in an urban environment. Hackney is an interesting case as the region has been in great transition for some time.
Title: London Mobility
Date: May 19 – May 23, 2013
Location: Hackney, London
Project by: Unigrowcity
Students: Finn Brüggemann, Joe Joe Orangias
The Unigrowcity group visited a variety of different projects that are concerned with the growing, preparation, and consumption of food in the neighbourhood of Hackney. With the relational object of food these project attempt to make the community realize the benefits of the commons, in the sense that shared food is shared community. Also the growing of food locally, on common space is directly linked issues regarding climate change and sustainable ways of living in the city.great transition for some time.
The People’s Kitchen at Passing Clouds prepares weekly meals for the community, which are solely made from food waste. Nearby shops donate vegetables, bread, herbs, salads, partly because they are close to expiring and thus not able to be sold anymore and partly out of enthusiasm for the project. The project raises issues of, most obviously, food waste, but it also creates a community feeling, brings people together who are interested in more sustainable ways of dealing with food.
There are also more commercial projects that deal with the topic of food and urban agriculture in Hackney. The rooftop garden at Chatsworth Road, for instance, is rather a bar that grows some food on its rooftop. The Dalston Eastern Curve Garden on the other hand gave the group the impression of being a more seriously dedicated approach to the topic. Here there is lots of space for children to play, many different fields where vegetables and herbs are grown and a kitchen with a stone oven where the community can come together for having pizzas or self-made bread.
The Farmshop, also at Chatsworth Road, is a more technologically advanced approach to the issue at hand. Herbs and salads are being grown in an energetically self sufficient indoors environment and fish are being bred in fish tanks. The Farmshop further offers educational tours and sells its produce to the neighbourhood.
The Hackney marshes community garden and tree nursery is a very dedicated attempt to establish a commonly organized gardening project. Various groups are producing organically grown food, with which they can supply about 50 local restaurants. Other projects at the garden plant food together with a group of disabled people. There is also a small forest garden and a tree nursery, which nurses trees for the nearby forests.
The pogo café is an activist centre and a vegan café, thus more concerned with approaching the concept of the commons over food rather than with food. Discussions and movie screenings accompany the weekly served vegan meals. The space is one of the centres in which ideas about the commons are formed in the neighbourhood. On the particular evening when the Unigrowcity group joined the café, the focus was the common area of the Hackney Marshes and the residents’ entitlement to its use.
Caravanserai, the last project concerned with food that Unigrowcity explored, is based outside of Hackney, at Canning Town, an area which was largely reconstructed for the Olympics in 2012. In a rather sterile environment a group of architects were provided with a big outdoor space. Since 2012 Caravanserai, has a community garden, which from this summer onwards will be cultivated with the residents of the neighbourhood. There is a stage for performances and a market on which homemade products from the community are to be sold at. There is also a restaurant in which meals are cooked three days a week. Also at Caravanserai, the growing and preparing of food are the relational objects for community building, the realization of common interests and needs concerning a sustainable way of living in a neighbourhood, which greatly lacks common spaces and participation from the residents.
Along with gardening and food, Unigrowcity explored projects that focus on the reviving the conditions of everyday life and social experience within Hackney. The projects used conversation and communal gatherings as a driving force to find solutions to gentrification, the high costs of living, and creative outputs.
Traveling on a narrowboat down Regent’s Canal and River Lea shows an entirely different perspective of Hackney. Operating locks, passing by resting swans on green lands and looking out for fellow boaters is an everyday reality for many. More and more people are moving to live on the water as the costs of living on land have become unbearable. These waterways are owned by a private charity and have various funding methods from boaters. Boater rights are not clearly defined, so groups boater groups are being organized to clarify their rights. This will allow water residents to take more control of the waterways they’re residing on. We met residents Alexandra Parry, London based public artist, and Mark Walton, the founder of Shared Assets. Their knowledge and applied work endeavors are functioning to socially revitalize the community.
Alexandra Parry and Tabitha Pope built a long wooden community table with carvings influenced by various local table-clothes. This relational object is in a grass field close-by the River Lea in Springfield Park for locals to socialize and eat on. Mark Walton presented the organization he co-founded called Shared Assets. This service aids landowners, creative people, and researchers in opening properties for communal use of the local vibrant urban spaces, green lands, and waterways. Shared Assets goal is to advance livelihood in neighborhoods and to allow work opportunities to emerge in places where local people do not have ownership.
Chats Palace in Hackney has been a place in constant flux for the past hundred years. Today it is maintained as a community arts center with dance, photography and theatre classes. There is a small cafe and space for exhibitions. Chats Palace space stays booked by local passersby and community member. The programming is flexible and open for locals and visitors.
Many areas of the marshes are not able to be built on as underneath the fields rest asbestos and hazardous debris from the World War II bombings. This is one reason why the marshes have not been developed, and why construction for the 2012 Summer Olympics found site here. This Olympic construction has had it’s toll on the Hackney neighborhood, and much of East London. Although public sports facilities were built, there was great resistance by the people of the neighborhood as many understood their common land as being taken away. Large parts of the greater east London were entirely redeveloped.
LINKS AND REFERENCES
- Chats Palace
- Shared Assets
- London Boaters
- Canning Town Caravanser
- Passing Clouds
- Pogo Cafe
- Dalston Garden
- Farm London
- Sustainable Hackney
- Hackney Marshes
- Nye Bevan Commons