Spring up Smart Living in Budapest - Urban and community gardens

The blog was written by Marine Mellado Ruiz and Jesus Roche

The skyline is typical suburban Budapest: a mass of uniform towering concrete blocks among which a pedestrian could easily get lost. But down here, sandwiched in the middle of these grey surroundings is a colourful and lively eruption of foliage, fruits and flowers. These overflowing plants grow in wooden raised beds arranged in a wave shape that reminds me the symbol of RSS logo
network signal. It actually fits very well with the atmosphere of the place where new types of connections are becoming possible.

“This is a great project to bring people together. This community garden enabled neighbours that weren’t used to interacting with each other to meet, share knowledge, learn and socialise”, explains Gábor. “It was amazing to see these twenty-six families joining forces to build the garden in April. They collected recycled pallets to build wooden raised beds, a composting bin and tables for
the ‘social corner’. They got strongly involved in organizing meetings every two weeks. You could tell everyone was enthusiastic; they would often stay until 11pm. It definitely has been very successful as a community, not only as a garden.”

Gábor Rosta has long been interested in urban gardens. A couple of years ago, he published a book, A Varosi Tanya (The City Farm), that provides all the information needed to start a community garden from setting the beds to permaculture and composting. To make these pages become reality, he settled the Városi Kertek Egyesület (Urban Garden Public Benefit) company. He has been pioneering this project for two years. Bringing enthusiasm and patience with administrative procedures, he successfully managed to involve the city council - a first in Hungary.

When we asked “Do you believe in social change now?”, Gábor responded by sharing the story of a resident of the district who decided to change his daily walk home from work so that he could watch the community garden evolve. Even though he couldn’t participate in the garden (there is a waiting list of over 100 families), he clearly felt that the garden was an important focal point of the district. During our visit, a couple of pensioners were sitting enjoying the view and chatting on the benches installed beside the entrance, overlooking the garden.

This garden is a real success inspiring the long waiting list of participants among the 60 000 habitants in the district. From there, Gábor is planning exiting prospects to see more urban garden spring up in new districts: 11 will be opened next year – with the help of community members trained to group management – and 100 are expected to be built within 5 years.

Would you like to set up a community garden in your neighbourhood? Actually it’s very easy and you can get a lot of support from specialists. The Supercity Community Garden video realized by KÉK – Kortárs Építészeti Központ and the Kozossegi Kertek’s website will help you to set it up step by step with the relevant information and support.

For budapestiek, grunds are traditionally engraved in the common memory as social interaction spaces such as the famous novel from Molnár Ferenc “A Pál utcai fiúk” (The Paul Street Boys) evokes. Drawing from this cultural and historical heritage, Jesus Roche’s blogpost invites you to an imaginary journey linking the stories of the garden of the past and the present.

Video Supercity_Community Gardens, KÉK – Kortárs Építészeti Központ.

Community gardens

Nemecsek closed the door of his small flat and took two steps to go to the lift and press the call button. While he was waiting, he told himself that perhaps he could first call the lift and then close the door. In that way, something could entertain him while the slow lift was reaching his eighth floor.

Rare were the occasions when he got to meet some next-door neighbours by the landing. Each resident knew each other’s habits and did everything possible to avoid meeting them. In the end, for 25 years he was repeating automatically the same steps every day. By staring close enough at the ground, he would most probably see the marks of the footprints of his shoes engraved on the concrete floor.

But this morning, when he went outside the building, Nemecsek did something unusual. The footprints of his shoes engraved on the pavement clearly indicated that he should turn to his right to go to the bus stop, which day after day for the last 25 years was taking him from the XIXth district to his workplace and bringing him back some hours later, always following the same steps.

However, this morning Nemecsek hasn't turned to his right. He stands in front of the entrance, feeling in his face a warm breeze, something unusually in these days of October. He looks around, watching the residential blocks built during the old regime. All are identical. All of them equally repeated in many other suburban areas. In his worst nightmare, he dreamed that one day, while he was coming back to his neighborhood, he couldn’t recognize his home, dissimulated amidst a lot of similar blocks, and that from that night he would have to sleep in the street. Just as homeless people that everyday are more common in the streets of Budapest. Perhaps the same happened to them. Maybe they can neither find their home between all those grey hives.

The noise of the entrance door closing behind got him out of his dark thoughts.
“Exactly five minutes! – he thoughts - Neither more nor less.
His neighbour had just closed the door and he turned to say good morning.
- Jó napot kívánok. — The other replied unsteadily, surprised by the sudden sociability of its next-door neighbour.

Then Nemecsek resumed his normal walk, but contrary to what he had done in the last 25 years, he took the way to the left, as it had done in the past three months, since he had discovered that curious garden that had been springing in a corner of his XIXth district.

A hundred of steps ahead, he arrives to the fences that surround the urban garden. No one was there. It was early in the morning as well as on a working day. The 26 families working in each cubicle used to come in the weekend.

He watched those wooden beds and after checking that everything was more or less the same, he continued through his new route to the bus stop.

He would also like to have a small plot to cultivate, but he heard that the waiting list was above 100 families, although new gardens would be surely openned next year.
100 families! That seemed to be far from the days when the Hungarians were forbidden to join!

Suddenly the words of the book of Molnár Ferenc “A Pál utcai fiúk” (The Paul Street Boys) came to his mind. He knew them by heart. At the end, his parents gave ​him the same name as the book's protagonist. Besides, he had recently reread it over. Especially the beginning of the second chapter:

“The grund… You handsome, robust country lads of the wide open spaces, who need only step outside your doors to be close to limitless meadows, under a marvellous vast canopy of blue; you whose eyes have grown accustomed to great distances; you who are no trapped in tenements – you cannot possibly know what a vacant lot means to a city-bred child. To the child of Budapest it is his open country, his grassland, his plains. To him it spells freedom and boundlessness, this plot of ground that is hedged about by a rickety fence on one side, and by rearing walls stabbing skyward.”

People living far from these grey tenements of the XIXth district wouldn’t be able to know what this garden means to them. It’s not only the plants. It’s not only the products that are obtained from them…

Who knows! Maybe tomorrow Nemecsek would wait again to greet his neighbour. Maybe one day he would invite his neighbour for a beer. He might even invite other neighbours of the block.

Nemecsek remembered the words that professor Rácz pronounced to warn the children of Putty Club: “Don't ever dare to form a club again!” But that time has passed. Maybe it would be a good idea to found a neighborhood association in the district. Perhaps he will talk to Gabor, who had set up the community garden.