Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Edible landscape

I write from time to time about how street planting strips could be planted with edibles, for example fruit trees or bushes, as a way to support "urban agriculture."

Photo from Joel the Urban Gardener blog.

There are many examples over time, such as how communities in Texas planted pecan trees on their town squares.

When Sheila Dixon was Mayor of Baltimore, the planting beds in front of City Hall included herbs such as rosemary.

In Greater Takoma, there are a couple blocks where the planting strip has been planted with serviceberry (juneberry) bushes, which when they mature, produce a berry suitable for pie.

Last year, the berries had some kind of fungus and couldn't be harvested, but the year before we picked enough to make one pie.

This year, with the next door neighbors, we picked enough berries to make three pies, and I broke down and finally got over my fear and made the crusts from scratch (pretty simple actually).

Pie picsAfter picking the berries, I happened to come across another block with even bigger bushes.

But the period in which the berries are ripe and suitable for picking is brief, about one week, and the berries are thin skinned which makes them hard to transport, so you're won't find them at a supermarket or even a farmers market--picking and cooking such cultivars makes you appreciate more of the backstory behind the creation of an industrialized agricultural system.

For whatever reason there is a very old persimmon tree at the Takoma Recreation Center that still produces.  But the fruit tastes awful and isn't worth trying to cook. (I did once make persimmon cake from fruit given to Suzanne by one of her colleagues.)

That is my extent of knowledge of DC purposefully having fruit trees or bushes in the public space.

I don't know the hows and whys behind the planting of the serviceberry bushes.

In our own yard we've planted blueberries and raspberries.  The latter have never taken off.  The former are taking years to get to the point of bearing fruit and one of the three bushes died.

One household on the 100 block of 4th Street SE plants treeboxes with basil, tomatoes, and other plants.

We have wild blackberries (we only figured it out the year after we moved in) and in the last year (seven years after moving in) they've become particularly fruitful, but it is always a struggle to harvest in the face of competition with the birds.

The birds deposit of seeds elsewhere in our yard facilitates the spread of the blackberries.

Our next door neighbor has planted one each of peach, pear, and plum, a grape arbor (stiff competition for fruit with raccoons, but very good), and a fig bush which has struggled in the years since particularly cold winters.

From a gardening show on PBS, I learned about Urban Tilth in Richmond/Contra Costa County, California, and how along the Richmond Greenway shared use path they've planted community gardens, including produce, where picking is open to everyone.

Photo from the Student Conservation Association.

The logical next step would be to plant fruit trees along multiuser trails.  (Although dropped fruit is attractive to rodents and other animals.)

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At 9:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I should get your a picture -- Imar from the Florida Avenue Grill has planted tomatoes along Florida near 11th.

I'd be wary of eating any plants from sidewalk gardens -- the soil must be pretty contaminated.

And any small scale gardening is so labor intensive that it falls into the hobby category -- unless you are Japanese and can sell $1000 watermelons. Not a joke.

I'm really coming to the conclusion that tree cover is the most valuable thing we can add to a city. Nothing new there either -- Ashoka figured that out in India 3000 years ago.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Agreed about tree cover. You mention it a lot and you are absolutely right. I think about it more than I might because of your comments. (Public safety too.)

Hobby-boutique is a lot of the urban agriculture kick, at least in the core where you don't have space. That's why I don't overly hype it.

HOWEVER, in places with an abundance of space, like weak real estate markets, it can be a priming device, or a way to absorb under-utilized space. HOWEVER/2, to do it safely, you have to do raised bed gardens, with new soil/growing media. (We have raised beds, although we aren't super duper focused on growing stuff. We "made" the growing media using the "Square Foot Gardening" recipe of 1/3 each peat, vermiculite/perlite, and a mix of 5 different types of compost.)

Places with yards outside of the core can do intensive growing (SPIN Gardening) of high value crops (here, think lettuce, arugula, basil, etc., not $100 watermelons). (E.g., we grew a certain type of bean one year. I was amazed at how much plants were required to produce a modicum of beans. Same with jalapeno peppers, etc. It's best to focus on stuff that costs a lot, or it's nice to have for cooking, like herbs.)

