What if: projects have been mapping vacant and neglected spaces that surround inner city housing estates in London. Gaps within the urban fabric both detach and isolate communities. The team has been developing a strategy for how these unloved spaces could be appropriated to accommodate the needs of the local population. The basic need for food and outside space for socialising and recreation was developed into a proposal to transform formerly fenced off and neglected pieces of land into allotment gardens. The first Vacant Lot allotment garden was established in Shoreditch, London in May 07.
The What if team is now working in partnership with a team of four gardeners from Groundwork, local construction training organisations, various housing associations and the local community to establish 20 new allotment gardens over 3 years for the production of food on deprived inner city housing estates in London. Allotment gardens are being managed by newly formed gardening groups that can apply for funding to further develop the garden and generally improve their neighbourhood. Regular gardening teaching sessions are being delivered in the first year of each new allotment by the gardening team. This training can result in a gardening qualification improving residents job opportunities.
In parallel to setting up the allotments we have started to address vacant and neglected community buildings with the aim of reopening them for the use of particularly the local youth.
Vacant Lot is conceived as interventions that can be easily removed if required. This puts the land owners at ease. There is no time limit but a condition that once the owner wants to develop the site the allotment will have to move.
The Vacant Lot project was initiated in 2007 by What if: projects and since 2009 is run as a partnership between Groundwork London and What if: projects. Funding has been secured from the Big Lottery “Local Food” grant with match funding by the housing associations and in kind support by Camden Jobtrain, Kings Cross Construction Skills Centre and other voluntary organisations. Groundwork manages the funding. What if: projects develops the proposals and provides construction information.
Sites are chosen in collaboration with housing associations and local residents.
2009/10: 6 new allotments (4 realised, 1 on site)
20010/11: 10 new allotments (start on site: Feb 11)
2011/12: 4 new allotments
Established in 2005, What if: projects Ltd are an art and architecture practice based in East London. Our work is focused in inner city areas and investigates new ways in which ideas and strategies for more sustainable environments can be implemented through the engagement and participation of local communities. Our body of research examines void spaces within cities and the opportunities these spaces can offer to a neighborhood a city and beyond.
Projects have the intention of kick-starting change to neglected or under-utilised spaces by making them more accessible and productive and ultimately sustained by the culturally diverse communities that they serve. What if projects base proposals for change on a detailed understanding of the environment and the people that inhabit it. Schemes aim to face up to some of the basic needs of urban living by creating areas to get closer with nature, to grow food, to sit and relax, to play, or to socialize and meet.
Other project example: Greening the Romford Ring Road (ongoing)