Beijing, China, 2007

August 19, 2007

Green Streets

Chaochangdi Street Gardens

There is a tremendous top-down effort to greenify Beijing, including hectares of real trees being planted and kilometers of billboards showing green images. But Beijing citizens love green themselves just as well. Every household seems to have a collection of old pots and pans filled with flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit. Especially in the hutongs and the villages in Beijing, the streets are packed with gardens made out of pots. They are not only pleasing for the eye, they also highly effectively produce green products for their keepers. Corn plants rise up to 2 meters between the houses for decorative appeal and practical use.


The pot gardens people keep in Beijing are maintained by the household they belong to. But they invade the public space without a clear demarcation of the public and the private. In this way they belong more to the street than to a single house. This creates a pleasant public space that develops through private initiative. There is a parallel with the street lighting. In the villages there are no public street lights. Light is provided by the houses that are close to the street and the advertising for all the small businesses lining the street. Here too the lighting is the result of a personal decision to provide a public service. In this scenario there will be a couple of dark corners and parts that lack in green, but (commercial) activity is attracted to light and green spaces. This makes it attractive to share personal green and light.

The pot gardens are also very flexible. Since they intrude public space they can only have a temporary character. They must be able to move or rearrange fast. This is practical because space is rather unstable in China. Houses and neighbourhoods are destroyed and rebuilt in no time. They also change according to the seasons. The gardens move from the inside to the outside in the summer and back in when the winter comes. When vegetables or fruits are harvested they can be replaced by something more suitable for the season. Spotting a traveling garden in traffic is not unusual. It is either a shop or a garden on the move. The pots enable green to be adaptive to the character of the city.

Close to the CCTV building site



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