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Prinzessinnengärten

Imagine a city where all usused space becomes gardens and green spaces, created by residents, and full of flowers, fruits and vegetables? Prinzessinnengärten is a bottom-up community garden initiative in Berlin notable for both its scale and its ingenuity in starting a public conversation about the democratic use of public space. It believes that as more and more people move into cities, urban areas are destined to become decisive places for the development of more sustainable ways of eating, living and moving.

The original initiative was started on a site in Berlin that had been left as a bombed-out wasteland for over fifty years. The group engaged friends, activists and neighbors to clear the site and plant organic vegetables and fruit in transportable plots they built themselves. While the surrounding area is still rough and urban, the 1.5-acre litter-filled lot is now a lush oasis of herbs, fruit, flowers and even bees; and a gathering and educational space that symbolizes community resilience in Berlin.

The project has aims beyond food production. It brings together the diverse interests of the low-income, largely immigrant neighborhood. The garden has become a platform for knowledge exchange in which often marginalized citizens from rural backgrounds have become the instructors.

Central to Prinzessinnengärten’s success is its mobility. Despite its size and renown, the garden was designed to be (and remains) mobile. This has allowed Prinzessinnengärten to work with schools—they bring pieces of the mobile garden into the classroom and also have programs wherein groups can plant crops in the garden and visit them over the course of the growing season, with the children participating in everything from planting to harvesting. They have similar partnerships with universities with agriculture programs and community organizations that are looking for new ways to address health or integration issues within the neighborhood.

The mobility of the garden is also commentary on spatial politics in Berlin – the site was originally unused and discarded, and at owing at least in part to the success of Prinzessinnengärten, now is starting to become attractive real estate. The arc of Prinzessinnengärten speaks to the ongoing problem of gentrification, where and how the efforts of well-meaning activists can sometimes raise the specter of eviction and displacement.

Their work continues to challenge the city of Berlin and beyond, raising questions about space, authority, and urban ecology.

We had an opportunity to speak with Marco Clausen of Prinzessinnengärten about thow they came to pioneer a form of mobile gardening, and the positive impacts it has had on their city on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to Episode 46 | Gardening as Urban Action here.