Are you a Country Bumpkin or a City Slicker?
Be it a love of late night restaurant hopping that sees us preferring living urban over lazy farm days, or a passion for horses that requires acreage living, many of us identify one way or the other. However there is an emerging bunch of people who are embracing country living in urban areas. While this is no new phenomena (my parents ‘farmed’ a house block for years pre-children before opting to move to the country and live the self sufficient lifestyle) the label is! What are these weird, wonderful, and creative green thumbs called I hear you ask? If you fall into this city living plant loving category you are a:
rurbanite n. Someone with a passion for the countryside but a reluctance to leave the city any time soon.
According to Alex Mitchell, author of The Rurbanite: Living in the Country without leaving the city, this passionate group of urban dwellers (you included if you container or backyard garden) are transforming asphalt jungles to nature friendly environments across the globe by creative use of manufactured landscapes.
Rurbanites see urban spaces as opportunities for growth. This might seem simple enough but changing your environmental worldview to include built/urban environments to be part of your ‘wildspaces’ can be difficult. We are often taught through media, formal and informal learning experiences, and through family knowledge that ‘wild’ places are ‘out there’ somewhere else. That nature is something we go to visit or take holidays in. As the global population grows and we modify more land (either directly like building houses on it, or indirectly like melting permafrost through human induced climate change) we have increasingly less ‘out there’ or ‘untouched’ wilderness space. It might sound crazy but many of us don’t consider the small bits of greenery around our house to be part of this ‘wild’ space but urban areas can be safe havens for many plants and animals. In some cases were areas have been heavily modified these urban wilds are the only place where plants and animals can live. These spaces are our new nature.
The New Nature.
Tim Low, author of The New Nature, was one of the first people to change my perspective on urban spaces. Growing up living in a country area with a rural lifestyle I had never considered urban areas to be natural or habitat for wild animals. Low starts his book with the following quote from Alexander Wilson:
Humans and nature construct one another
He continues throughout the body of the text to look at ways that urbanisation has benefited some species and caused the decimation of others. He looks at brown snakes thriving in urban Brisbane backyards, native plants from interstate running wild in Melbourne gardens causing a weed problem, and how noxious introduced plants like lantana provide habitat for small native mammals. Turning many of the messages we receive about what is wild and what isn’t on it’s head. What brought home the message that wild places and animals are all around us is the short piece that talked about the habitat trees that grew right outside my front door (how bizarre to read a book that writes about your neighbourhood)! I became increasingly interested in the ecosystem that lived in those trees and was inconsolable when the tree at my front door was chopped down due to safety concerns.
When it comes to changing thought patterns we sometimes neglect to think deeply about what ‘native’ or ‘natural’ things mean to us. Let’s face it, sitting around pondering nature doesn’t always have it’s place in our busy daily lives. Which is why we often only think about these issues on holidays in native spaces far away, thus reenforcing the idea that natural and wild places are external to our every day build environments. Thinking native is a hard one for many of us Australians as sadly here in Australia traditional knowledge from the owners of this great-big-and-beautiful-land isn’t passed on in our mainstream society or education system. While there is progress in teaching a more diverse look at Australian history (such as who killed who and stole from who and why this is bad) we still don’t have an easily accessible way for everyday folks to understand indigenous knowledge and traditional landcare practices.
Much of our tradition still clutches to the European settler roots and embraces American ideals. Something that is totally baffling when we are eating roast turkeys for Christmas lunch on 30 degree days, and sweating our butts off in faux fur coats because they are on trend at New York Fashion Week and we want to look sartorially relevant on social media. Michael Archer and Bob Beale authors of the book Going Native ask some pretty awesome questions about the way we Aussies live. Questions like why do we have pet dogs and cats when we could have a pet wombat who won’t murder native wildlife? Why don’t we farm and eat native animals instead of following suit and farming hard hooved animals that cause (in some cases irreparable) damage to our landscapes? Why doesn’t every locality in Australia embrace the growth and harvesting of their native ‘bush tucker’ foods? One of my favourite sections of this book (other than the bit where future me would have a pet wombat) is the look at the term wildness and it goes a little something like this.
