Noi Ortadini (citizen gardeners): a Community Garden to collectively reconnect with nature in Matera
During lockdown, a biology student who lived on the outskirts of Matera (Italy) started growing vegetables and trees on an abandoned patch of land next to his home. Friends and neighbours joined him to learn about agriculture, socialize and build a compost bin and a gazebo. “Noi Ortadini” (the citizen gardeners) is now an official community garden, offering events and workshops such as gardening, ecosystem restoration, outdoor education for children and debates on climate change and sustainable lifestyles.
Municipality of Matera, Region of Basilicata
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
As a representative of an organisation
Name of the organisation(s): Noi Ortadini Type of organisation: Non-profit organisation First name of representative: Sara Last name of representative: Simeone Age: 29 Please attach a copy of your national ID/residence card:
By ticking this box, I certify that the information regarding my age is factually correct. : Yes Gender: Female Nationality: Italy Function: Membership manager Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Via Gioberti 9 Town: Matera Postal code: 75100 Country: Italy Direct Tel:+39 328 704 0231 E-mail:email@example.com Website:http://linktr.ee/noiortadini
In 2020 we started animating a green area in Matera, Italy, with a high potential to reconnect people with nature thanks to:
- the lack of traffic, as no big street flanks the area;
- a beautiful view on San Giuliano lake and Pollino mountains: a landscape value that makes people aware of the geology and orography of the surroundings;
- its closeness to the city, allowing for a very close nature escape with greenery and a varied offer of events and workshops (clean-ups, vegetable gardening, ecosystem restoration, outdoor education for children, do-it-yourself workshops, walkabouts, debates on sustainable lifestyles, climate change and environmental impact, etc.): all organised mainly by our young group, for the gardeners, neighbours and interested community.
Since we started, the area became more lively and we started analysing the needs of people attending the area through participatory placemaking processes and co-design workshops, by involving young architects and urban and landscape planners.
The manifested priority needs were:
1. Tables and benches where to keep doing social eating and outdoor education workshops in a more comfortable way
2. A shed to store the tools and equipment that we use for social gardening, plus a greenhouse where to nurse the seedlings of local endangered trees in a controlled environment, safe from wild boars who also often eat the food we grow: therefore, we will build a wooden shed and greenhouse
3. A natural amphitheatre to host classes, debates, theatrical performances (avoiding to bring chairs everytime)
4. A sensory pathway with benches, tables and shelves, mainly for our didactic workshops about plants and to shape the pathway up to the panoramic view
In order to keep the social side of building, we will build them through self-construction techniques, with partly recycled wood.
The NEB Prize 2023 would really help us implement these interventions that would allow us to carry on with our events and workshops.
Urban social gardening
At the environmental level, our objectives are:
1 Enacting CIRCULARITY. We do this by nourishing our soil and fertilising it with: manure and compost coming from a 100% organic farmhouse near Matera; the waste of local beer production; our own compost.
2 Restoring the ECOSYSTEM’S BIODIVERSITY: so far we have planted 102 trees (especially endemic and endangered oak trees) plus 1048 tree seeds with the help of expert agronomists and University Professors.
3 Sensitising about daily actions that can FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE, avoid pollution and help be more healthy, by organising clean-ups, workshops, debates. We also offered as membership gifts a calendar about veggies’ seasonality made from recycled paper, and a reusable glass made with recycled plastics.
At the social level:
1 We do SOCIAL INCLUSION by involving disadvantaged people (migrants, school dropouts, elderly people).
2 We do COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT by allowing everyone to have their say.
The TABLE, BENCHES, SHED, GREENHOUSE, AMPHITHEATRE and SENSORY PATHWAY would allow us to:
- have dedicated spaces to host tutorials, hands-on workshops, lessons regenerative agriculture, ecosystem restoration and nature-based solutions;
- keep commoning our tools and equipment and creating an experimenting environment to empower gardeners and local dwellers to do gardening independently (now it closely depends on fixed meeting days), and to give continuity to our environmentally and socially regenerative actions.
