We started working to actively engage with our neighbours about 2 and half years ago when the ‘treading lightly’ idea hadn’t even been germinated. We’ve actively sought to be outside, to get to know our neighbours and have organised street barbecues to get people out of their houses and into ‘their’ street.
But recently a really cool thing has begun to happen. People have started to take the idea of planting out our nature strips, add their own and run with them. We are stopped on the street to catch up on what’s going on, and ideas around how to engage with local business’s have started. I’ve had a long conversation with a local tradesman who did some amazing work up-cycling wall timbers after a renovation to make our kitchen bench and shelves. He’s amazingly skillful and really keen to do some work in the community and so has taken it upon himself to build a community notice board.We’ve had discussions about fruit sharing, street bread making and baking and now the ‘Johnson Strip’ has begun in earnest.
The concept is really quite simple. Our nature strip faces west which means that on hot days (and there’s been enough them already!) the hot air combines with the afternoon sun and converts grass to dust. We want to replant nature strips all up the street to be either native or vegetable producing spaces. We’ve had some small scale attempts to green our own strip but all we’ve managed to grow is a saltbush which was thriving, but sadly fairly ugly. The difference now is that it’s not just about us, there are half a dozen residents up the length of the street who are keen to join in.
But this introduces what I think is one of the biggest problem for communities encouraging local ownership, local production and local life. We know from the incredible edibles project (see ‘Making the Transition‘ ) that breaking down barriers is important. Hence the work on the wicking boxes to try and make vegie production as easy as possible. We are connecting with other local groups like the lemon tree project (thelemontreeproject.com) and reclaim the curb (reclaimthecurb.org) because I firmly believe that there’s enough
work for us all without wheel re-invention. But it is the engagement of local people is the key, and not just some, but a broad range of people with different backgrounds, beliefs and skills. Without the careful factoring in about how we can encourage ‘people life’ not just ‘plant life’ I don’t think it’s going to bring about the change that I believe we need to deal with the future.
With this in mind we set about trying to appeal to a range of people and show what’s possible. We trawled around the local area taking photo’s of nature strips and overlaying statements (that are attached to the photos in this post) that were designed to appeal to a range of people. Prior to our first meeting I had these printed out and stuck them on stakes up and down the road.
Did it work, did anyone notice, who knows! I do know that there is a palpable excitement in the air though, that we’re meeting new people, fostering new links and that there is a narrative between us now that gives us common ground. And that’s pretty exciting!