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Guerilla Gardeners Transform London, One Bus Stop at a Time

The iconic London double-decker is en route to an update– edible bus stops. (Gideon)

The Edible Bus Stop (EBS) is a gardening project trying to transform neglected spaces throughout London into vibrant green patches of community engagement. The project is due to launch May 18, 2013 at the Grand Opening event, ‘Donate a Plant’ at the Landor Road Garden.

Two years ago, led by EBS co-founder Makaela Gilchrist, a group of local residents living in South London banded together to claim a strip of land adjacent to a bus stop in Stockwell, along bus route 322. There was a proposal to sell the land for private housing, which Gilchrist explains would have gotten rid of the only green space in the neighborhood: “The plans would have made the pavements narrow, we’d lose our phone booth, we’d lose the bus shelter, and we’d also lose a very mature silver maple tree, which was the one big mature tree in the neighbourhood.”

After garnering community support, the bid to sell the land was struck down. At a follow-up meeting of 40 residents, locals decided to transform the space into a community garden in order for people to gain a sense of ownership and pride in their neighborhood. Furthermore, community gardens create safe spaces for locals to meet and get to know one another.

The EBS helps illustrate the power that food can have in fostering community. As Gilchrist describes in a short film on The Atlantic Cities: “In the 23 years that I’ve lived in this neighborhood, I know more people now in the past nine months than I ever have before because they’ve all come and worked on the garden, or come and said hello and expressed their for love it.” What was once a forgotten landscape has been transformed into a friendly community space where residents, that might not otherwise have the occasion to meet, are talking and growing food together.

At the heart of the EBS ethos is “the belief that a brutal landscape makes for a brutal outlook, and by taking responsibility for our neglected public spaces we can change people’s perceptions and improve upon the experience of inner city living.” According to Will Sandy, EBS co-founder, since the project started two years ago they have “actually seen a reduction in antisocial behavior. We sort of play on, if you take something – give something back.” Locals are encouraged to pick and enjoy the harvest, but asked to contribute back in a way that fits their lifestyle.

Currently, there are two full-fledged garden stops, with three more in the works. EBS hopes to create an edible corridor, planting gardens across London at each stop along bus route 322.

That dream is about to take one step closer to reality. Under the Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme, the borough of Lambeth awarded the EBS UK£30,000 (approximately US$46,000) for their first garden. Furthermore, just last month, the Mayor of London’s Pocket Parks Programme rewarded the EBS with match funding. The Pocket Parks Programme is an initiative designed to improve streets, squares, parks, and canal and riverside spaces across London.

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