At the economic level, our long-term aim is to fight brain drain and generate job opportunities for local young people who often opt to emigrate. To do this, we do crowdfunding and apply for local (Hubout - won), regional (Si Può Fare - won), national (Creative Living Lab - not won) and European calls (NEB - it would be our dream).
We are trying to create a fruitful environment where young people can experiment, learn, exchange and startup businesses connected with circular economy, agronomy and other fields.
Our abandoned, public, urban green area has been used for many years to dump waste coming from local building companies or household waste.
We want to turn it into the most beautiful urban community garden in town. This is why in the past two years we have been:
- cleaning and tidying up;
- prototyping compost bins, benches and small tables;
- balancing the wild greenery with more human-led vegetable gardens;
- involving the neighbourhood's community and whoever wanted to imagine and co-design the area.
Our project can be exemplary as it is the outcome of a 2-years co-design process involving experts from the Public Administration, architects and beyond, including a Professor of aesthetics (Silvana Kuhtz) from the University of Basilicata, who regularly co-organises poetry events, concerts, walkabouts, readings with us at the garden. She also involved her students in creating informative panels about SDGs.
We want to base ourselves on the social, aesthetic and reconnection needs that emerged: beauty, for us, is expressed through the use of natural materials and the harmonisation of human intervention with the greenery. Overall, we aim at making the area more good-looking also by conveying an identity and recognisability to it. For the NATURAL AMPHITHEATRE, we will use tufa stones in the little hill, terracing it into seats; a substrate will be placed to allow the germination of the green. For the other new architectural elements, we will use wood in its natural colour, just water-proofing it. The SENSORY PATHWAY, adding up to the cherry pathway we already created, is aimed at conveying a curvy appearance that breaks the square geometry of the area: it will accompany the urban garden explorer and user in the discovery of local wild plants, and it will show the pathway that leads uphill to a breathtaking panoramic view. We want to ensure a quality regenerative, relaxing experience for those who come to the garden, to enjoy nature in an immersive way.
As a newly born association for social advancement, Noi Ortadini aim to promote civic participation and empowerment through a wide range of activities.
We enact SOCIAL INCLUSION by constantly involving disadvantaged people (migrants, school dropouts, elderly people, disabled people, 2 local dwellers in house arrest) and people looking for nature and sociability, like international volunteers and students. We have made the area accessible for wheelchaired people.
We do COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT by asking everyone who attends our common green area to have their say. The model we are inspired by is the quadruple helix approach.
We have a both environmentally and socially regenerative scope. To understand why, we need to tell you some history.
The green area is located in a neighbourhood called “Serra Venerdì”. It was built in the 1950s - along with other neighbourhoods - after the decision of the Italian Government to evacuate the historical neighbourhood of Matera called “Sassi”, where the living conditions were critically unhealthy.
Many people who populated the Sassi were deported to Serra Venerdì but they have always been marginalised and considered as uneducated peasants by the rest of the city, which was instead richer and more cultured.
With our project, we mean to create a redemption opportunity for this neighbourhood, by valuing and highlighting its specificities.
We aim at social inclusion also in this sense, by alleviating the prejudice that affects the neighbourhood Serra Venerdì.
Starting from an abandoned place and a set of social challenges, we have activated ourselves and a whole community in taking care of a common space with collective action. We now strive to develop a community based on the principles of welcoming, hospitality and shared responsibility, involving people with fewer opportunities to give them a chance to experience an inclusive and stimulating environment.
So far we have carried out:
1. Regular assemblies and co-design workshops with local dwellers (including us) and other people who attend the area, to understand our common needs and desires
2. Several walkabouts with University students of architecture, landscape and urban planning to brainstorm and define the best plants and architectural elements to feature in our community garden (also with students from the international course Placemaking as Youth Activism, in collaboration with Materahub)
4. Meetings with the the local administration to agree on the endemic trees to plant and the contract for the adoption of the green area by Noi Ortadini
5. Self-construction workshops to build tables, benches, etc. with gardeners, young people from Matera, migrants, Erasmus students, disabled people…
6. We kept track of all the received feedback inside our shared Drive folders and Miro board
Our association now counts 48 members and has gathered interest and support from the neighbourhood and civil society.
