Nelya Rakhimova: “We are heading to the hell of climate change on a train without the brakes”

Nelya Rakhimova is a founder of the Open School of Sustainable Development, based in Germany but focused on working in Russia. In her exclusive interview for Draftsy she talks about the sustainable development of society and hope for a better future despite the impending ecological disaster.

Credit: Galina Gavrikova

D: Nelya, you are the founder of the Open School and a sustainable development activist and coordinator of the Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia. You are an undoubted expert on this topic. Which definition of sustainable development seems to you the most accurate and modern?

N.R.: Sustainable development is a concept that describes humanity’s existence on the planet. We can live in harmony with nature while satisfying our economic and social needs so that future generations can also fulfill their own.

In Russian, it would be more logical to say balanced development, which means that we live in balance with both nature and future generations. This is not just some theory. The concept of sustainable development has received wide political recognition. Various declarations have been signed in this regard by U.N. members.

D: You live in Germany, but the activities of the school and the coalition are primarily aimed at the Russian society. What is the reason for this, and what difficulties do you face while living in one country and working in another?

N.R.: I would not say that the school’s activities are aimed only at the Russian society, but rather at the Russian-speaking audience that stretches outside of the borders of mother country. The coalition activities are focused on Russia, but we work with a wider public. The main challenge for me is inability to attend certain events in Russian Federation. Many events take place in Moscow, not all of them are remote. When I fail to physically get there, it means losing opportunities, contacts, and funding. However, even though I am not in Russia, I am recognized as an expert, and often invited to speak at conferences.

I know that if lived in Russia, I could have done more. However, considering safety of activists in the country and lack of freedom of speech, I do not know what circumstances I could find myself in. Perhaps I would have to suspend my activities. It is challenging for me to talk about living in my native country in the subjunctive mood.

D: Are there analogs of the Open School in Russia?

N.R.: A lot of environmentally oriented organizations and projects have recently appeared in the country. Sustainable development and education organizations are most often our partners. They use our materials and link their activities to the Open School. There are also companies that focus on climate change and sustainable business. However, there isn’t a one for one analog of our Open School in Russia. We remain a partner and a teacher to many initiatives that share our goals – we are often invited to lecture at eco-schools; they use our materials and graphics. I understand that I am still a narrowly focused specialist.

Unfortunately, involving civil society in the sustainable development agenda is still very difficult in Russia. We created the Coalition for Sustainable Development to help with this process. We managed to attract rather large organizations to our cause due to the fact that the Open School is known in certain circles.

D: Nelya, your school has existed for eight years. It is known in Russia and abroad. You conduct seminars and meetings, speak at conferences. In your opinion, are there any noticeable shifts in Russia in the field of sustainable development?

N.R.: The primary changes are taking place in the business sphere, primarily due to global competition. Investors want to work with environmentally and socially sustainable companies. Ratings of businesses are created, and investors prefer to invest in “green” companies. Despite political isolation, Russian companies are beginning to focus on international business practices. Otherwise, they lose out on partnerships and lucrative contracts. As a result, business in Russia is at the forefront of the sustainable development agenda, but, of course, it is not that simple.

Leadership in accountability and awareness of doing business in harmony with nature and society does not always mean that specific business practices change, which is very sad. To be honest, I still feel uncomfortable working with commercial organizations because I often think that there is nothing behind their words.

Therefore, I believe that sustainable development is the responsibility of the government. It should determine the standards and limits for how the corporate world operates. There is certain progress on this front, but it is not as fast as we would like it to be.

A Council of the Ministry of Economic Development has been created in the country, and Russia has finally recognized the fact of climate change due to the actions of humanity. However, if we look at the actions of the ministries and the Russian legislation in general, nothing is changing. As a result, there is still stagnation in this area and a rollback to old ways of doing things, despite the significant number of meetings and forums on the topic of sustainable development.

The same goes for civil society. Of course, there have been some shifts, but they are more formal in nature. For example, if we look at the human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality, Russia is experiencing a complete degradation to outdated views on these matters.

D: You coordinated the first Citizens’ Review on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals released in 2020. What was the purpose of the review? How was it met in Russia? Did the authorities take note of the report?

