The Böszi Community Garden is founded. Part 1.

Founding of a community garden in the XII. district. January – February

It has been seven months since the establishment of the Böszörményi Road Community Garden in the XIIth district of Budapest, so I thought I would try to go through what happened and what the process of its establishment was like. I will write about the events of the past months in detail.

We have been trying to establish a community garden in the XII district for at least 7-8 years, there have been several negotiations in the past with Mayor Zoltán Pokorni, I have received all kinds of ideas for locations from the Property Management Office, but none of them were suitable for establishing a community garden. The Hegyvidék is one of the few districts in Budapest, where there is simply not a thousand square metres of contiguous open space where an urban garden, a community garden could be established. I have been around the district several times, looking at the courtyards of condominiums, but there simply are none. Most of the district is incredibly built-up, and the rest is suburbs or nature reserves, and there is no open space there either.

In December last year, I was invited to the Mayor’s Office, where I was given a spot in the city, good for the urban garden. This was big news.

The story is that on Böszörményi street, block 20-22 was being redeveloped, two poor quality buildings and all kinds of office buildings, old worthless buildings, but it’s a very big area and very valuable. A new municipally owned building complex was planned, with underground parking (reducing the congested parking on Böszörményi út), shops and service units on the ground floor and apartments above.

There were problems around the demolition, dust, noise, huge heavy machinery moving around, and even a large wall fell on Böszörményi út, fortunately no one was hurt. They managed to get the whole neighbourhood angry, there was public resistance.

The demolition was finished last autumn, the underground garage was dug, but in the meantime there was a war in the neighbourhood, energy prices were very high, inflation was out of control and above all bank lending rates were skyrocketing, the interest rate was around 20%, which completely thwarted the investment, it would be a heavy cost burden to build this building now. They have stopped everything by saying that until external conditions improve, construction will be postponed. However, after the demolition, something had to be done with the empty space, so there should be a temporary car park and a community garden. The car park is a great idea, it has improved the parking problems around Böszörményi Road, and the garden is a great idea too.

That was the area

The first meeting

I was invited to a meeting with Mayor Zoltán Pokorni. The meeting was very well organised.

Summary of the meeting, the circumstances of the establishment of the Böszi garden:

First and foremost, it will be a temporary garden, as soon as the economic situation allows, the bank lending rate will drop significantly, the municipality will continue the investment and the garden will be closed. This should be made clear to all future gardeners. We do not know for how long the garden will be there, but we do know one event for sure, and that is the Garden Closing Party, the Farewell Party. At some point we will say goodbye to this garden.

This includes the next aspect of making the garden relocatable-reusable, in case a space is found somewhere later, i.e. the raised beds can be re-installed in the new location. If there is no new garden, they could be rebuilt in the gardens of schools, kindergartens, condominiums for the use of the residents.

The next important consideration was that the future urban gardeners should be residents of the local area, a neighbourhood community. These are Szoboszlai street, Böszörményi street, Beethoven street and a few others also from the neighbourhood, but they also live 5-10 minutes walking distance.

The project is hosted by Krisztina Fonti, deputy mayor of the city, who has been pushing for the gardens in the past. The construction of the garden was managed by the Urban Development Office. All the other coordination was done by the Green Office, with Emese Décsi as the direct contact person and Zoltán Rózsa, the Office Manager, managing the garden establishment at the organisational level.

The opening was scheduled for May – June, which I felt was a bit short, but as it turned out, it was a reasonable deadline.

On the 1st of January we signed a one year contract, I was in charge of garden management, garden and community coordination, consultancy, and organising the community and gardener part of the construction. Garden establishment.

The area itself, the site of the future garden.

The area looked like a bomb crater, a construction pit, it was just tragic. There was an old photo from the Second World War of a garden being built in a bomb crater, so that’s what I thought of when I first saw the pit. World War II, bomb crater garden, England.

There is a relatively large, flat area where a gravel parking area for 100 cars has been created, and next to it is the pit that has already been dug for the future underground car park. This has been marked as the community garden. The garden will be in a pit on the hill, which also seemed like a joke. The conditions were terrible, it was a net putty. I’ve never seen such an impossible site, it seemed a nice job to do a garden here. At the same time, it is a very well- sunny area, the nature of the pit, gives the garden a natural frame, a boundary. In addition, it is directly connected to the Böszörményi road, so that the future garden is one storey below the road level, which means that people walking along the Böszörményi road can see the garden from above. This is a novelty, the landscape design become very important, and it was foreseeable that the future garden would be a very strong visual element of Böszörményi út. There was no water, clearly tube water should be used. There was no topsoil, it would have to be brought in and it was clear that only high beds were an option.

23. January Launch presentation, first applicants.

The first step was to organise a vision presentation, a public forum about the future garden.  The venue was a large meeting room in the municipality. Posters were put up on the doors of the houses in Szoboszlai, Böszörményi, Beethoven Street. On the posters, we announced the Garden Launch lecture for 23 January.