We also carried out a stakeholder mapping of our community garden.
Some of the actors involved are: local dwellers (also beneficiaries); active and supporter members of Noi Ortadini (also beneficiaries); disadvantaged people like the migrants involved thanks the cooperative Il Sicomoro (also beneficiaries); the Municipality of Matera; University Professors and students; the architects and planners involved; local food waste producers; the city inhabitants; local associations; the press.
The impact so far is consensus, knowledge sharing, a common vision, mission and collective action; empowerment of young members of Noi Ortadini who recognise how this project boosts their hard and soft skills; encouragement of similar initiatives in the city.
The architectural and landscape elements we are going to insert will allow gardeners, locals and associations to add a physical support for activities, events, debates, workshops, and so on.
Our concept is the outcome of a 2-years co-design process involving mainly local and regional actors.
Local dwellers, including some of Noi Ortadini, were engaged through regular assemblies and informal chats to define the basic functions that the community garden should have to be lived at its best.
The municipal council, above all the Mayor, the Assessor for urban planning and the one for urban greenery, have been invited to the community garden to provide their vision for the project and technical instructions on how to proceed for the request of the adoption of the area, which has now been approved and includes the possibility of building architectural elements for the common good.
Experts of arboriculture and landscape planning have spontaneously approached us to learn more about the initiative and provide precious feedback, which has been put by No Ortadini into a forestation plan for our community garden, approved by the Municipality.
The regional representative of the national call “Si Può Fare” (=It can be done) has chosen Noi Ortadini as the best youth initiative in Basilicata.
10 students of architecture attending the European University course in Placemaking as Youth Activism have chosen our community garden to help us in the placemaking process. They took part in 3 co-design workshops we organised with the architect Liviano Mariella, who helped us define which architectural elements to introduce in the green area. Many Erasmus students and European Solidarity Corps volunteers working for local associations often visit us and take part.
Michele Mingione, landscape planning graduate, and Nicola Viola, architecture student fond of biophilic design, are contributing considerably to our to design the structure of agreed elements aroused from the co-design process:
- The shed and greenhouse
- The natural amphitheatre
- The sensory pathway
- The table and benches
We will start building them in March 2023.
Our project is the outcome of a 2-years co-design process tapping into varied disciplines and knowledge fields.
Alessandro Montelli taught us about agroforestry and regenerative agriculture.
Elderly neighbours taught us ancient farming techniques.
Eustacchio Ruggieri, farmer and Noi Ortadini member, taught us step by step how to plant and preserve a local endangered oak.
Francesco Ferrini, urban arboriculture expert, also gave us precious advice.
Alba Mininni, landscape Professor and researcher, involved her students in analysing the soil and greenery of our garden (researchgate.net/profile/Alba-Mininni).
Silvana Kuhtz, Professor of aesthetics and sustainability (civitates.it/silvana-kuhtz), organised poetry events and walkabouts in our garden, and helped us define the key aesthetics and life cycle assessment concepts to keep in mind.
The local Assessor for urban planning (facebook.com/AssessoraNicoletti) brought a broader view of how Matera is evolving and what our contribution can be.
Liviano Mariella helped us do community engagement to agree on which elements to build (recollocal.it/?team=liviano-mariella).
Local dwellers, including some of Noi Ortadini, shared their needs, skills and wishes for this social space (participedia.net/organization/8180).
Angela Dibenedetto, urban regeneration expert (linkedin.com/in/angela-dibenedetto-784857104) involved the students of Placemaking as Youth Activism (www.playact.eu).
Ida Presta and other architecture PhDs, with their anthropological and technical points of view, made us understand community engagement techniques.
Dominika Majewska, earth and human-centred design expert (linkedin.com/in/majewskadominika) took part in many gardening days.
Cristina Amenta, expert in universal design, hosted a workshop on how to make urban spaces and events more accessible.