N.R.: The objective of our report was an independent analysis of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Russia by civil society experts. Our report was attended by both individual activists and influential non-profit organizations, and representatives of the academic community. The final result of our report was significantly different from the state report, which was also released that year. The draft of the official report was very extensive and included a lot of important information from specialists, but then it was shortened, and only what was needed was left. Our report openly talked about the acute problems of Russian society.

D: Have you read the official report?

N.R.: I even participated in its development and was a member of at least three working committees. Participation in the remote format was then impossible. At that time, all meetings were mostly face-to-face, and my colleagues rarely used online meetings. As a result, the problem with the official report was that the regions were not included in the work.

We made a different choice. When we started working on the Civil Review, we tried to include regions in the process, to make everything open and accessible. We decided not to filter the participants, not to hold closed meetings. Any citizen wishing to take part in the discussions could register. We posted information with an offer to participate in the development of the report on major social portals. We wanted to give an independent assessment of the situation, and I additionally set myself the goal of representing Russian civil society at the international level.

Europe still doesn’t know much about Russia. Europeans rarely work with our region and Eastern Europe, because all attention and resources are focused on the developing countries of Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

I believe that our goal of representing Russia has been achieved. We have received feedback from various international agencies.

It is difficult for me to judge which aspects of the report were taken into account by the government, because we do not have effective communication on this topic. We were, of course, thanked for our active position at several international events. The most positive thing we got from the state was Chubais’s reaction. He has openly made statements that our review should be considered in parallel with the official report on sustainable development.

D: In a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humankind was given a bitter verdict: our activities are causing significant damage to the planet and some changes in nature and climate are irreversible – at least in the next hundred years. In your opinion, what should be done by the governments of states in order to somehow reduce the effect of the approaching catastrophe?

N.R.: They should at least do something!

D: Will this “something” be enough?

N.R.: This is a difficult question. We are heading to this hell on a train with no brakes. But we shouldn’t give up either. It is necessary to set hard limits on the impact of industry on the climate. Russia is one of the countries that do nothing to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

Our country recognized the reality of the irreversible process of climate change and expressed a desire to act. But again, everyone understands that all the goals that the government sets, either have already been achieved or will be achieved without the intervention of the state. What does it mean? To comply with international standards, industrial emissions need to be reduced by a certain percentage, based on the 1990 level. The Soviet Union had a very high level of industrial emissions. After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of economic regression, all production stopped and, accordingly, emissions decreased.

Russia still uses the fact that we have not returned to the 1990 level as evidence of a reduction of the impact of industry on the climate. When we are told that we are the fourth country in the world in terms of emissions (the first three are the USA, China and India. If we unite all the E.U. countries, Russia will be in fifth place), we answer that we have already reduced them. Arguments are often heard: “Look at the United States, they do nothing at all. Why should we do something?”

I cannot say that I am a climate expert, but the global industry needs to be transformed. It is necessary to decarbonize the economy, which includes three main components: transition to renewable energy sources wherever possible; electrification and the conversion of all technologies that run on fossil technologies to electricity; and industrial energy efficiency.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about green hydrogen. It can be used like natural gas, but when it burns, water is formed. It is completely carbon neutral. But we need a lot of energy to produce hydrogen. If we find a way to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy sources, we will arrive at the global goal of energy conservation.

Speaking about the transformation of the economy through renewable energy sources, electrification, and energy efficiency, it should be noted that the process should be guided by the principle of a just transition. Decarbonization should take place with social considerations. For example, if tomorrow France decides to abandon nuclear energy, and Russia stops using coal and oil, then the states must provide employment for all citizens who have lost their jobs because of this reform.

D: How can we, the ordinary citizens, help our planet?

N.R.: There are two possible ways to make a difference. A person can be a rational consumer and behave in society with sustainable development in mind, observing the principles of social equality. A citizen can also get involved in work with the local governments, trying to influence politics in various ways.

One of the ways to influence political reforms is voting in general elections. For example, in the German capital, elections were recently held, and the Green Party came in second with a minimal margin over the more traditional Social Democratic Party. Serious changes in society can begin with legislative reform.

