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Garden plot in a community garden covered with a smattering of different types of weeds, thickly covering every inch of the plot except for bare spots covered in dead plant material.

So you want to have a community garden?

One area of passion for me is food justice and security. As a principle, community gardens serve as a key strategy to increase food security and access, make productive use of vacant land, and other great reasons. In grad school, I used my internship time to work with communities on food justice and access as well as did research on the subject. I also completed the courses of the Master Gardener Program at UDC, which gave me more training on holistic gardening and farming techniques. I found that through these courses, the teachers touted the benefits of community gardens without talking about the real experiences of them. Community gardening, for me, existed in the abstract since I didn’t have access to a community garden.

When I moved to Fairfax County, I was excited to join my local community garden and apply what I learned in my experience, work, and training into a community garden until I learned that there was a wait list for a plot in the garden. I was overjoyed a few weeks ago to get an email about a plot that had finally opened up…

…And then I visited the plot. It had a thick carpet of the kind of weeds that hold onto the soil for dear life like dandelions, spring onions, thistles, and mint. On the bus ride home I thought to myself: Could I really handle this? What would I be getting myself into if I agreed to take on this plot? Could I put all my education, past knowledge, and skills to work, on my own, to manage this plot? How could I get all of this done by May 1st, when the plots needed to be at least 2/3 prepared for planting? How would I get all the tools and materials to do this work?

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I accepted the plot, sketched out my plan, and purchased materials. After a few hours of working on the garden, it became apparent that this was more than a one-person job. That’s when my neighbor, Pedro showed up. He was tending his plot and saw my struggles. He didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Spanish beyond greetings. However through a combination of gesturing, google translate, calling his lovely daughter to help translate, and visuals, he helped me understand that there was no way around the harder work (that I was avoiding) it would take to get this in order. He showed me his handiwork on other adjacent plots, where he had helped the renter install a fence, build raised beds, or maintained the garden.

Pedro brought his tools over to my plot and started to work, showing me what to do. The feminist inside me started stomping her foot, “You know what you are doing, this guy is going to mansplain to you, with all of your experience and education, how to garden?!” The intersectional voice inside me said, “shut up, watch, and learn”. Pedro’s experience gardening helped me transition my book learning into action.

Over the next two weekends, we both worked hard on the plot and I tried to do most of the heavy lifting that I could- as it is my plot and my responsibility. His knowledge  showed me how to make my sketch become a reality. He even showed me a trick for using the twine I’d brought to measure out the beds without cutting it so it could be reused.. While we worked, we connected over our passion for gardening, laughed about a little bird that saw the feast of Japanese Beetle grubs we’d unearthed, and talked about our families. His granddaughter hung out with us, even pitching in at one point to help hold the landscape bags open as I forked in a decaying pile of weeds.

Garden plot with bare soil that has been turned up in shovelfuls with a mulched perimeter to pass.
One weekend, another fellow plot-holder was working his tiller through his plot. Despite my awkwardness and with Pedro’s encouragement, I ran over and asked my neighbor if he’d bring his tiller over for my plot. Knowing to stay in my lane of expertise in this case, I stood back and watched as my two neighbors pulled levers and pushed it through the soil of my plot. By the time I left that day, the plot was neatly laid out in beds, ready for my started seedlings. A few weeks later Pedro helped me plant my tomatoes that were rapidly growing taller than my toddler on our balcony.

Garden Plot showing 5 horizontal beds and a mulched perimeter border and straw-filled aisles between the beds. Three stacked bales of straw are on the left side of the photo. Plants have been planted in the second bed and small pots of plants are resting on top of the first bed.

The thing that touched me the most is that he also he had rehung my plot door, rehung the latch and lock, and added an interior locking mechanism, because he wanted to ensure I was safe when I was working alone.

I had finally experienced the hands-on greatness of a community garden. People talk to each other, said hi, and talk about their gardens. But more specifically for my experience, how intergenerational and intercultural learning can be so beneficial with community gardens as the medium that brings people together. Moreover, I learned to get over my millennial anxieties and open myself up to the opportunity to learn from someone else, from a different background and different culture. Despite my training and experience working in growing food, I learned new things from my neighbors. I’m forever grateful and indebted to Pedro, if not for him, I’d still be knee-deep in the weeds.

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users. 

A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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Interesting Rail Fact in Chongqing, China

For those who don’t know, I had my undergraduate studies at a mountainous city called Chongqing. It is one of the municipalities city in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing), meaning the city is directly controlled by the Chinese government. Metro Chongqing has a large population of 18.4 million people.[i] Chongqing is located at the Midwest of China, four major parallel mountains across the whole province, and 2 major rivers (Yangtze River and Jialing River) run through the area.

Above is just a little background of Chongqing, the city’s topography is a typical mountainous city in China. Like other metropolitans, Chongqing has many modern skyscraper, and modern public transportation is convenient to get around each of the districts. Monorail is one of the most used way to get around in the city. Remember that the city is built on the mountainous topography, which means the rail can’t always run underground, it kind of look like the trains run from tunnel to tunnel.

 

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City Skyline

(Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/SkylineOfChongqing.jpg/842px-SkylineOfChongqing.jpg)

I would like to share some interesting stories when I lived in this city.

  1. Underground construction going on everywhere. Our campus in located in the middle of downtown. Same as regular campus, we have football field, library and classroom buildings. Regardless what’s on the surface, the underground level is all retails stores. Basically, the whole underground of the campus was under construction. The first year when I was there, my classmates and I could hear the “bomb” sounds when they were building the underground railway.
  2. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

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The Picture above shows the typical traditional mountainous building in Chongqing (Daytime view)

(Source: http://www.chineescapade.com/Admin_Manager/uponepic/guide-touristique/images/20141/ancienne-Chongqing-article.jpg)

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The complicated topography makes the night view really stunning. (Night time view)

(Source: http://www.echinacities.com/userfiles/2010-Year/10-Month/9-Day/image004(2).jpg)

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(Source: http://travel.chinesecio.com/en/image/attachement/jpg/site3/20091010/00235aa6948a0c3a34081b.jpg)

         3. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

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Staircase everywhere (Apple store plaza)

(Source: http://cdn.iphonehacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/apple-jiefangbei-store.jpg)

        4. When you get off the monorail, you will be surprised to find that you are at the 8th floor.

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Highest overpass between buildings

(Source: https://i2.wp.com/china-underground.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Highest_overpass.jpg?fit=1000%2C750)

        5. The most astonishing fact is that the rail goes through core of residential flats in the middle.  

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(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2017/03/20/JS123737351_Visual-China-Group_Light-Railway-Passes-Through-Residential-Building-In-Chongqing-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqr1-IQesdsNm9WbsCncdC0h-6hHT5d1My5NPMLxxGU0U.jpg)

        6. Complicated transportation.

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(Source: http://icaa15.cqu.edu.cn/common/images/night_view2.jpg)

The city still charming to me, it is so special. I love Chongqing, includes the scenery, the people and the Sichuan cuisine.

[i] http://countrydigest.org/chongqing-population/

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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