I have a lot of presentations like this, this is my eighth garden, I can present about the garden very well. Usually 45-50 minutes Power Point presentation and then another 50 minutes for questions and answers. It’s a familiar trend that those who attend the first garden launch presentation tend to be the most dedicated garden members later on, they become the “hard core”, the most active members of the garden.

Fot this event, you will need a sign-up sheet, pens, and by then you should have a rough idea of the community development and education agenda.

The sign-up sheet is needed to start internal communication, in this case an email group, by writing down their name, address, phone number and email address.

Nearly thirty people came, it was good, although at the beginning an angry lady came in and interrupted the beginning of the presentation, but then she left and we had a useful and understandable presentation, and many valuable questions, very positive attitude, hopeful expectation. 21 people signed the attendance sheet, they were automatically added to the list of the members of the garden community. It was particularly funny that several people commented that other municipal projects should organise similar introductory presentations, it would make everyone’s life easier if they were informed.

The first article about the garden was published in the Hegyvidék newspaper. This is the district newspaper, Village Voice. Since then, every fortnightly issue of the newspaper has had an article about the garden, and the newspaper has very correctly traced the birth of the garden, the first season.

Questionnaire and formal application.

I wrote a circular to everyone who registered for the attendance sheet at the Garden Launch and sent a link to a questionnaire.

The questionnaire is a good way to see in advance who the potential gardeners will be, we can ask about motivations, gardening knowledge, age, education. We also asked them to write some introductory sentences and why they want to become community garden members. In addition, an electronic questionnaire like this keeps a strict record of the responses received in the order in which they were completed, so it will be a great help later on when managing the waiting list. The same questionnaire was filled in by all those who applied afterwards. Some summary results from the gardeners.

Age, Occupation, Gardening skills, ect.

Community development and gardening training launched

The coming months were busy, with several strands of garden creation starting to take off.

One part was to work with garden members, community development, or at least to tell the candidates roughly how the garden will work, what the first season will be like, what to expect, what chronology to anticipate, what the major milestones will be. There was also talk about the garden contract, the garden rules and the garden responsibilities. In addition, we voted on the first season’s “bed rental fee”. Every garden has costs, tools, seeds, prints, some costs. These are paid for by the community from a common fund, the garden fund, and we have elected a garden treasurer to manage this.

The teacher was Zsuzsanna Helfné Szabó, a good friend, we have done gardens together before, and it was clear that she would be a well-prepared, determined and good gardener-teacher.

In the following four months, we had eight garden assembly meetings.

Closed concept plan tender

Design is one of the most important early steps for any garden – it will determine its usability, its visual appeal and its community life. Without design, you should not build a community garden and it is important that an experienced landscape architect designs the garden, the urban community garden is a separate chapter within landscape architecture, it is good to have a designer who has designed one or has been a community gardener, knows what expectations and features to look for in the design.

We were in a hurry here, so we invited a closed call for designers who have been involved in community garden projects before.

Design elements:

Broadly speaking, the main design elements of a community garden are: fencing, gate, cargo gate, raised beds, water, water network, water displays, walkways, community space, sandpit, pallet furniture, tool storage, herb bedding, composting, compost bin placement, water drainage. Actually, all these features should be in a kind of harmony. It turns out later that the design task is much more complex than that.

Then there are the local specificities: sunlight and shade, water, accessibility, area,  connection with the outside world and, of course, the visual aspect. A community garden is not a park, not the usual urban green space, but perhaps more complex than that. The designer needs to see this.

Kétszeri Adam’s plan

Adam participated in the Békási kert concept plan competition as a student, sometime around 2012. We did a concept design competition with the Department of Landscape Architecture of the then Corvinus University, it was the “university course week”. That’s when the idea of a horseshoe-shaped bed came up. The U-shaped bed is the main element in Adam’s design, but the plan is rather oversized, especially the community space is missing. In the first concept design exercise, the under-utilised space above the garden was an issue, and Adam designed a bike path for this. This area was later dropped from the design brief.

Ági Szabó’s plan

Ági Szabó has been involved in the design of the Első Kis-Pesti Kert 12 years ago, she is very familiar with the world of community gardens, she knows how these gardens work from her own experience. It was a good project, but Ági had to step down because she had found a job in a landscape architect’s studio.

Orsolya Zita Szalai’s plan

The plan is very crowded, overusing the given area, but the richness of detail, the coordination of the different garden elements comes out well from the concept. It is also important that she has delivered a plan of saleable quality, she makes good use of landscape architect’s design programs, the result is a detailed, well thought-out plan, the work is the mark of a careful designer.

Orsolya Zita Szalai was the next best choice, she took the design process through, and as it turned out, she was a very good choice.

To be continued.