Vancouver, BC has a unique Green Streets program to beautify residential areas. Traffic circles and corner curbs are planted with native and drought tolerant shrubs, flowers and evergreens to slow traffic and increase safety. As a bonus, this program has improved the quality of life in the neighborhoods and brought nature into the city.
The unique part is that the city pays to build the infrastructure and plant the garden, and volunteers do the maintenance. This is a cooperative effort that is working!
There are more than 350 gardens in place. Some volunteers weed and water, and others add their favorite plants. It is a community effort. Neighborhoods can request a traffic circle, which is especially useful in areas where traffic needs to be slowed down. The concept is called ‘traffic calming’, which makes sense to me. Have you ever driven fast around a traffic circle? I didn’t think so.
City gardens planning in Vancouver
When a circle is in the planning stages, an urban landscape designer can help with details. Gardens are marked with signs that indicate they are being tended or that they need volunteers to take care of them.
Vancouver offers free compost twice a year, and in the fall, they throw a party for all the Green Streets gardeners to honor their hard work in helping to maintain a beautiful city.
Green Streets is part of the Greenways program, which creates public right-of-ways for pedestrians and cyclists. These corridors connect parks, cultural areas and shops to increase recreation and reduce car use. Greenways, like Green Streets, combine nature, the city and community.
City gardens in Seattle, WA
Seattle, WA is another city with a beautification program. The city narrowed some streets to increase open space and make room for landscaping. These improvements for pedestrians discourage car use. Curb bulges at intersections and the bases of existing trees were planted to for aesthetics and to improve the quality of life for urban residents.
This started as a beautification project, but in 2004, Seattle started looking at these plantings as a way to manage stormwater. In a place that sees a lot of rain, this makes sense. Rainwater is diverted to the planting beds and is absorbed by the soil and plants, instead of filing up a storm drain or creating a flood as runoff.
‘Guerilla’ gardening in the city
In London, Richard Reynolds started Guerilla Gardening in 2004. He calls it ‘illicit cultivation’. He and a crew work at night to beautify their city. They have planted bulbs, food, sunflowers and shrubs and have constructed small willow fences to protect existing plantings beneath trees. They also a huge lavender field in the middle of the city.
Reynolds suggests you find a small, neglected patch of dirt near your home. This will make it easy to watch over and maintain. Buy inexpensive plants or get divisions from friends or your own garden. Choose hardy and colorful plants with many textures, shapes and sizes. Work the soil and plant at night with proper tools.
This local movement has spread throughout Europe, the US and Canada in various forms. Seed bombs, which are wildflower seeds packed in mud, are tossed into hard to access places. Rain melts the mud, and the seeds get planted and watered. Sunflower gardens get planted on May 1 in participating cities.
Some guerilla gardeners are enthusiastic gardeners wanting to see things grow. Others are political activists. No matter who they are, they are improving their cities and countries by gardening. If you want to get started as a guerilla gardener, read Reynolds’ book, On Guerilla Gardening.
Find out more about city beautification
If you’d rather not be involved in ‘illicit cultivation’, contact your city planner, and find out if there is a beautification program in place. If not, ask if one can be started. Explain the benefits for residents and the environment, and see what happens. The worst they can say is no, and the best they can say is yes. You have nothing to lose, and you may gain a more beautiful city for your efforts!