Exploring informal urban greenspace in Brisbane and Sapporo


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See "slide notes" for comments/contexts/quotes from residents!

Presentation based on a talk I gave for the URP 2013 Gold Coast Seminar Series, Griffith University, February 2013.

The talk introduces informal urban greenspace, its definition and how I studied it. I then describe the ecology and use of some IGS types in more detail (street verges, gaps, vacant lots, railway verges and waterside areas). The residents of Brisbane and Sapporo voice their opinion on informal greenspace. I end the presentation with some thoughts on methodology.

Contact: focx@focx.de - http://www.treepolis.org - this presentation is under a CC-BY-SA license.

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  • Exploring informal urban greenspace in Brisbane and Sapporo. By Christoph Rupprecht, based on a talk for the URP 2013 Gold Coast Seminar Series, Griffith University, February 2013.Contact: focx@focx.de - http://www.treepolis.orgThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. For details see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en_USYou are free:to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the workto Remix — to adapt the workto make commercial use of the workUnder the following conditions:Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.
  • Informal greenspace not new, people have written about vacant lots and brownfields before, these are the words they used.
  • Kühn (Intentions for the Unintentional, 2006) Spontaneous vegetation is defined as all plants that develop without intentional horticultural input, is a characteristic element of the urban environment. It grows at no financial cost, is authentic and is always appropriate to site conditions. Del Tredici who wrote the field guide “Wild urban plants of the Northeast” calls spontaneous veg. “the de facto native vegetation of the city.” (2010).
  • Studied different types, will talk about some types in more detail later.Next: how did I study it?
  • Different climate, but similar urban morphology (central core), geography (mountains, river, ocean)
  • Survey 2000 per city, Brisbane fieldwork by car, Sapporo by bicylce (>500km).
  • 121 Sites 1km apart from each other on a 10 by 10 km grid. Each site 50 by 50 meters, working on a local scale. Bird point count location chosen somewhere on edge of site, middle not feasible (access). Not all sites accessible (e.g. inside military base).
  • Big variety from mown lawn to weeds to overgrown foot paths. Frequent inhabitant: noisy miner.
  • “Original state” either lawn mats or cracks in the pavement -> without management, development will progress along white arrow. Need considerable ressources tokeep status quo or even move to the left.
  • Used by Australia Post, creation “trails” on verges. Formal use: road signs, hydrants. Informal use: rubbish collection, playground.
  • Next level use: modification; make the neighbourhood your garden – pots or just plantings on public verges.
  • Exist mostly in Japan because of urban structure – gaps between buildings and land uses (car park etc.). Plants, sparrows
  • Harsh conditions: light and nutrient restricted, compacted soil, but also little disturbance in some places. Measuring tree diameter at breast height (top right).
  • Use as garden space if you have no garden; air cons, oil tanks, gas bottles, bicycle storage or dump.
  • Larger area, ecological history of former (garden) use, soil seed bank -> flowers
  • Gravel to discourage plants (of course in vain), some short-term (top right garden has still name of resident), bottom right council-owned land long-term.
  • attractive for use -> consciousness about use -> entry prohibited signs. study by Hayashi et al. (1999) looks at accessibility and potential for playground.
  • Formal use: car parking, informal use: sports, but also gardening.
  • Influence of geography (cliffs), and maintenance (low-frequency herbicide -> high grasses dominate)
  • Infrastructure around railways (stations etc.) offer lots of place for vegetation. Lantana in fence between track and pedestrian line. Vacant space underneath trainline.
  • Unwanted’s stick together: invasive cacti and graffiti. Formal and informal gardening next to railway lines.
  • Shiroishi Cycling Road – 1973 closed as a rail track, re-opened 2004; 20km, 10km extension planned. Why not do this with roads, too? But: such projects can also lead to gentrification (see High Line in New York).
  • Diverse space with plants colonizing slope and water body alike, water birds but also fish, turtles (bottom right, often abandoned pets).
  • Influence of slope angle and substrate (soil, concrete), water volume and speed influences silting. Present even in harsh environments (urban core Nagoya bottom right).
  • Used by homeless – just as informal vegetation, hiding from attention of authorities. Very precarious (flood risk etc.)
  • Recreational use (fishing from bank or in stream), walking, cycling with (spontaneous)vegetation making the scenery enjoyable
  • Most amazing use: flood banks used for informal but semi-professional urban agriculture. Sapporo City has put up warning notices, are ignored. Sophisticated infrastructure (ladder for access, drainage water used for irrigation).
  • Quotes from IGS survey responses on question “Does IGS make your life better or worse or both, or is it neutral?” “Why?” Used for general comments on IGS. Coded by categories: feelings, use/non-use, children, negative, philosophy. Favourite from Brisbane: FAKE (apologies to park researchers!). Will now let residents speak
  • “It breaks the monotony of houses.” “I feel better knowing that wildlife at least has a small sanctuary from over-development.”
  • “Informal greenspace breaks the tedium of urban living.” “It gladdens me when nature finds a way to thrive in a city.”
  • “It is nice for animals to co-exist with us.”
  • “It makes me peaceful, content, shake off worries of the world and happy.”
  • “We use it daily when walking the dog. We see lots of different birds on our way.”
  • “Our apartment complex is currently turning informal greenspace into a community garden. This activity is being done all over Paris, too. When a block of apartments is pulled down by the local council, the neighbours take it over to grow fruit and veg. It creates a sense of community.”
  • “When I walk everyday on hard concrete it’s wonderful – some wild creepers and plants I haven’t seen since I was a child, and lots of them you can eat. Lots of wild passionfruits berries, fruit etc.”
  • “I have grown up and don’t use it anymore.”
  • “As a child I used greenspaces as a playground/exploration ground. I feel they are a great space for children to experience the natural environment, especially in the inner city where this is rarely found.”
  • “Children get to experience some of wilderness. Better because spaces that have no definite designated purpose allow the fostering of free thought and have a relaxed atmosphere.”
  • “Although I do recognise their value as a refuge for animal & plant species, they also may pose danger to children which like to play in them – just like I did when I was little.”
  • “Whilst I like nature I also like things aesthetically pleasing. There is nothing pleasant, calming or relaxing in looking at/encountering a bit of a mess… that looks neglected. The space could be used for growing vegies, community lots etc. It’s the abandoned element I don’t like.”
