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Metro News globe

Footnotes

Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Berlin urban farmers make the best of brownfields

Editor’s Note: Columnist Omar Mouallem is travelling abroad and over the next several weeks will connect areas he’s exploring with similar scenarios in Edmonton.

It was a typical urban scene: cars, buses, bikes and baby strollers ambulated a central Berlin roundabout. Each tire hummed its own urban song. But just a few metres away, through a wired fence, the cacophony was hushed by tree canopies and pockets of vegetation.

I had entered Prinzessinnengarten. The ultimate infill, it's an urban farm on disused land the size of soccer field. Five years ago, before Robert Shaw and Marco Clausen of non-profit Nomadisch Grün (Nomadic Green) leased it from the city, it was one of several wastelands left behind from the Second World War and border crossings.

Now it's an oasis, improving the city's biodiversity and microclimate, increasing recycling, lessoning CO2 emissions and creating a desired public space for one of Berlin's poorest neighbourhoods.

Many cities have urban farms and community gardens, but it's the mobility of Prinzessinnengarten that we can learn from. From the start, in 2009, they knew that it would be a temporary measure until the owners found a more lucrative developer.

It's a typical real estate scenario in Berlin and Edmonton alike. Every 12 months they renewed their contract and transported their other improvised pots to this brownfield from about April to October.

It proves that infill doesn't have to stay barren until there is a shovel in the ground. As well, it shows temporary infill can be more than parking lots.

Further, as cities expand and develop surrounding farmland to accommodate new residents—much in the way Edmonton gobbled up Horse Hill farms in the northeast—food security is increasingly important. Though Clausen is the first to admit their 750-square-metres acreage is negligible compared to industry farming, it can still feed a small community.

And anyone can pitch in or harvest potatoes growing from sacks of soil, tomatoes on improvised trellises, or purchase thyme in a recycled juice box. I preferred tasting some of the 500 small crops grown by volunteers at one of the shipping container restaurants.

And anyone can pitch in or harvest potatoes growing from sacks of soil, tomatoes on improvised trellises, or purchase thyme in a recycled juice box. I preferred tasting some of the 500 small crops grown by volunteers at one of the shipping container restaurants.

As I prepared to leave, thunder cracked the sky and it started pouring. I grabbed my beer (brewed in this very neighbourhood, of course) and took shelter in a shipping container library. I asked the volunteer librarian, what's going to happen when there's an interested developer?

As it turns out, that's already happened. "This is the centre of Berlin, there's lots of interest in developing this land," she explained. So, why hasn't it? "There would be outcry."

While You're There…

Get to know Berlin with an Insider Tour by an Edmontonian—opera art director Brian Deedrick, who splits his time between cities.

A fabulous storyteller, he's weaves joyous and tragic narratives out of unsuspecting sites. Stay at the eclectic hotel 25Hours Berlin, a new hotel mimicking hipster neighbourhoods, complete with craft coffee shop, design store kiosk and free-to-rent commuter bikes.

You'll love your personal hammock overlooking the city zoo. Follow the terrace rooftop into Bikini Berlin, the newly opened concept mall with local designers popping up in giant wood crates.

For an elegant stay, check into the Wyndham Grand Berlin. The affordable and spacious rooms have marble finishings, free-standing tubs and other little luxuries that make going outside difficult. You should though, if at least to dine at in-house restaurant The Post, where chef Sebastian Pergel offers some of Berlin's best Mediterranean dishes.

This is part six in a series exploring urban design and reclamation lessons in European cities.