Even with the serviceberries, how many do you have to pick to get a pie? Not to mention it's competitive with the fauna.

... but as far as tree cover goes, it is messy but why not plant fruit trees and nut trees, at least selectively. That way you get "free food" for limited additional cost

Poultry is another issue. It's boutique too, but has other advantages. Another form of diverting waste food (instead of composting), generating chicken poop which can be composted, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, insect eating--at least in our area in Upper Northwest, mosquitos are a big problem. But you have to be motivated, are co-ops a solution, what do you do when the hens stop laying, etc.

WRT the serviceberries, I thought it would be cool to try to make a pie the first time I did it, and the birds don't eat all of them, so they would just rot otherwise.

That's what happens to the nasty tasting persimmons...

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yep, herbs+flowers are the high value crops.

Although I am tempted to try the Japanese watermelons myself.

My cousin is very into sustainable ag. I took him to union market to see that resturant.. His point is that rooftop gardening is the least sustainable thing you can do. You can see that grumpiness runs in the family.

Attended an interesting session yesterday on alley housing. A lot of disapproval on putting multiunit (2 families) into alleys.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Seattle has some activity on ADUs that I might write about. They've had pushback in the Queen Anne neighborhood.

2. DK if you ever go to the H St. neighborhood. Check out Linden Street NW (between 11th and 12th I think, behind the Autozone). Basically in the late 1880s/early 1890s, developers figured out that rather than do other stuff on interiors of blocks, just break blocks into two.

That's what has been done out where I live. We live on a deep block, our lot is 150 feet deep (approx.), but west of 3rd St. instead of doing big lots, on many blocks they broke them up into two blocks, with attached housing as opposed to detached. All rowhouses, but e.g., between Peabody St. and Quackenbos St. here and there you have Powhatan Street which is the intervening street. Those "double" blocks have about 72 houses, and no backyards, vs. the 32 houses on our single block.

I believe that Linden St. NE was probably one of the earliest examples of doing that, in the core. (As opposed to say how Blagden Alley is configured. Although note we just discovered a block like that close to the Takoma Metro, but the interior portion of the land is all garden. DK how it's owned.)

3. we're broke right now, but have been thinking about converting the garage to a 900 s.f. ADU, for income now, and potentially for either us or Suzanne's parents come the future--S had a conversation with them, but more recently they've seemed to back off in terms of interest. But eventually S's mother will need help taking care of her father. Maybe though we'll have to move to California.

4. But I have been interested in doing it if only to figure out all the issues so as to produce a method for doing this at scale.

It wouldn't be easy. But the idea is if you had some standardized plans and a program and tried to do a number of units on one block simultaneously, you could probably get some -- not huge -- economies of scale. E.g. all the utility connections at once, some architecturally attractive but standardized building designs, etc.

You could build in everything, including financing (I don't know how mortgage holders would take to adding ADUs) and even marketing and management of the units collectively once they are ready for occupancy.

By having one agency, the equivalent of the Mayhood group selling condos, the resources would be organized and available much more regularly than the way English basements and similar units are integrated into the rental housing market now.

I figured you could make extra money doing other property upgrades at the same time (e.g., maybe some people want geothermal heating and cooling, etc.).

There is a garage across the street that maybe at one time was a kind of housing unit. It has the makings of a hearth on the outside. You could do some cool upgrades like that, porches, etc., depending on people's interest.

The BIG TRICK though is convincing at least 5 to 10 people on one block in roughly the same time period to go ahead and do this.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, Wylie Street NE, between 12th and 13th on the north side of H Street is another example, just like Linden Street.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

yep, almost of if we needed DC to have a housing finance agency that would get into the business.

(or local banks!)

Also Georgetown Metropolitan had nice thing today on historical ward boundaries -- as I said restore Florida Avenue and a boundary line.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes. Or it could be a CDC seeded with foundation money, like efforts in Phoenix and Denver and Minneapolis, but it would be more like a revolving fund, in over time the money would be paid back.