  • “Have an abandoned lot next door with overgrown weeds, rats, litter and other insects/animals.” “They are refuge for rats and vermin and noxious plants. At least two vacant residences have been used by druggies and petty thiefs for a decade or more – pluss graffiti – local authorities are slack and the place is an eyesore!”
  • “I have little or no personal experience of it but when I do see it along railway lines for example it’s no pretty sight.”
  • “Nature strips are no longer cared for by councils very often and with more people renting they just don’t mow them. As soon as grass gets long then people just start dumping rubbish.”
  • “I find the city and surrounds can be too orderly and clean. Everywhere needs its rough diamonds of beauty and nature. Many informal greenspaces and abandonged sites are “real life”.”
  • “We live in a very organised world – it’s good when nature takes over and reminds us that we only have temporary use of the space. In the urban environment, man usually wins the battle against nature, so it is nice to see nature fighting back where it can.”
  • “Informal greenspace’ informality allows more people to use the space in more and different ways. It’s informality echoes the informality of our society in our youth and formative years.”
  • “I believe it provides “vagueness” in an ordered built environment. This allows the potential for spontaneous, highest and best use by willing participants. For example, children wishing to explore and play will be greeted by a “wild” environment. An enthusiastic community group will create a thriving community garden… etc.”
  • Now comments from Sapporo.
  • “It makes me feel how strong nature’s plants really are.” “I feel very uneasy when thinking about humans controlling everything.”
  • “The changing colours of greenspace from season to season are pleasant to the eye and make you feel comforted. The air is delicious, and the wide space lets you feel relieved and satisfied. As a habitat and playground for wild animals, it gives a real feeling of living on this earth together.”
  • “Unlike maintained greenspace, it has something you can grasp with all five senses, and I don’t want it to disappear. But unless we venture out to look for it, it might have little influence on our everyday life. “
  • “If left to nature and given time, even a tiny one will develop something like an ecosystem. But people always litter. It’s embarassing.”
  • “It’s scenery changing with the seasons, the plants and animals you meet – it fills me with joy.”
  • “I feel more freedom if there is unused space rather than buildings without room in between.” / “Rather than seeing nothing but man-made objects, it’s pleasant and relieving if there is a bit of nature sometimes.”
  • “Depending on the informal greenspace, it would be great to use it as a small playground or so. But because of litter problems, we should make them into “talking spaces” people can have fun looking after and using them together, even use public funding for it!”
  • “I don’t think it would be good if everything ended up converted to man-made objects, people’s dog or cat walk courses would disappear. In a winter place like Sapporo, it’s also important as a place to dump snow.”
  • “For people living in cities it’s important to be able to experience unmaintained nature. The chance to encounter rare plants or animals makes these places fascinating.”
  • “Near railway lines people often grow vegetables and flowers and so on. You can see it a lot when riding the train. I think they grow it there because they have no other space.”
  • “Children can experience nature, come in touch with all kind of living things, learn about the preciousness of life. It’s also a great chance for them to make up their own games and rules rather than just use the play tools they are given.”
  • “Finding bugs, playing in grass as high as the kids themselves – what a great experience for children! It certainly was for me. I found bugs that just weren’t there in parks.”
  • “When I was a child, there were lots of vacant lots and it was normal for kids to play there. Today most of them a hard to get in.” / “Today, there’s no place for young teenagers to go other than hanging out in front of convenience stores. Even in Doraemon (a very famous Japanese cartoon, Author’s note) the children play in vacant lots every day. And parks are so overmaintained there’s nothing except a few ants.”
  • “I think it’s good there is green but it doesn’t look nice!” / “The areas beauty sinks and it feels unclean.”
  • “Space that’s unmaintained and where people’s eyes don’t reach are dangerous.” / “They are dangerous at night.” / “It may hide adults abducting children or violent high school kid gangs. / We might be able to observe animals, but dangerous ones like snakes and wasps may be there, too. “
  • “What must have been original forest 150 years ago, is in today’s Sapporo a place where all but a little is concrete jungle with a tiny bit green left.”
  • “To make nature in the future something that’s developed through an artifical, human-controlled process is something that must not be. Developing with human intent (hardening with concrete, cutting roads through mountains, daming up rivers, making things straight) leads to a world with more natural disasters, floods, landslides. Arbitrarily declaring from the human point of view that some plants and animals are pests, and regulating their numbers, are also a form of destroying nature. We musn’t focus only on the scenery of the city. To think of weeds as something dirty while reaping nature’s benefits as humans – that’s nothing but conceited. I believe we must overlook a few small inconveniences and trouble, keep our hands off and leave a bit of city space to nature.”
  • “A neutral zone that belongs to nobody is necessary: left-over room, margins, interstices, space. A life like in the city, where man-made objects are surrounded by nothing but artificial greenspace is suffocating.”
  • Some thoughts on methodology. Found many fascinating things (fox at 7am in city park, street trees as public art, artificial crow to scare off birds from rubbish station, river used for paddling) by spending time walking the city. Flâneur as a method for guide books regaining popularity in Japan (see Schulz 2006). Do we need more destination-less exploring, less rigid methods to get more interesting results while using less resources?
  • References: Del Tredici, P. & Pickett, S. T. A. (2010). Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: a Field Guide. Cornell University Press.Google Maps (2012), Maps of Brisbane & Sapporo, http://maps.google.comHayashi, M., Tashiro, Y. & Kinoshita, T. (1999). A Study on Vacant Lots Enclosed by Fences in Relation to Urbanization. Journal of the Japanese Institute of Landscape Architecture, 63(5), 667–670.Kühn, N. (2006). Intentions for the Unintentional: Spontaneous Vegetation as the Basis for Innovative Planting Design in Urban Areas. Journal of Landscape Architecture, 2006(2), 46–53.Schulz, E. (2006). Megalopolis Tokyo – Die Rückeroberung Des Städtischen Raums Durch Den Flaneur. goethe.de. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://www.goethe.de/kue/arc/dos/dos/sls/sfo/de1566336.htm
  • Exploring informal urban greenspace in Brisbane and Sapporo

