Fight for the Right… to Green

Lecture Monitor: Jun. 2012

Vienna's refugee village

Macondo: a community garden in Vienna’s refugee village | Photo: Elke Krasny

Many modern cities can seem like a mass of concrete buildings, neon signs, and pollution. In fortunate cities like Vienna, a combination of culture, tradition and attentive government has drawn a greener picture, with boulevards of shady trees and communal parks. Yet, in some less-fortunate cities, citizens have had to reclaim their “right to green” themselves, like guerilla gardeners.

The exhibition “Hands-On Urbanism 1850-2012: The Right to Green” at the Vienna Centre for Architecture (Architekturzentrum Wien) in MuseumsQuartier explores the roots of this alternative urban idea. It is a history of urban activism with residents participating in the creation of liveable spaces. Among other things, it details how successful solutions in times of crisis are not always planned from the top down, but from the bottom up.

One 1918 placard in the exhibition reflects this sentiment, declaring “Get behind ‘the girl he left behind’ – Join the land army!”, calling citizens to cultivate gardens, like the Schmelz in Vienna’s 15th District. Following WWI, a Settlers’ Movement (Siedlerbewegung) under the new government of “Red Vienna” became a kind of “poor people’s movement” of societal change. Even today, settlements like Rosenhügel in Hietzing demonstrate this solidarity in urban life.

The various examples in the exhibition show that in the wake of rapid urban expansion, economic crisis, or war, city dwellers have often had to make use of their limited resources to make a living. Despite adversity, they have often come up with innovative ideas and actions. This irregular but empowering urbanism from the bottom up is a wide-spread phenomenon of great potential, often even a trigger of change in society and urban space or policy.

Wedged between the Ostautobahn, a waste management plant, and the Danube in Simmering lies one of Vienna’s best examples of this grassroots urbanism: Macondo, a multi-ethnic village of refuge for asylum seekers and an informal community garden. Refugee bungalows built around artillery barracks at the edge of the city, the grounds today include an additional integration house, apartment blocks, and a community garden.

Abroad, the “allotment garden movement” (Kleingarten– or Schrebergartenbewegung) started in Germany and spread throughout Central Europe, and several others in Latin America: Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, and urban farming in Cuba following the collapse of the USSR.

A recent Viennese example not covered in the exhibition is Jedlersdorf near Floridsdorf, where students of the Vienna Agricultural University (Universität für Bodenkultur) have occupied a tract of land – instead of a building – for growing vegetables.

The message of the exhibition is an optimistic one. Through the creative resistance implied in the name of the “Right to Green” – facing opposition, eviction or destruction of green space – these activities and networks serve as living models of how to reclaim and use urban spaces.

With the challenges of globalisation, the exhibition is a call to reconfirming the elemental ties between people and the land.

Hands-On Urbanism 1850–2012
Through 25 June
Architekturzentrum Wien
7., Museumsplatz 1

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