D: If you could send a message to the future, what would you write to our descendants?

N.R.: I think it is better to write to those who are in the past and call them to action. I am probably not ready to write a letter to the future yet, because I am in the process of a fight for the better tomorrow. If the moment comes when I realize that I can’t do anything else in the present, then I’ll sit down to write something like this: “Dear future generation, I did everything I could, but the results are not great. I’m sorry, we did our best!”


Trash in Paris: sorting and recycling should be taught in schools

Credit : L.R.

The modern Western economic model of society produces a tremendous amount of waste. In France, for example, it reaches 38 million tons per year.

Back in 1884, the Prefect of Paris, Eugène Poubel, decided that waste should be collected and put in special containers, covered with a lid. His memory lives on, as, after the reform, Parisians started calling the trash bins “poubelle,” and the name stuck.

The innovation allowed the city authorities to clean up Paris’s streets and kick off the tradition of sorting waste.

Garbage recycling centers have existed in Paris since 1886. Rag-pickers collected paper, cloth, bones, and cans, while other workers took away iron, pottery, and enamel products. After careful selection, only organic waste remained, which was mixed with the soil and used for the needs of agriculture. The rest of the garbage was incinerated and converted into steam and electricity.

The waste sorting law was adopted in France in 1992, but only at the end of 2002 has it been implemented in all districts of Paris.

Parisians throw garbage in three multi-colored bins. Yellow is for plastic and paper; white is for glass, and green is for household waste. Only a few districts in Paris use a fourth separate brown container for organic waste.

For successful recycling, sorting and collecting waste needs to be done right. The main task of sorting trash is processing it into new resources.

Before 2020, some of the plastic and paper packages were recycled, while others were not. Now, the sorting process has been simplified, and all parts of the box can be thrown into a yellow container.

A simple example is of this issue is cookie packaging, which, most often in France, consists of a cardboard box containing a plastic container covered with a plastic sheet. Until 2020, only cardboard was recycled, but now all packaging is recycled in most districts. Starting in 2023, all plastic packaging will be recycled.

Sorting and recycling garbage has not yet become a widespread habit. Parisians still often wonder how to do it right.

As a result, education remains one of the main tasks of successful recycling. High-tech recycling centers are huge progress, but in order for them to work efficiently, waste must be sorted right at the first stage, in the homes of Parisians.

The problem is – no one knows one hundred percent how to sort and recycle garbage properly.

There are many urban legends on this topic. Is it right to flatten plastic bottles? They take up less space this way, but the recycling center may not accept them. The tinfoil now can be recycled and belongs in the yellow bin. But it must be rolled into a sphere the size of a tennis ball to be correctly processed at the sorting facility.

I still have a lot of questions and a great desire to sort the garbage correctly. I am one of those people who understand that recycling waste into resources is an essential process. Yet, the lack of centralized and accessible information prevents us from doing it correctly and efficiently.

Some Parisians don’t care what happens to the trash – as long it is out of sight. It is hard to blame them. Their position is another consequence of the lack of information and social education.

There are many different initiatives to reduce plastic waste, including reusable containers and bulk shopping to avoid packaging. However, these innovations are most often seen in expensive organic supermarkets and remain the exception to the rule. Most city dwellers buy groceries in regular stores, which means that the amount of garbage in Parisian houses does not decrease.

Not everyone realizes the importance of recycling and waste reduction on their own. Informing the public about waste sorting and recycling is a crucial part of the process. In my opinion, kids should be taught at school how to recycle and why it’s essential, so the new generations know better and can do better than us.


A basket of fresh vegetables to save the organic farming: my experience in AMAP

Credit: Ta-Tev

AMAPs exist in almost every city in France. The abbreviation stands for “Association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne”, which translated from French means the Association for the maintenance of farm agriculture. First amaps appeared in the country in 2000. They allow city dwellers to buy fresh vegetables, bread, eggs, and meat directly from the farmers, and farms get the funds and help they need in return.

Joining an amap starts with signing a contract with a local farmer. Everyone involved wins: having many subscribers helps to ensure the farm’s financial stability during the year, and members get fresh produce weekly – organic vegetables, grown without pesticides.

