London’s Urban Physics Garden: Urbanites Growing Cures and Community
While in London last week, our Director Thomas Lawrence was entranced by this inventive community garden nestled next to the Charles Dickens Free House pub/restaurant. The Urban Physics Garden brings neighbors and researchers together to use this previously neglected space for growing medicinal plants alongside the herbs and spices that one finds in traditional gardens. A collaboration between a nearby hospital and pharmacy with the designers from Wayward Plants, this garden was constructed using volunteer labor, discarded materials, and donated plants. Organizers have planned events such as workshops and seminars alongside artistic shows and exhibits to turn this into a true community showcase. After being turned into a kitchen by Rambling Restaurant, a reconfigured ambulance on site will provide a delicious locally grown menu. Located on Union Street and open to the public between June and August, the garden is sure to reinvigorate the London streetscape.
The Urban Physics Garden demonstrates the way researchers continually comb nature for medicine and remedies that improve the human condition. Trees can help prevent heart attacks and combat cancer, fungus fights human infections, and animal venoms provide powerful pain relievers. Scientists have barely begun to crack the codes that plants and animals possess and continued stewardship of our flora and fauna promises irreplaceable cures for present and future afflictions.
Video: GPI Director Thomas Lawrence speaks with one of the volunteers
This endeavor also highlights an increasing trend one finds in cities today that emphasizes locally sourced foods. Many of the menu items we eat today trek thousands of miles before they end up on our dinner plate, burning more fossil fuels than any other economic sector besides autos. Besides drastically increasing the carbon footprint of the items we eat, this travel often demands the use of chemicals, excessive handling, and shipping techniques that minimize spoilage and profit loss at the cost of taste and health benefits. Like the garden Tom found, urban gardeners seek to use the empty spaces that proliferate throughout cities and put them to great use. This concept isn’t new; it had just been neglected. During World Wars I and II, with massive amounts of the labor force involved in the war efforts, governments promoted small lot farming. These Victory Gardens at one point accounted for forty percent of the veggies the nation consumed, being responsible for increased sense of community morale and contribution to the war effort.
Large population centers can each spend billions on food and with the drastic increase of fuel prices, the cost of our dinner promises to only grow. By increasing the ratio of urban grown food we eat by just a few percentage points, communities can save millions. Many of the poverty stricken areas in cities oftentimes find themselves riddled with urban blight. These areas, perfectly primed for urban gardens, can affect their communities in a cornucopia of positive ways. With raising their own food, neighbors can cut their food bill and have increased access to items, like organic foods, that are normally outside of the low-income price range. The increasing trend in for-profit urban farming points to another economic benefit with some estimates of a $60,000-90,000 per acre profit possible depending on crops. By promoting the local cohesion that our modern age seems to disdain, these gardens can nurture neighborhood empowerment and an increased sense of communal responsibility.
Besides all that, digging in the dirt is fun and recent studies hint that regular contact with soil actually improves one’s mood. Providing an interaction with nature that many in the concrete-covered environment wouldn’t normally experience, these urban gardens also connect individuals to a natural world which we depend on much more than it often seems.