A decade ago I made a half hour documentary about allotments, called Losing the Plot. The programme reflected what was then a confused attitude to urban land and how we value greenspace.
It featured academic and activist Simon Baddeley talking about his campaign to prevent homes being built on the Victoria Jubilee allotments, which border Handsworth Park.
Grab your plot
Simon and his neighbours couldn’t stop the housing development, but they did manage to get planning to require the developers to re-instate 80 of the allotments plots. Simon has fought long and hard to ensure that this commitment is honoured. Yesterday he claimed his plot.
A few weeks ago Simon also digitised the original documentary, which you can see here:
A healthier approach to Urban Land?
For me the re-opening of the allotments represents a small symbol of a shifting attitude to land in our cities. At the time the doucmentary was made it felt like land was there for developers and individual profit. Since then demand for allotments has grown, people are showing off their pride in these places, the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum is nurturing a better relationship between citizens and council. Parks like Cannon Hill and Handsworth have improved immeasurably and the famous CoCoMad in Cotteridge Park has shown how far open space cements community relations.
As Emma Woolf, of the Friends of Cotteridge Park, explained in one one of our first Grassroots Channel Podcasts in 2005, conflict over public space can be a catalyst for a community coming together:
Is it time for a more flexible understand of public land?
Martin Field has been making the case for an easy to use map of publicly owned land plots in the city. He’s made a tiny bit of progress:
We emailed a simple google map reference to the relevant officer and within 24 hours we had a response as to the specific ownership. Very good service and free, although you can only determine if the land is owned by the City or not, but still a good start. If the City does not own the land you are directed to the UK Land Registry, which is not a good experience and not free!
Last week I was at the Handsworth Residents Network meeting, which included a detailed discussion about how hard and frustrating it is for community groups to clean up or use eyesore plots.
The council itself has been seeking to streamline the process of transferring assets into the hands of community groups through it’s Community Asset Transfer Development Programme. (I’ve been involved in recording that programme). Their work includes thinking of broader ways to measure the value of using land, called Valuing Worth. This is supported by a wide range of other activity – including Growspace, which is taking hold in Ladywood.
These are small things.
I think we are still confused about ways of using urban land and why shouldn’t we be. Cities are confusing places. But people outside and inside local authorities are finding it easier to collaborate to make better use of land for community benefit.
What else do we need to do during a time of lower public spending, tighter financial restrictions for developers and an ideological/economic battle over where food should be produced? Update – perhaps all questions you can explore at the Cultures of Birmingham: Open Spaces event from the Chamberlain forum on 24th June at 6.30 at the the Mac in Cannon Hill park