While the residents wouldn't be into it, unless they refinanced (and maybe that would be the way to do it, the CDC could refinance the properties and put the ADU in the instrument as a substantive significant increase in value), but you could set up the system as second mortgages immediately payable when a property sells, but on short terms so that virtually all the revenue from renters pays off the second mortgage, before the revenue flows through to the property owners.

2. wrt the ward stuff, :^) ... what about "One City."

... as I said to a guy in W6/Cap. Hill when talking about differentiated snow clearance policies in the core, "the one city thing is rhetorical, it often does not make sense when it comes to practical policy."

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The issue was height and alleys; you've got the width of the alley to determine the height of the alley building.

Off topic:

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

what a find. Thank you. Very relevant to a job I might apply for.

2. Interestingly, I am writing a pair of pieces on bike parking (in buildings, in public space) and a key point is that except for locked rooms and cages, we generally don't have good requirements for providing secure parking, and persistent problems with theft are an indicator of the need for systematic approaches to improvement.

"crime vs. criminality."

At 7:03 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also this:

(Quoting your book on street code)

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The first piece you sent, reading it made me think "I don't know s* about crime." This one not so much. While Frum says

That answer showcases the most provocative feature of your book: your belief that different cultural groups show different propensities for crime, enduring over time, and that these groups carry these propensities with them when they migrate from place to place. As I don’t have to tell you, this idea and its implications stir more controversy among criminologists than any other.

I didn't think that was a particularly new point.

It's the heart of the argument of Siegel's _Future Once Happened Here_ and how Northern cities were overwhelmed by Southern migration because of the differentiated rate/propensity to violence.

In any case, the book definitely sounds worth reading.

BUT what I found really important from the previous piece is the point that a lot of the crime drop likely has been driven by targeted approaches to reducing "opportunities," driven by private sector responses, in large part because being a victim didn't feel too good and there was no real positive way to respond/assuage the problems. ... so better not to be a victim in the first place.

That's something that is unrecognized I think.

E.g., I have been meaning to write about DC's subsidy for security cameras. I guess it does have some constraints, but the way it was promoted, it seemed very untargeted. While in Detroit, they have a similar program but it's only usable by properties located in high crime areas.

Or in the March issue of Governing there is a great article about how High Point, NC has addressed domestic violence in a focused way, building on other initiatives in addressing particular classes of crimes in focused ways, and since implementing the program, they've reduced "intimate partner violence murders" to zero, on the part of regular residents.

Anyway, like a lot of things our understandings/conventional wisdom is pretty flawed.

E.g., the lesson of the patrol car days was "police can't stop crime."

But the real un-understood lesson was the problem was the way police officer time was being used and directed (reactive rather than proactive, the opposite of "problem oriented" policing).

The response wasn't to say we can't do anything but to change how that time is organized and utilized.

Similarly, with stadiums and arenas, the issue isn't that "they always lose money for cities" even though it's true.

The response by people like me should be, knowing that the deck is stacked against us, how can we best mitigate negatives and increase the likelihood of positives.

Figure out how to duplicate the positives, which types of facilities/teams have better ROI, etc. Obviously arenas with basketball, hockey and other events are better than football, as is baseball, but arenas are probably more versatile than baseball stadiums, etc.

Being transit adjacent in areas with high use of transit makes a big difference, etc. (E.g., Barclays Arena has a much different effect than the new Braves Stadium will, in part because of transit, but because of differences in transit use, the ARTIC in Anaheim, even though it is proximate to baseball and hockey, won't
have nearly the same effect, etc.).

I hate to admit from a repositioning standpoint, funding infrastructure and later tax breaks for Verizon Center probably was worth it for the city as a whole in terms of branding and identity. I don't believe that to be the case for the Nationals Stadium and definitely not for football.

That's why I have been writing differently on these topics compared to earlier.

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Agreed, the Frum interview was more backwards looking and not prescriptive .

"how can we best mitigate negatives and increase the likelihood of positives. "

Best words of the day. This isn't a religion. We're all just trying to make urban life a bit better.


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