Democracy and participation, Environment and sustainability

Open Gardens

Engage beyond your backyard

Creators

Who is behind this?

Zuzanna Szybisty

Stowarzyszenie Strefa Dobrych Wibracji (Association of the Good Vibration Zone)

https://www.facebook.com/StrefaDobrychWibracji/

Poland

Idea

Idea pitch

Influence of society on spatial planning and forest management have been fiction in our region. In times of climate change and water shortages it is crucial to convince local inhabitants, the District Council and the State Forest to engage in a real dialogue about what public space should look like. People in rural areas in Poland don't want to get involved beyond their own backyards. But initiatives close to their hearts can encourage them to engage, that’s why we called it the “Open Gardens”.

Where will your project idea take place?

Cegłów Commune, East Poland (eastern part of Mazovian Voivodeship)

What is the local challenge?

Cegłów is a rural commune with over 30% of it covered by State Forests. Its slogan is "Green Commune". Every few years Spatial Plans and Forest Management Plans are adopted for each town and forestry in Poland. In theory these plans are a key tool for society to have an impact on the environment they live in. The social consultations on those plans are obligatory, but have been fiction. The bureaucratic barriers, use of technical language by authorities and also a lack of interest prevent inhabitants’ input. Our challenges are to empower people with knowledge about the richness and importance of the local environment and to convince local inhabitants, the District Council and the State Forests to engage in a real dialogue about what public space should look like in times of climate change.

How does your idea strengthen democracy and active citizenship at a local and community level?

People in rural areas, like Cegłów, don't want and are afraid to get involved beyond their own backyards right now. The main reasons are the lack of confidence and lack of citizens’ engagement initiatives. Moreover due to the fact that they have their own gardens, it is more difficult for them (compared to city inhabitants) to see challenges associated with spatial planning, especially if it applies to public green space. We think that most of Cegłów inhabitants (our neighbors) can extend their “horizons” beyond their own gardens. Empowered with knowledge on how to manage gardens in an eco-friendly way and encouraged by first results (e.g. edible flowers in backyards), they will be more willing to participate in social consultation on issues crucial for their wellbeing.

Who are you doing it for?

We are targeting the whole range of our local society, including: local inhabitants (6000 people), forest hikers, joggers, nature lovers, farmers, blueberry and fungi pickers, hunters, Local Forestry Commission and The District Council. Each group has slightly different expectations (even if most of them don’t say it aloud, yet) concerning public green space and forests. Some groups like nature lovers, hikers or cyclists are easy to reach through the local Facebook groups and forums, where they complain about garbage in forests or excessive logging. The other e.g. farmers, blueberry pickers, hunters we will approach personally. At one stage we will compare local people's expectations with the knowledge and experience in biodiversity of State Forests employees and outside experts.

How do you plan to get there?

To provoke interest we will start with teaser activities: photo exhibitions in the market square with examples of public spaces from Europe, stickers on fences, online graphics. Then we plan to gather opinions from the whole range of our local society, using internet tools and meetings. In the meantime we are going to convince authorities to let us sow the meadow plants in public spaces in 2-3 villages of our commune to put our ideas into practice. The Open Garden Festival lasting a few days will be a focal point of our initiative. During the event, inhabitants will have a chance to take part in workshops (e.g. on planting herbs), panel discussions with authorities and outside experts (e.g. “Which plants influence water retention”), concerts and exhibitions in private gardens.

What are the expected results?

Local inhabitants will get a wide range of knowledge and different points of view on how people's habits and authorities' decisions affect the environment. For example, how sowing meadow flowers and protecting marshes can reduce the impact of droughts. Therefore, inhabitants will be more willing to participate in the development of The Local Biodiversity Guidelines that would be collectively worked out. They will focus on the best solutions on how to conserve and enhance biodiversity in a local environment, both public and private spaces. Other tangible successes we expect: 2-3 public flower meadows with beehives, some inhabitants will turn their lawns into meadows. We aim to interest the national media in our project and inspire other local communities to follow our steps.

How does your initiative contribute to strengthening democracy in Europe?

We live in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous). More and more Europeans think that the complexity of todays’ challenges and the stress of navigating them is overwhelming. Environmental issues are one of these challenges. Moreover, public institutions and authorities have neither the time nor the will to explain complex problems to society. Authorities think that their role is to manage the state, city or commune. However we believe this way of thinking leads to a weakening of democracy. The real challenge for democracy, right now, is how to effectively use the wisdom of society (diversity of views and opinions). That’s why our initiative is so important. Cooperation unleashes mutual trust and understanding.

What is your story?

We have been running social projects for 15 years. We had many successes, but also several failures. We have learnt over these years that the social spark should lead to institutional changes, if social projects are to bring the real long-term effects on people’s behaviour. So why do we want to focus on the environmental issue? We are extremely worried about climate change and its effects. On the other hand we see some flaws in the landscape, that can be probably fixed if we work out commonly accepted solutions with local inhabitants (our neighbours) and authorities. We really want to deepen these topics by ourselves.
Last but not least, we want to set an example for our children, early teenagers.

€ 50000,-

Funding requested from Civic Europe

€ 50000,-

Total budget

Major expenses

Personnel costs - 8,000 EUR
Workshops, panels and expert consultation - 8,000 EUR
Travel and accommodation costs for external experts - 2,000 EUR
Flower meadow mixtures, fruit tree seeds - 8,000 EUR
Print and online education materials (photos, maps, notice boards) - 13,000 EUR
Public relations & advertising - 4,000 EUR
Office & accounting - 1,000 EUR
Costs of Open Gardens Festival - 6,000 EUR

What do you need from the Civic Europe community?

We have a lot of questions. Do you know any organizations that have successfully implemented similar initiative in this field and would be open to share their experience with us? In what regions of your countries would it be possible to implement our idea?

Team

Zuza Szybisty

Tomek Szczęśniak

sylwia.jj

Idea created on May 27, 2020
Last edit on May 27, 2020

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