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Sustainable Urbanism:


Joseph I.P. Smith



This is a study of Hulme Community Garden Centre, a community led inner city horticultural project in Manchester. The study investigates the project’s approach to developing a site and social systems and assesses how it may inform the discourse of sustainable urbanism. The investigation and assessment revolves around 3 core topics: >Social structures >Architectural approach >Political and economic factors SOCIAL STRUCTURES: The Community Garden is a not-for-profit social enterprise with the mission of bringing the community of Hulme (and other areas of Manchester such as neighbouring Moss Side) together through gardening (D&A 2012). It is inclusive and aims to benefit everyone, however it focuses in particular on marginalised groups of society. Fundamentally, the focus of the project is education and training, implemented through volunteer programs, events and liason with various other local organisations. ARCHITECTURAL APPROACH: Recently the organisation has acquired an empty car park adjacent to its current plot and an expansion plan is already being implemented. This plan was formulated by the architectural firm URBED, however in keeping with the nature of the project it was result of collaboration between project coordinators, professionals and members of the community. Thus the project is an example of democratic design- a rarity in conventional architectural doctrine and urban development. Being a horticultural development the project is naturally driven by consideration for cultivation, however a series of supplementary buildings have already been constructed with more to follow. Internal and external spaces have been carefully considered in the expansion plan with the aim of creating an optimised environment for the Community Garden’s many functions to flourish. Resourceful, low-impact sustainable design is the core philosophy for all constructions undertaken in the project. POLITICAL & ECONOMIC FACTORS: The project is inherently political given its urban site in close proximity to central Manchester and its reliance on National Lottery funding. Annexation of the car park in 2011 secured a 10 year lease for the site, 5 more than the previous term; hopefully the expansion will generate further success and ensure long term stability for the project. Essentially, the Community Garden goes against the grain of conventional urban development and in doing so proves that disused brownfield land can be cultivated by local people for local people, given the necessary support frameworks. CULTIVATION: TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE URBANISM The word cultivation is derived from the Latin cultūra, which also means care. Through care about gardening and community the HCGC project cultivates not only land but people and in doing so, creates a culture of caring. Thus, the elemental concept of growing is both literal and metaphoral. This sentiment underlines the fundamental principle this study promotes: ground up development for the benefit of the community. This study argues that such development is inherently sustainable for it is democratic, resourceful and promotes a sustainable culture. HCGC and similar projects are at the forefront of sustainable urbanism for they deal with real spaces, real people and real issues- sustainability is not an image, a statistic or a utopia; it is a cultivated reality.


Fig. 1: Site Map

Fig. 2: Site Plan

Hulme Community Garden Centre has been established for 10 years. It is situated within a fragmented urban context undergoing regeneration. Due to post war clearance schemes only a handful of historic buildings remain and many of the system build developments which followed have also since been demolished. The result of this was in effect another tabula rasa, circa 1991 when the notorious Crescents were felled. What has follwed is is now a leading example of contemporary urbanism. The framework proposed by Hulme City Challenge in 1994 has been implemented and a modern, more sustainable Hulme is emerging. One principle outlined in the document was: encourage developments which can bring innovation and quality to the area... [which] will help to give residents and other users a sense of responsibility and belonging, a key to long term sustainability. (Hulme City Challenge 1994) HCGC embodies this principle and has risen within the context of the City Challenge framework. It has gradually grown, coming to flourish in recent years leading to the opportunity for its current expansion venture. The organisation’s involvements extend beyond the garden itself into various projects, partnerships and even government policy making. In effect, it has become a catalyst for change across Manchester and beyond and has gained influence and reputation, even becoming a flagship case study for community garden projects in Denmark (Sampson, 2012). These developing branches should reinforce the longevity and success of the organisation and the garden in Hulme, As a not-for-profit charity organisation, the project relies on government funding and donations, for example Big Lottery Fund, which supports ‘projects that help people and communities most in need’ (BLF, n.d.). These communities are identified using the national deprivation index, in which Hulme and its neighbour Mosside are ranked as highly deprived. HCGC focuses on supporting the people within these deprived communities, particularly those who are marginalised. Participation is orchestrated largely through associated organisations, reflecting the importance of such infrastructure. To give an idea of scale, in 2011 over 3300 volunteer opportunities were provided (Sampson, 2012). Continued growth enables this number to continue rising and also provides opportunity for employment positions within the organisation. One opportunity emerging in parallel is that of medical referrals to HCGC. The therapeutic benefits of horticulture are gaining medical recognition and HCGC is investigating this in collaboration with local health organisations. If successful these referrals would provide significant revenue to assist in the strive for financial independence.


Fig. 3: Development Models

The expansion project is already underway but in keeping with the character of the garden, it is developing on the most part informally. This is reflective of the architectural approach, which is driven principally by resource efficiency and relationship with nature. The first major construction, the eco-classroom, was completed in 2011. It combines both low-tech and high-tech elements; the walls are constructed of hay bales but the green roof cohabits with photovoltaic cells. A community workshop was conducted in 2011 to democratically to produce an expansion masterplan. The main outputs from this were 3 models produced collaboratively by 3 groups, which represent the elements chosen and the spatial relationships between these elements and the surrounding fabric. From this, project leaders and architects formulated a design brief and underwent an iterative process, formulating 3 proposals before reaching a final masterplan. The masterplan incorporates not only functions but processes, thus formulating an ecology of interdependent systems articulated by the architecture and landscaping. Proposed structures include a shop, workshop office and storage spaces and the expanded garden space will accomodate a larger community garden, allotment space and additional polytunnels. This should all enable the project to expand organically.

Fig. 4: Spatial Diagram

Fig. 5: Proposed Structures: Storage (top) and Workshop (bottom)

ANALYSIS The Hulme Community Garden Project is a successful example of ground up development and its many benefits. It has taken an otherwise empty and unsightly brownfield plot and transformed it into a vibrant part of the city. This was made possible by government funding but could never had hapenned without the hard work of a handful of people determined to make their community a better place. Thus it is testament to the power of people, not authorities or developers, to take control of their own urban environments and turn them into the places they strive them to be. This is made difficult in a system where land is only available to the wealthy few and its value is measured in monetary capital rather than its value to the community it serves. This wouldn’t be a problem if those with the money, such as large developers, were principally concerned with the places and the people they were intervening with. For they would provide the facilites those places and people need and want and would invest in these ideals. However in reality investments are on the most part speculative, and the desired return is primarily profit rather than social gain. The concept of cultivation provides a viable counterpoint to this, where local people can take control of their own destinies and cultivate their own urban fabrics and communities. This is a collaborative process.

REFERENCE Barton, H. et al. (2010) Shaping Neighbourhoods for Local Health and Global Sustainability. 2nd Edition, Oxon: Routledge. Bell B., Wakeford K. (2008) Expanding Architecture Design as Activism. New York: Metropolis. Guy S., Farmer, G. (2001) ‘Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: The Place of Technology.’ Journal of Architectural Education, 54(3) 140-148. Hulme City Challenge. (1994) Rebuilding the City a Guide to Development in Hulme. Manchester: Hulme Regeneration Ltd. National Lottery. (no date) Big Lottery Fund. National Lottery. [Online][Accessed May 2012]. Rudlin, H. (no date) Hulme Community Garden Centre. HCGC. [Online][Accessed May 2012]. Sampson, J. (2012) Hulme Community Garden Centre SD03_Design and Access Statement. Manchester: URBED. * URBED. (2012) Hulme Community Garden Centre. URBED. [Online][Accessed May 2012]. *All images from Design and Access Statement.