Day 4 (Un)urban – Urban green spaces and social research methods

The end of our first week was a rather busy day. In the first session we had panel about green urban initiatives in London. It started with Joyce Veheary introducing us to Lend and Tend, a single managed online platform she started not long ago to bring together people who want to garden but do not have the space to do it and people who do have it but cannot garden. It all started from her desire to have a garden and grow vegetables being stopped by the allotment rents waiting list, which goes up to 30 years in East London! As its slogan “Gardened Gardens Knit Neighbourhoods” says, garden spaces have been proven to reduce statistics of crime, and have also shown to be an interesting way to get kids living in cities to know and value where their food comes from, as well as to help people deal with anxiety and mental health problems and, more importantly, to break the intergenerational gap. The next step for Lend and Tend is to increase the number of people lending gardens to reduce the distance people have to travel to them. More information can be found in the website http://www.lendandtend.com/

Joyce Veheary was followed by Constance Smith talking about The Mobile Garden City in London Olympics Park, a gardening, place making project to help building both the built environment and a community in this new born neighbourhood, even before the neighbourhood exists. In this 20x30m space, gardening is done in pallets, thus not digging into the ground, and different projects have been developed around it: obviously food growing, but also apprenticeships and healthy eating initiatives, among others. The most striking fact about it is that it is a temporary project, funded by the London Legacy Development Corporation which, after 18 months will be moved to another near location to help build another new neighbourhood.

We also learned about R- Urban, a initiative hosted at the Mobile Garden City space to “produce what we consume and consume what we produce, creating net positive solutions”. It is a pilot cradle to cradle model (which could be easily replicated in the UK and Europe) which hosts very interesting activities and spaces, including a community cafe to socialise and a civic university with a classroom, archives and a recording studio hosting workshops; but also a curiosity shop, a tool library, a cycle workshop and an anaerobic digester under construction.

The ecologist Gary Grant closed this panel with an ecosystems approach to the provision of urban green infrastructures. As we all know, 21st century cities are facing many problems, and replacing grey infrastructures with green ones helps alleviating the problem (and can also save money). To do this, he suggested thinking on the idea of networks in ecology and the ecosystem services nature provides us with (such as global and local climate regulation) and apply them to cities. Also, by making cities more permeable to wildlife, we also make them better for people. He presented us with some exciting projects, as Singapore’s Old Rail Corridor, which turned a disused railway into a path for cyclists and helped wild birds, or London Underground Central Line Depot, which uses water in a green space while prevents problems in the Underground. Also, he showed us the benefits of sustainable Garden Walls and depaving (putting gardens into pavements). The most interesting point was the idea that we have to mimic nature, and change our point of view to start seeing water in constructions as an ally rather than an enemy.

After this stimulating panel, we had to come up with solutions to a challenge proposed by R-Urban: which strategies, techniques and data they can collect and use to better understand local community needs. Some possible solutions groups came up with included the use of demographic information, questionnaires and focus groups, hosting events to ask people and giving freebies to engage them. Among the feedback we received I found particularly interesting the idea of talking to park managers and cleaners, since they have extensive knowledge about the area and how people use it, and they are easier to interview than a large number of local people.

After a short lunch break we moved to Chandler House to work on research methods on the social sciences, and we were given the list of challenges we could choose to work on next week. First, groups 1 and 2 came up with a collaborative definition of social science research methods: they are procedures to gain qualitative and quantitative, first and second-hand data about groups, institutions or patterns of behaviour at a macro and micro level across time and space. Then, our navigators introduced us to quantitative (very structured, e.g.: experiment), qualitative (less structured, more complex, attitudes, e.g.: ethnography) and in-between methods.

We spent some time talking about interviews. First we explored the different types there are (structured, semi-structured and un-structured) and then we worked on types of questions that can be asked: introducing, follow-up, probing, specifying, indirect, structuring and interpreting questions, as well as silence. Our navigators also introduced us to research ethics and how participants have to know about them through consent forms, and taught us how to plan our research. To wrap up all the new concepts and ideas of that afternoon, we had to come up with questions for a potential interviewee and write a brief discussion guide for our interview. To finish, each group had time to decide the top 3 preferred challenges for next week.

Friday was a busy but inspiring day about urban green spaces and research methods, and both the panellists and our navigators gave us a lot of information and new ideas to develop our own ones in the challenges we will have to work on next week.

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