In Paris, a farmer can work with one, two, or three districts, depending on how many people his harvest can accommodate. In some areas of the city, several amaps coexist, with different farmers in charge of each. I had a chance to be a member of amap in Ile-de-France.

At first, I was skeptical about the proposal to join the amap. I’ve heard a lot about this association, and some of my friends have expressed mixed reviews. Among the inconveniences of this system, people most often remarked on the fact that vegetables need to be picked up regularly, once a week, at the same time. This means that on the evening of the amap meeting, the person has to be there and is forced to plan their life around it. By signing a contract, people also agree to help farmers from time to time: participate in the distribution of vegetables and help during the harvest.

Another disadvantage is the fact that the harvest is not always predictable. Some weeks the farmer may have less vegetables, so subscribers can’t fully depend on getting everything they need from the amap. They might have to buy the necessary products in regular stores, which can be annoying if the family is trying to stick to getting 100% organic produce from the farm and uses it as motivation to join the amap.

Amaps in Paris rarely offer fruit (the variety of crops depends on the farm and its location). One of the important principles of the system is to support the consumption of seasonal products. In the summertime, the farmers will bring tomatoes and cucumbers, while during the winter amap will have different types of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, celery root, and black radish.

After much thought, I finally decided to sign a contract. My main motivation was to support local farming and sustainable agriculture practices.

When I went to the first distribution of vegetables, I was amazed by the number of people supporting this system. The crowd was very diverse: couples with children, older citizens, and young people. I saw a friendly face right away – our neighbor turned out to be one of the members.

After talking with the farmer, I learned that about 40 people are registered in the amap of our district (and this was far from the only amap in the area). The farmer at that time had no more space and even had to refuse some people who wanted to sign up.

I was impressed by the friendly and cheerful atmosphere at the meetings. As it turns out, every week, those charged with distributing the vegetables (a task all members have to take turns on every six months) bring pies, drinks and throw a small party. Some people pick up the vegetables and immediately go home, while others stay to socialize. Participants discuss organic farming, alternative energy production, waste reduction, and supporting local farms. During these evenings, people exchange views and experiences.

After several meetings, I realized that the distribution of vegetables from 7 to 8.30 in the evening falls on the time when the French are normally having dinner. Members were multitasking and using the meetings to socialize and have a meal with friends and like-minded people. At the end of the night, when everyone gets their baskets of vegetables and the dinner is over, distributors can take leftover produce home.

The most abundant times for amaps are summer and fall. During that season, our farmer brought the freshest vegetables: juicy tomatoes, fresh onions, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, and fragrant herbs.

Once a year, the most active amap members organize a big meeting, to which all subscribers are invited. They discuss organizational issues and main trends in agriculture, participants vote for innovations and exchange opinions. In addition to these annual meetings, the city’s amap network often hosts conferences and screens documentaries on organic farming.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the amap membership for me was the trips to the farm. Each time it would get together about twenty people. Working on the farm turned out to be a very educational process. On the one hand, I learned a lot about farming and was able to see with my own eyes how it is done in France. On the other hand, during potluck lunches at the farm, when everyone shared something they cooked at home, I was able to meet interesting people from different cultures and parts of society, united by love for the land, desire for a change, and the search for alternatives to the modern consumption system.

Digging in the ground, picking vegetables, having that pleasant tiredness in the evening – it all reminded me of my childhood when I helped my parents in our countryside Russian «dacha». Back then I couldn’t appreciate the pleasure of growing my own vegetables. Working in the garden seemed to me a pointless waste of personal time because everything could be bought in the store. Helping our farmer now, I had the feeling that I, too, make some contribution to the cultivation of vegetables, and even more, a contribution to the development of subsistence farming.

I got a different point of view on local farming. I tried new vegetables, the ones I never bought at the store before since they were unknown to me. I plunged into a world of solidarity not only with farmers but also between amap participants. There was a tradition among the members: those who cannot come for their basket of vegetables can ask someone to pick it up and hold it until the next day. At times, especially in winter, when it is dark and raining outside, it is difficult to motivate yourself to go to the amap for vegetables. But every time, I managed to overcome my laziness and went to a meeting.