You’re planning a bushwalking trip to Australia’s most remote places, and your dream itinerary includes the Western Tasmanian wilderness, the Wongungarra wilderness in Victoria, the Wollemi wilderness in New South Wales and the remote reaches of the Daintree wilderness in Queensland. All this wilderness sounds well and good, except that, ahem, no such place actually exists in Australia. And it probably hasn’t done for tens of thousands of years…Even The Wilderness Society hedges its bets on the issue tactfully acknowledging that- in Australia at least- human influence has been a feature of the landscape for a very long time.
So if your Aussie start looking at your surroundings, whether you live in rural or urban areas, as being a human influenced environment. Indigenous people worked this land long before settlers arrived. There is no separating wo/man and nature in our parts! We are all one and the same.
Embracing country living in urban spaces.
Hopefully by this point you are starting to ask yourself, what can I do to make my home an surrounds more liveable for humans and nature? Well if you are here are a few resources for you to check out. While reading remember that all your individual actions are connected to a much larger global impact. Creating a garden that provides you sustenance will reduce the need for large scale agriculture to keep you fed. It will also reduce your carbon miles in having food transported to your home. By growing food on an urban block there will be less need for land clearing for agriculture meaning that more native/natural areas can be retained. If you don’t have the time or passion for gardening (or know of loads of local farmers who you would prefer to support) then why not create a garden that is a habitat for animals and/or insects. If your one action for the year is planting some butterfly vines your small efforts could mean a world of difference for a butterfly. No time for action? No problem! Just expand your thoughts to include urban spaces as part of an environmental flow and habitat for plants and animals. You will start to notice the most amazing little snippets of beauty in your surrounds. You might even feel compelled to tell people to put their rubbish in the bin so it doesn’t end up in the river and then the ocean. Here’s some stuff to look at:
- Spurtopia : Sustainable Living for renters and home owners alike (Roman Spur is the most passionate sustainability advocate i’ve ever met)
- Guerrilla Gardening: For those who like to garden on the edge
- Sustainable Gardening Australia: Tips, tricks and events.
- Our Habitat Garden: Habitat gardening in New York (for the USA readers)
- Habitat Network: Habitat gardening for Aussies
- Creative Spirits: Indigenous Land Management info (looks at the idea of ‘wilderness’).
- Ron Finely Ted Talk: Highly recommended for getting you inspired to urban garden.
- Container Gardening: A resource for those who are land deprived
So where the heck am I? All these pretty pictures were taken yesterday at the Eastbank Edible Garden. After a busy week of finalising a project at work (wahoo my plant babies will be out in the wild very soon) I indulged in an epic vegan eat-a-thon with Kelley from Peppermint mag accompanied her beautiful family, and finished the day hanging out in this garden which one of my favourite Sunshine Coast places. Having only found out about this gem late 2015 and living quite a distance from it (it’s not sustainable for me to visit regularly as I have to bus or car it) my visits to the edible garden aren’t frequent. However despite not living close enough to be an active member of the garden I can’t help but feel at home in this space. Community gardens like this one are popping up all over the place in urban areas. They assist those who are space deprived to be able to get their hands dirty, connect with the earth and grow some of their own goodies. The edible garden in the photos was designed to provide an opportunity for students, seniors and people with a disability to learn and practice sustainable gardening strategies. Additional benefits are the social connections made and environmental appreciation, which are developed through involvement. I enjoy this space for its layout, the location (it’s next to a lake) and the way they have integrated tips that you can use at home. It’s a relaxing educational experience. They have also though about wildlife with spaces for frogs and insects. I had a very large skink run past me while I was reading. Tried to get a photo but he was too fast!
Do you participate in some form of Urban Gardening? Perhaps you have a pet wombat? Let us know all about your experiences in the space below.