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Leading the Way: City of Yarra’s Urban Agriculture Guidelines

Posted in Models, Movements, Policies by Jessica Bird on April 16th, 2012

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From “A triumph for community gardening” by Thomas, YCAN Local Action Group

One of the most exciting things in Community Gardening happened last weekend. You might have missed it, because it was without fanfare, and very localised: Maud and Neil put up a planter box on a streetside close to where they live. You don’t feel excited? You should do, because this was the first streetside planter box to be installed under the City of Yarra new guidelines. And the City of Yarra guidelines are very progressive. More than that, Yarra are the first local council to employ an officer to facilitate the application of urban agriculture. For that, we congratulate them. The first permit took four months to issue, as all issues of all the relevant departments, and all the bureaucracy and risk aversion of public service had to be negotiated. Without a facilitator, this would have been impossible. The normal reaction of Council would have been to play it safe, and simply reject the concept of planter boxes, nature strip planting, fruit trees and all other forms of urban agriculture in public space. The normal reaction would be to keep things as they are, but the City of Yarra didn’t do this, and they are leading the way, with the eyes of other councils and organisations upon them.

The recent events in Princess Hill, where a divided local reaction stopped the proposal for a community garden on parkland, has demonstrates more stongly than ever that Yarra’s Urban Agriculture Facilitator is needed. It’s not suprising that some urban residents don’t want to loose public open space; it’s equally not surprising that some urban residents feel the strong need to grow some of their own food. The compromise is to use marginal space, like Maud and Neil have: their planter box is on a slight raised area that is neither foot path or road, it is just separation space. The planter box doesn’t interfere with lines of sight or access. It appears from the very short time it has been there to recieve overwhelming support from locals.

But this small scale, decentralised model needs more effort to work, and local residents just don’t have the know-how to get through the local government bureaucracy, and local government departments just don’t have the incentive to deal with local residents on these issues and coordinate with other departments. And because we are talking about marginal space, it is always at the margins of responsiblity.

This is why the Urban Agriculture Facilitator role is so essential. If the role is lost, all the good work that has been done up to now will be wasted. Yarra’s leading position will be lost. It is currently a part time role, but it needs to be increased to five days a week. Time is needed in processing applications and granting permits, and all the communication that involves. In addition available land needs to be put on an inventory, a more robust grants system is needed, more resources are needed for residents of our city, and time needs to be spent on promotion and education.

You can read more about urban agriculture and community gardening in the City of Yarra here, or you can download a pdf of their Guidelines for Neighbourhood Gardening – Planter Boxes.