The urbz team is working with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC) in Geneva on a participatory landscape design involving staff, neighbors and partners.
This article presents some key findings and points on the ongoing participatory landscape project. It focuses on the shared vision and the key concepts which emerged from its participatory approach. It summarizes the points discussed in workshops that involved a host of people, from members of the IFRC to residents of the neighborhood.
It emphasizes the on-going, open-ended nature of the process and invites all participants to re-evaluate the summary and even edit and correct it in the exhibitions.
The emergent conceptual framework is explained in this article. The first consideration is that the park is an IFRC park, a Red Cross park that is open to the public. It is both a historical reminder of the Red Cross's presence in the neighborhood and a space that is shared with the city's public. Secondly, it represents an autonomous space giving its users ample freedom of use in the park. It reminds us that its users are humans as well as other species, including flora which have become a part of its terrain over time. Thirdly, it represents diversity in every form which needs to be valued. Thus the park itself has many forms - of the wild forest, a domesticated park and a streetfront - all of which are valued faces of the space. Fourthly, this consideration of diversity provides the right ambience to make it a safe space for different groups and marginal communities where they all feel secure, no matter their difference.
The other concepts include Peaceful Wilderness ( inspired by the fact that a lot of people who know a little about the forest, say they actually like this wild side),The Common Ground (that which is shared by all), and finally the phrase “Fruits Allowed” emerges from the concept of sharing and extends it into the space of functional sharing of the material output of the park - including its produce. This conceptual framework also overlap the fundamental principles of IFRC which are- Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality.
The Red-Cross movement born in Geneva over 130 years ago has a long history in Petit- Saconnex where the IFRC headquarters have been located since 1960. The organization has always maintained an understated presence in the city and the neighborhood. This reflects its humble approach to humanitarian work.The park will raise the IFRC's visibility and encourage it to assume a greater role in the community. Above all, it is an opportunity for the IFRC to offer a healthy work environment to its employees while also including the community in participation activities and protecting the environment.
The park emulates the values of the Red-Cross. It is not merely a landscape project but also an empowering initiative. It is a social and ecological process as much a spatial project. The process sets a precedent that may inspire others in Geneva and around the world, as it provides a new paradigm of the relationship organizations share with their surroundings.
Fundamental Principles: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Unity, Voluntary Service, Universality
The IFRC invites the community to enjoy and preserve the park. The community includes staff, partners, Red Cross colleagues, neighbors as well as local and international visitors. The Park is an interface between the Red Cross and civil society. The common ground principle asserts that trust and hospitality must prevail over mistrust and hostility. Having a good relationship with its neighbors makes the IFRC safer. Spatially, this principle translates into keeping the site open, either by removing barriers or by keeping them open at least during the day. The IFRC Park provides infrastructure dedicated to the neighborhood such as the Ecopoint and the chalet. It is looking for ways to be a constructive social and ecological force in Petit-Saconnex. The community shares the responsibility and care for the park, which is open to all.
Fundamental Principles: Unity, Voluntary service
The people who live around the forest or walk through it, appreciate its “wilderness”. Some neighbors are able to enumerate the species of birds that take refuge on its trees. Dogs and cats walk around freely. Children build houses with fallen branches. Some come to meditate. Most people think it should be kept the way it is. Possible measures to protect the forest from people’s steps could be to indicate a pathway.
The forest’s feel of peaceful wilderness could be an inspiration for the “garden” area of the park. At the moment the garden hosts many functions: Ecopoint, smoking corner, cycle parking, electric facilities, chalet along with a few trees that have either been there for years. The garden is a potential receptacle for biodiversity which could follow the autonomous growth pattern of the forest. Some fruit trees could also be planted to create a low maintenance permaculture garden. The idea is to avoid any aggressive approach to landscaping – especially when it comes to vegetation – and rather allow what is there already to continue growing and welcome what comes “naturally” to the garden without too much control.
Fundamental Principles: Independence, Impartiality
The perimeter is made of highly contrasted parts, each with their functions and identities: street front, terrace, garden, forest. They will continue performing different roles – the forest is peaceful, the garden is active, the street front acts as an interface, the terrace is convivial. The park has a variety of uses and roles and its functions will evolve over time. Yet the different parts composing the park must also form a whole. They are not mere fragments, but connected spaces. The passage from one space to the next is marked by thresholds, which are connectors rather than dividers. Thresholds must be treated with special care as these are always interesting spaces of encounter with high potential for ecological or functional hybridation.
Fundamental Principles: Universality, Unity
Autonomy means that the IFRC Park will continue being a receptacle for biodiversity, giving a chance to the ecosystem to respond to external changes (visitors, invasive species and climate change for instance). At the same time, it will not shy away from human intervention whenever the milieu’s biodiversity itself is at risk. To do the right thing in an ecosystem that is diverse and unstable is complex. It may not even be possible at all, beyond a certain point. That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t try. But trying in full consciousness means observing, learning, debating, giving a chance to nature to find its own way, observing and perhaps weighting in. The park should for the most part be self-sustaining and able to look after itself with minimal maintenance. The perimeter is a rich and varied microenvironment, a palimpsest of landscape interventions and abandon. This microenvironment, the flora, fauna and humans, form a system that somehow needs to learn to function together.
Fundamental Principles: Independence, impartiality
Practices such as permaculture demonstrate that the relationship between humans and their milieu don’t have to be exploitative and destructive. Drawing from ancient wisdom and contemporary techniques, humans can create their own garden of Eden. In this garden, eating the fruit of knowledge is encouraged. Knowledge may have taken us to the brink of self-destruction,
but now it must take us to universal preservation.The IFRC Park is a tiny green dot on the map – an island of peace – perhaps. But it is also a place where people from all around the world gather, work together and show that it is indeed possible to change minds and situations.
Red-Cross staff and volunteers are the reason we can’t ever lose faith in humanity. The IFRC Park is not just a place that allows hope– it is a place that encourages us to act. The Park empowers people to be their better selves. Guests in IFRC Park are also learning entities, observing trees and animal species – enjoying the fruits of nature, endorsing their role in it. The IFRC Park provides a healthy working environment, clean air, and a fertile ground for social interactions. In return, those who use the park ensure that it is well nourished and respected, they make conscious efforts to keep it healthy and welcoming.
Fundamental Principles: Universality
One of the most valuable things the Red Cross provides is a safe space for human and non-human beneficiaries- a space where people are simply respected as human beings, without judgment or condition along with the safety and security of its flora and fauna. Feeling safe is a precondition for peace. The IFRC Park welcomes everyone regardless of their age, origins and beliefs. It is a space where tensions are left outside and people can interact and discuss openly. Whether there are barriers or not, the IFRC Park is somewhat enclosed and protective – like a garden. Entering the IFRC Park means accepting to follow its rules – which are the rules of hospitality and peace, and the rules of nature (which we can’t possibly know, but which we are all able to respect instinctively). The rules specific to the use of the IFRC Park have to be set in response to the needs – knowing that the best rules are those that are followed without being told
Fundamental Principles: Neutrality, Humanity