    1. Exploring informal urban greenspace in Brisbane and SapporoChristoph RupprechtURP 2013 Gold Coast Seminar Series, Griffith University
    2. • What is informal greenspace?• How did I study it?• Exploring informal greenspace• Flâneur – walking the city Source: Del Tredici
    3. How people describe informal greenspace
    4. What is informal greenspace?• Not recognised or managed by owner as – recreational space – agricultural space – conservation space• Previously modified• Spontaneous vegetation
    5. IGS Typology Basic types: 1. Verge 2. Lot 3. Gap 4. Brownfield 5. Powerline 6. Railway 7. Waterside 8. Structural 9. Microsite
    6. Study locations Brisbane SapporoFounded 1824, city status 1902 1868, city status 1922Population 1,07 mil. (2010)  1,3 mil. (2031) 1,9 mil. (2011)  1,8 mil. (2030)Pop. density 770/km2 (peak >5,000/km2) 1,700/km2 (peak >8,000/km2)Local parks 32m2 per person 12m2 per person Source: Google Maps Source: Google Maps
    7. Data collection Source: Sapporo City1. Spatial, GIS and IGS attribute data • IGS proportion & type • Accessibility • Human use2. Ecological data • vegetation structure • bird species occurrence3. Social data: • Resident survey on IGS use, attitude and urban nature attitude • central planning policy documents (Sapporo Green Plan, Brisbane City Plan) Source: Sapporo
    8. Sampling1km sampling site 10m IG S City centre 50m bird point count location 0 50 100 example on edge of site, chosen for max. field of sight % IGS cover 10km 10x10km grid with 121 sampling sites
    9. Street verges: ecology
    10. Succession without high energy/labour maintenance
    11. Street verges: use
    12. Street verges:use & modification
    13. Gaps: ecology
    14. Gaps: use
    15. Lots: ecology
    16. Lots: use(able?) Source: Hayashi 1999
    17. Lots: use
    18. Railway: ecology
    19. Railway: use
    20. Railway: re-use
    21. Waterside: ecology
    22. Waterside: use
    23. IGS impressions & residents’ voices: Brisbane“It’s REAL,not FAKElike a park”
    24. Feelings
    25. Use / non-use
    26. Children
    27. Negativecomments
    28. Philosophy
    29. IGS impressions & residents’ voices: Sapporo“Green only in designated spaces?That’s unnatural.”
    30. Feelings
    31. Use
    32. Children
    33. No Don’t enter!playing!
    34. Negative comments
    35. Philosophy
    36. Flâneur – walking the city
    37. Want to see more?• Follow on Twitter: @focx• Web: www.treepolis.org