Between the Urban and the Rural : Back to the city

Lovsin, Polonca GND

Abstract This doctoral thesis defines the relationship between the urban and rural in the 21st century, and focuses on food as a key component. The fact that food is, for the most part, produced in the countryside and then transported to the city has a significant influence on this very unbalanced relationship today. The main goal was to show that it is necessary to bring agriculture, urban gardening, the breeding of domestic farm animals, and beekeeping back to the city, which would have a positive affect on both the city and the countryside. All of this is already taking place at the local level, within the neighbourhoods of our cities and through the work of self-organised activities and initiatives, which have been taken up by city residents themselves. One example of this is the community garden, a new model of gardening which offers fertile ground for growing vegetables and to test various forms of co-existence, different ways of designing spaces, the creation of alternative values, and a positive vision for the future of city residents. In 2010, I co-created the community urban garden Beyond a Construction Site, which is the central part of this artistic research. Throughout the entire four-year process of creating this community garden, theory and artistic practice were intertwined, and informed one another. This community garden is an example of a self-organised and self-managed community space located in a residential neighbourhood in the centre of the city of Ljubljana, and as such is a typical example of urbanism from the bottom up. I placed the creation and development of our community garden in a dialogue with the formal way of arranging urban gardening in Ljubljana, a top-down approach, which the city has been carrying out intensively since 2007. I compared the solutions being proposed by the city of Ljubljana for organising urban gardening with the way it is organised in other European cities, the UK, and the USA. I also researched the recent rapid growth of self-organised initiatives which are focused on the local production of food and seek to find more economic and ecologically friendly models to visibly influence the future of cities and the countryside. Here, community gardens play an important role, as in addition to the production of food they are also spaces for the criticism of existing urban policies, a self-organised revitalisation of neglected spaces, and places of resilience, because they differ from that which real estate agencies, large financial companies, and city authorities desire them to be. The community garden Beyond a Construction Site has become living proof that, through a group action, the residents of a neighbourhood can influence existing city policies and the future of both their own neighbourhood and that of the entire city. The initiators of this garden are artists and architects, and we began this community garden in the context of an art festival, which also shows that art can influence the processes of everyday life and help to create much needed spaces within cities to serve various purposes. Our community garden has also shown itself to be an important platform for the exchange of knowledge on organic gardening, ecology in everyday life, and critical architecture, as well as serving to connect related initiatives. Together with these other initiatives we are stronger, and are influencing structural changes within city politics, thereby also co-creating the future of Ljubljana. This community garden is helping us to redefine our relationship with the city and re-awaken the desires and actions of residents connected with realising their fundamental right, the right to the city. My other artworks, which I am presenting in the context of this doctoral thesis, show an optimistic vision for the future of cities. The video animations Back to the City (2011) and The Right Balance (2013), as well as the accompanying collages, visualise a city of the future where urban and rural practices live together side-by-side. This vision is being realised by city residents themselves, with their active participation in the creation of community gardens, growing their own vegetables, urban beekeeping, and by having egg-laying hens in their gardens. My desire was also to present the theoretical concept and scientific research to a non-academic public, and to people without specialised training. Using the method of storytelling I included knowledge from the research into the video animations and collages. In this way my artistic work, with an intentional playfulness, challenges today’s faith in science and theoretical concepts, as well as directing attention to working with common sense, with one’s own hands, and with the earth. This can contribute to a change in the still dominant anthropocentric view of nature, which is an urgently needed change for our future. Keywords: rural, urban agriculture, community gardens, urban beekeeping, the bottom-up approach to urban planning, alternative spaces

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Lovsin, Polonca: Between the Urban and the Rural : Back to the city. 2015.

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