They find forgotten squares, fragments of streets, ruins… and under the cover of darkness set up flowerbeds and illegal gardens in the city centre. Sometimes they plant a single sunflower between pavement cracks, while other times they transform many hectares of space. They are activists of urban movement called guerrilla gardening that was born out of love for nature… and the city.
What to do with neglected and forgotten areas that are not developed by the local authorities? Solution to this problem was found by Americans who in the 70s started a citizen movement that aimed at gardening in public places or urban wastelands. The idea has quickly spread all around the world and today illegally planted gardens or flowerbeds can be found in numerous metropolises: from New York to Melbourne.
Guerrillas with spades
iGuerrilla gardening movement is, by definition, illegal, since green guerrillas annex spaces which they do not have any rights to. That is the reason why most of their actions are performed at night. Nevertheless, they take into consideration public good, as guerrilla gardening concentrates on grassroots actions that lead to aestheticization and taming of urban space. Guerrilla gardening takes place where the areas are neglected or misused by either municipal authorities or private owners.
Most often, these are spontaneous events organized by several people. Sometimes, however, they gain momentum – a perfect example is the action organized by the “Organic starters” association in Copenhagen in 1996. More than 1000 citizens transformed a wasteland in Nørrebro district into a beautiful, blooming garden in a single night.
Let’s make a park for people
One of the most spectacular and controversial examples of actions organized by the movement is People’s Park in Berkeley, California. By the end of the 1960s, a group of students at the local university decided to plant a park. The initiative of hippies did not appeal to the mayor at that time, Ronald Reagan.
On May 15, 1969, riots took place during which one person died and many activists got hurt. In the end, the students succeeded in achieving their goal and the wastelands were changed into a public park that is open to the public to this day.
Red light for illegal greenery
Unfortunately, guerrilla gardening also has drawbacks. As it has been pointed out by a British botanist and artist, Martin Allen, spontaneous planting may result in visual chaos, as guerrilla gardening is free-for-all. Secondly, such uncontrolled gardening in the city affects ecosystem and may have serious negative consequences for both surrounding
plants and animals. Therefore, instead of spontaneous planting “everything everywhere”, Martin Allen proposes organized and planned grassroots actions that are consulted with local communities.
Fighting guerrillas in the Polish neighbourhood
Also in Poland many places become green thanks to gardening guerrillas. In 2007, Jacek Powałka after several unsuccessful appeals to the local office, on his own planted several trees in Ursynów, Warszawa. His neighbours soon joined in the event and so the green enclave of “Our Park” was created.
Moreover, Polish artists have also become interested in the idea of urban guerrilla with seedlings. One of them is land art artist Teresa Murak, who changes guerrilla gardening into artistic happenings that are organized in public places.