I never regretted my decision to join amap. When we moved from Paris, I had to leave the association and now, when I try to grow my own vegetables, I fondly remember this invaluable experience. Thanks to the amap and the people I met there, I have the hope that through the solidarity and responsibility that awakens in each of us as we work together, we can contribute to the better future of our planet. Even if this contribution starts with a simple basket of fresh vegetables.


Julius and his community garden

Julius is an architect. He lives in the heart of the 19th district of Paris. Several years ago, together with many other people that live in his enormous building, Julius planted a community garden. From that day, it remained a passion project for him. The garden, labor, and fruits of which are shared by all the participating neighbors, allowed them to create an island of nature surrounded by the stone jungle of Paris.

In this interview for Draftsy Julius agreed to tell us more about his garden and how it changed the life of the building.

D: Julius, what was your motivation to create the community garden?

J: Well, the “garden” part came first, and the “community” came later. My primary motive was the simple pleasure of watching a seed grow into a plant and bear fruit, watching a visiting bee, the rain, and the sun do their part in it. Experimenting with tomatoes in my own 12th-floor balcony for a few years was enough to satisfy this pleasure. I guess this sort of intimate engagement with nature is the first and necessary element of our ecological being as a society. At the same time, I’ve also been looking for opportunities to shatter social norms, historically associated with urban green spaces, which are exclusively decorative and recreational in their purpose.

What do you do in the parks of big cities? You admire begonias, you jog, you have your picnics on the grass with friends, and you take care not to stain your nice clothes with grass and dirt. In a way, you treat it like a big veranda with flowerpots, attached to your living-room. Parks are full of signs forbidding you to do this and that which is far from the freedom you have while being in a forest.

My first idea was secretly planting some “unsightly”, rural vegetables in those beautiful flower beds all around Parisian parks. This subversive idea brought me to the “community” dimension because the urban space and social norms are unthinkable without sharing, without living together. You can’t undo big cities, but you can try changing them. This is how my connection with nature shaped into a sort of love triangle: nature, society, and the individual. I discovered many like-minded people in Paris, and in fact, this grass-root movement has been going on all over Europe for some time now. Some are moved by the return-to-roots motivation, others – by the looming ecological disaster, the collapse in the bee population, and the climate change.

The idea is to reclaim the urban green areas nearby, leaving the choices of how to make their urban environment greener for private citizens. Some of those reclaimed areas are tiny left-over spots: in German cities, and recently in Paris, people started “adopting” a three square meter area around a sidewalk tree, and planting wildflowers, pumpkins, and whatnot. Others temporarily squat the sites of demolished old buildings. The municipal authorities started following this essentially grass-roots trend and now provide assistance – something that was unthinkable twenty years ago. There are many such initiatives around Paris, and communal gardens are nowadays often included in new housing projects.

I am lucky to live in an apartment building with a large adjacent green area and share it with some like-minded neighbors. We asked the landowner to allocate us a plot for urban gardening. He gave us a go. Partly because, for better or worse, the ecology nowadays is an asset of fashion for housing companies, and partly because this way he saves on lawn maintenance costs.

Now we have a 600 square meter garden, which is rather big for a city that is one of the most densely built spots in the world. This is how our garden came into being, and we just gathered the third harvest.

D: What were the first steps for you and your neighbors to make it happen, once the decision was made, and everyone was on board?

J: The first steps were us trying to agree on what we want to do, how do we want it to happen, and deciding on what is the endgame of the project. This (still ongoing) discussion didn’t magically make the garden materialize but it’s still worth mentioning. France is a country with very strong traditions of social consciousness, and a tiny communal endeavor as this can quickly devolve into hot debates on social and political order. The idea of allotting land for individual use was discarded from the outset. Are we going to be a collective garden or a shared one? This question would perplex a person from some Nordic country, but the disagreement on it was nearly fatal for our group.