Michele Mingione, a landscape planning graduate, and Nicola Viola, architecture student fond of biophilic design, are contributing to this candidacy.
We conceived the wooden shed with modular elements and multifunctional, by making it contiguous to a greenhouse.
By adding more modules and blocks in the future, we will always be able to generate new spaces with different and specific functions. In this way, our projects will always evolve based on what we practically need.
Moreover, Matteo Benedetto (computer engineer) and Danilo Di Cuia (human-machine interactions designer, linkedin.com/in/danilodicuia) - two new members of Noi Ortadini - are currently figuring out with Liviano Mariella (architect) and Nicola viola (architecture student) the possibility to add a solar panel to light up the shed and greenhouse. Plus, they are designing:
- a seamless opening mechanism with a single-use code, in order to open the shed by using our phone
- the attachment of a control unit for measuring air pollution and representing it through data visualisation
The structure of the natural amphitheatre is thought to host classes, debates and performances in a non-invasive way for nature. Nature is the protagonist and the seats will allow for greenery to grow on top. It will not be impactful towards the landscape as it will completely integrate in the already existing, naturally-shaped hill that is next to Noi Ortadini’s vegetable garden. It will be the perfect spot to host gardening classes in a way that everyone can see the speaker, and it will avoid us bringing chairs everytime.
The sensory pathway is composed of benches, tables and shelves that, like the wooden shed and the greenhouse, are adjustable and will be modified depending on the purpose of usage. Also, its modularity will enable access to wheelchairs and strollers, becoming a 100% inclusive space.
Firstly, we can transfer to other places and neighbourhoods in town or in other cities and villages, the co-design process that we followed to define what to build and how.
What can be replicated is:
- the multi-level and multi-stakeholder approach, following the 'quadruple helix' approach to make sure that all the relevant stakeholders are consulted before proceeding with building any new structure;
- the transdisciplinary knowledge sharing, by constantly consulting with scholars from diverse fields such as agronomy, arboriculture, geology, architecture, placemaking, aesthetics, landscape and urban planning;
- the decision-making processes like dot voting and sociocracy;
- the earth-centred design of our concept, putting nature-based solutions first;
- the contract co-designed by us and the local Municipality to adopt a green space in Matera.
We could also replicate:
- the models of the architectural elements that we will build and put in the green area, which are the result of a knowledge and experience sharing process among architects, self-construction experts who built other sheds for urban hardening and other elements like benches and tables for similar contexts.
The potential for transferring the learnings of our experience has already been expressed by two groups of citizens living in other 2 neighbourhoods (Lanera and Agna) in Matera. With them, we are sharing information about the co-management of a green space and they are interested in replicating the same models of shed, greenshouse and pathway. The amphitheatre is more site-specific but for sure it can transfer the earth-centred design we chose.
The potential to replicate our action also lies in the example that we give every day to the young people of the city of Matera who come to visit our space, telling our story and inspiring them to adopt green urban spaces.
In relation to the global environmental challenges, we fight climate change by:
- applying nature-based solutions like urban forestation to mitigate the effects of climate change;
- adopting game-based methods and organising workshops to enact practices e.g. to learn about recycling and circular economy, and to avoid food waste, wrong waste management, biodiversity loss, lack of urban green social spaces;
- raising awareness, sensitising and fostering social aggregation to discuss important issues with events, cine forums, debates, theatrical performances, lunches and dinners.
Lately, for example, we have been inviting the community to social lunches in a zero waste BYO format - where the community share both food and beverages, using reusable cutleries and kitchen tools only.
As for the social challenges, we fight social prejudices, exclusion, inaccessibility and brain drain. In general, we contribute to creating urban environments that foster the well being of local communities and make them/us more knowledgeable about important issues such as climate change and sustainable urban planning. We strive towards the inclusion of marginalised people.
Our concept will encourage the civil society to enjoy open green spaces and spend their time on regenerative activities instead of going shopping in the weekends. It will be an occasion for people to give more value to social, open-air moments, as it is already happening.