Over half (54 per cent) of the global population now live in cities – many with better opportunities than ever before to make money, meet people, travel and live out their dreams.
While these opportunities can appear limitless and exciting, our cities have an underbelly: a constant grind and stench of cars, blue-light screen eyes, office cubical skin and a general lack of community and nature.
I lived in New York until I was eaten alive by the corporate sector. Rent prices jumped from $400 dollars a month for a bed-sit in Soho to $3000. Mom worked as a teacher and grandpa as a policeman in the Bronx. Graffiti and warehouse parties were a way of life. Cool markets and hot snacks for a couple bucks made break dancing and art viable professions. I was all grown up and making my living in art and painting when I got struck down with cancer. I found myself having to think through every action, from what I ate to how I’d expend my energy. With months on the end of an IV drip, I began thinking about how I could be the change I wanted to be. How could I be the change I wanted to see in the world?
Virgin Unite, Energy Garden,
I dreamt of a different way of living in the urban environment – a city that would generate renewable, low carbon energy, urban corridors, where I could pick fruit and grow hops (all as I waited at the bus stop with my laptop). So, I gathered like minded people around me who wanted to make financially viable business structures – structures that supported community with sustainable food and energy. Together we've now founded many projects including Brixton Energy, Repowering, Clean Marine and now Energy Garden.
Energy Garden is about taking control of our cities and about turning concrete allies and grey streets into living corridors – turning them into places where charities, B-corps and do-gooder friends can provide community activities at a moment’s notice. Piloting with Transport For London, Energy Garden is transforming 50 London Overground stations into community growing spaces with integrated solar powered equipment and interactive notice boards (the notice boards show when, where and what people can do to get involved).
Virgin Unite, Energy Garden,
Installing interactive digital noticeboards into gardens, hospitals and schools brings the social media chat-room into the real world and allows communities to communicate about food, health and education. The facilities are owned and financially supported with revenue from a Solar Co-operative – allowing everyone to buy in with a ‘1 vote 1’ share ethos. This has resulted in a 20-year income stream supporting the Energy Garden programme – now paying volunteer coordinators, arranging lease agreements, seed bank support and O&M contracts.
Energy Garden is connecting communities to their roots as it reduces carbon emission, creates employment, paid internships and food school programmes and facilitates mentoring, beer making and bee keeping. Through Energy Garden, community members are planting food, growing medical herbs and beautiful flowers and transforming transport lines into edible corridors – making London community groups part of a sustainable, financially viable and socially equitable system.
The success of Energy Garden is dependent on us. It is an iterative programme. So, how would you craft an Energy Garden? Would it be foodie, art house, or a biodiversity sanctuary for bats, or a musical sculpture that plays when the wind passes?
Come question everything with us and make the design of future cities exciting. Help to create a metropolis where form will begin to follow multiple functions – as it does in nature. Work hard, play hard, and live like you intended stay here. Planting each thing into our daily practice is a movement about fiscally, socially, and environmentally owning our reality. Disrupt and be the change you want to see in the world.
– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.
Energy Garden is funded by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery through The Dream Fund Trust. Energy Garden is being delivered by a partnership between Repowering London, Groundwork London and Transport for London.