Credit: Julius

The steps that did advance the creation of the garden were getting up from the table in the middle of the discussion, going to our plot, building wooden frames, and working the soil. With time, we procured some funds to buy wood and tools and to replace the infertile soil. We learned to enjoy together what we used to enjoy privately in our balconies: watching the flowers and vegetable plants bloom, start to smell, ripen with fruit. There’s a very particular kind of pleasure in taking the elevator down to the garden to fetch some salad greens and cucumbers for dinner – in the middle of Paris! 

D: Who was helping you? How many people participated in the project? How much time do you spend working in the garden now?

J: The landlord – who is a semi-private social housing company – gave us a budget for our bigger expenses: the wood, irrigation pipes, and the new soil. The plans, workforce and logistics came from our group exclusively. This involved all kinds of know-how, ranging from carpentry to plumbing. Our group is very diverse profession-wise, but nearly all come from a white-collar professional background. There are opera singers, mathematicians… We had to rely a lot on my professional expertise as an architect. A lot of very specific knowledge, especially when it comes to gardening, comes from online resources, from YouTube, and so on.

We started with about 30 members in the beginning, but today the regulars count 5-10 devotees. Since we have extremely diverse skills and capacities, some work with the soil, others organize events, do paperwork or take photographs for the archive. Since we’re still in the “investment” stage, putting everything in shape takes a lot of time, but unlike the day job, the amount of work largely depends on the biological calendar, naturally. We are looking for outside funding, and this year the French government created an all-country financial assistance specifically for urban gardening. I’m counting on it to help us buy some trees and wood for the garden furniture.

D: How do you share the responsibilities of taking care of the garden and the harvest?

J: We never established a more tangible “constitution” of the group. There are however a couple of “red lines”: no individual appropriation of land, and no power hierarchy (except for my being a sort of unelected leader). We compensate for the lack of structure by playing by ear. I guess that puts us somewhere within the anarchist camp, but we don’t pigeonhole ourselves in political definitions. There’s an unwritten agreement though that we will keep with the ecological practices and philosophy.

As a general observation, there’s a big gap between the time and effort that people tend to invest into what is a hobby, after all, and the real needs of a well-managed garden, which will simply perish if you don’t water it the moment it needs to be watered. We have a WhatsApp group to quickly react to the weather and call for reinforcement when needed. Sometimes nobody’s available, and the plants take the toll.

While we have no hierarchic structure, we do have supervisors of technical areas: some are responsible for flowers, others for vegetables, for budget, for the compost, and so on. Most of those initiatives come spontaneously, and the person who introduces an idea is usually responsible for overseeing its realization. This makes the choice of the supervisor by voting somewhat irrelevant because it’s rare for several people to author the same idea. Some voices were calling for using voting to arbitrate every little decision, but this proved to be as time-consuming as counterproductive, mainly because gardening involves thousands of small choices that are purely technical. For example, a group can vote very evenhandedly for planting peas together with onions, but those two cultures will never grow well together. Some choices are less obvious because there are various philosophies of gardening. We are still divided over the question of whether we should mow our lawns the “English way” or let it grow wild in the spirit of “French garden”. We’ll have to hear the pros and cons and put it to vote.

Since the land is used commonly, we share the fruits of the garden in the most equitable way possible. The harvest is not big enough to set a quota for sharing, so eating the fruits is a largely symbolic act of sharing. Being- and having fun together is a very distinct dimension of the group, although this has little to do with its ecological purposes, properly speaking. But urban gardening and ecological consciousness have a strong social bond, almost a kinship. Even within the population of our high-rise residence overlooking the garden, our group and its activities are subjects of curiosity and talk. In this sense, our activity is very different from that of an agricultural professional, tending to his or hers obscure rural garden: it’s inevitably a theater stage for other townsfolk to watch. This may sound a bit negative, but at the same time, it’s a form of direct action in transforming the traditional urban mindset. All our new recruits joined us after seeing us through the window. On a broader scale, there are about fifteen similar garden projects in our district alone, which amounts to certain visibility in the city and its municipal ecological politics.

D: What do you usually plant? Did you have to change it at all in the process of trial and error (some plants did not work well, others made more sense, etc.)?

