Inspired by a planter box further down our street, Georgina and I had always wanted to do something similar in our little neighbourhood. So, it turns out, did a few of our neighbours and, in December 2008, we scavenged some scrap wood and built two new garden beds in the “No Standing” zone across the road from our house. The idea spread and we did another one at a friend’s place in Nth Fitzroy and then a third one with a new friend whom I had only met through chatting around our boxes. Street planter boxes are a great way to meet people. In fact, they’re a great way to re-make a neighbourhood.

But our house is just near the Fitzroy Town Hall and the watchful eye of Yarra Council fell upon the boxes. In 2009, a council report cooked up some imagined risks and recommended that all “guerrilla gardening” be removed, including our boxes and even Glenda Lindsay’s beautiful Queens Pde garden. By the time the report came out, we were living in PNG where I was doing fieldwork for my PhD. But it was clear that the gardeners of the City of Yarra were mobilising to defend a greener vision of what our streets should look like. We fired off angry emails while others took councillors on tours of their gardens, made phone calls and lobbied. Glenda even sang at the packed house Council meeting. The councillors voted down the report—

Officers were to leave guerrilla gardens alone and a new Community Gardens Advisory Committee was formed to argue out the details (that was my idea!).

This Advisory Committee, made up of councillors, council bureaucrats and local residents argued out issues of environment, urban agriculture, community participation, risk management and local laws. Over six months or perhaps a bit longer, we put together Yarra Council’s Urban Agriculture Guidelines and established funding for an Urban Agriculture Facilitator. This position acknowledges that Council isn’t really set up to do urban agriculture, so the facilitator (a charming and very knowledgeable chap by the name of Pete Huff) has the job of working around bureaucratic obstacles that prevent the community from doing more gardening. That is amazing!

What’s even more amazing is that Pete has taken a lead in replacing our old scrap wood (and rapidly decomposing) boxes with brand new wicking beds. As you’ll see from the photos, these look great and also require much less water, so we look forward to seeing more and more of them on the streets of Fitzroy and beyond. Indeed it could be well beyond as Yarra’s Guidelines are being used by other councils as a model. Stay tuned for a street garden near you!  Or give Pete a ring and get together with your neighbours to do one of your own. You get fresh herbs (or whatever you plant) and a whole new network of friends and neighbours. I won’t go into the food resilience and climate change stuff here.

Thanks to all those who inspired us and helped out, particularly Mark from the first planter box down the road, Indi for getting us going and Kathleen, Amelia, Andrew and Caroline who really took up the idea, as did Peter Cotton. That’s not to neglect some very important catalysts: Glenda Lindsay, Peta Christiansen from Cultivating Community, Cr Sam Gaylard and the above-mentioned Peter Huff. And the many other friends and neighbours who have joined in and worked on the gardens or just encouraged us. Sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone!

John Cox

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