J: In the beginning, we were reduced to a narrow range of plants that could grow in our silty substrate that only had 1.5% of organic matter. Things got better after we added 40 cubic meters of rich soil. Now, besides the usual European-climate friendly vegetables, we grow various tomatoes, even Italian bell peppers. For the exotic peppers, we’ve built a greenhouse. Due to having no formal training in the field, we use the trial-and-error method. This year I tried growing the southern melons in the greenhouse, but in a humid greenhouse the mildew devastated the plants. Tomatoes do very well, although this summer was extremely cold. With flowers, we have the usual pleasure-garden beauties, but in general, we chose the most bee-friendly flowers.

D: In your opinion, will community gardens disappear in the future, or will they become even more common?

J: The urban community gardens can’t possibly disappear because their emerging follows similar reasons that back in the nineteenth century forced the authorities of big cities to create public gardens at the expense of the built areas. The trend is not only a matter of fashion but also an absolute ecological and social necessity. Unlike public parks though, the urban community gardens have lots of limitations: they appear where an empty spot in the built-up environment becomes available. But more and more city planners include such gardens in new housing projects. It’s becoming a norm with benefits.

D: Do you think the creation of community gardens in the big cities could be an alternative answer to the future problems with food?

J: Interesting question. There’s certainly a lot that can be done for cities to be able to provide themselves with agricultural produce, but there are certain limitations to be taken into account. The vegetation footprint in Paris is gradually spreading on the flat roofs, even on the walls, but it will always have to share space with other components and functions of the city. Sunlight is another thing to share. Certain vegetables and fruits are easy to grow even in the city but very difficult to transport from remote places. For example, fresh raspberries. There is a company in Paris that cultivates them on the rooftops and provides them directly to restaurants because a massive amount of berries goes bad very fast and can’t stand transportation. The same is true for salad greens and many other vegetables.

D: If you could have the power to make it happen, which other alternative do you think has the ability to improve the ecological situation in the big cities around the world?

J: Outside the lack of vegetation, there are dire ecological problems in the city that should be treated as quickly as possible, for instance, the transport and thermic insulation of buildings. If your question is more about the nature in the city, I wish I could transform flat rooftops into a real layer of thick greenery floating above the city, with occasional footbridges and small animal overpasses across the streets. It would be a new space for the same population, but it would have different norms of being together. Utopians of the nineteenth century called for combining the best of the city and the countryside, but the idea ended up with sad fenced suburban condominiums. So, this would be my shot. But that would require massive changes in building by-laws, construction codes, and even in the concept of land ownership. French people say Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible!

If you want to learn more about community gardens in the 19th district of Paris follow the link . The garden of Julius and his neigbours is under the number 24.


World CleanUp day

Credit : Brian Yurasits

World CleanUp day is celebrated today – millions of people around the world are coming together to make a difference in their communities.

According to the World CleanUp day official website, last year, despite the pandemic, 11 million volunteers in 166 countries participated in the event and collected 43000 tons of garbage. This year the organizers hope to see even more people take part.

The idea to simply get together, go outside and clean up the environment as much as possible was born in 2008 in Estonia. A local grass-roots organization Let’s Do It called for a national cleanup day. Fifty thousand people showed up and picked up ten thousand tons of trash, ultimately “cleaning up” the country. The event quickly made the news, but what is even more important, it inspired millions of people (and even whole governments) to follow suit.

Members of the initial Estonian group have created an international Let’s Do It World movement in 2011. In 2018 they naturally progressed from the idea of “cleaning up” individual countries and organized the first World CleanUp Day. According to the movement’s 2020 annual report, participants specifically concentrated on plastic bottles and cigarette butts. However, during last year’s cleanup, volunteers around the world unearthed some interesting finds. In the Cayman Islands, they collected a lot of abandoned shopping carts; in France, a washing machine was pulled out of a canal; and in Ukraine, volunteers found a motorcycle buried in the mud.

In my home state of Florida, thousands of volunteers will go out today to clean up local parks and beaches – World CleanUp day coincides in the US with the International Coastal Cleanup, which urges people to pick up trash on the shore and stop plastic pollution of the ocean at the source.

Even if your Cleanup Day will consist of picking up a plastic bottle from the sidewalk or taking a bucket for your morning beach walk – we can all do our small part. Let’s clean up the world!

To learn more, check out