Spirit of the place, are you there?

Spirit of the place, are you there?

Urban gardens are multiplying around the world, responding to the impulse of people that want more green and social spaces in their neighborhoods. urbz was invited to host a series of brainstorming sessions at the Jardin des Moraines in Geneva.

The urbz team was invited to host a series of discussions at the Jardin des Moraines, which is a very special place in Geneva. It is a collective garden that was created in an empty plot in between a series of buildings. The place looks like an oasis in a dense neighborhood. People come there to grow flowers and vegetables, drink beer or homemade ice-tea, listen to music, and meet each other. It is a very inclusive, self-managed space. After 5 years of existence, the founders thought it was time to reflect on this experience and identify what is truly unique and must be preserved and what is universal, and could therefore inspire the creation of other such spaces.

We organize a series of 3 public brainstorming sessions on the spirit of the place; the economy of the garden; and its governance. The first session took place on a beautiful June evening. We used the notion of the Genius Loci, a term Romans used to name the protective spirit of a place. Local Gods and Goddess are common in many Indian villages and neighborhoods. Many European villages and towns also have their local saints. The Genius Loci is a concept that has been used by landscape architects for centuries now. Know/feel the unique character of a place and let yourself be guided by it. It is about connecting at an instinctive level. When a place is created by many people over years, their collective acts give shape to the spirit. How a place is used, how much affect people put in it, all that contribute to generating its uniqueness and character - as Christopher Alexander describes so well in his Nature of Order.

The impulse for this series of event was given by Largescalestudios a local architecture/construction/gardening collective, which discovered the space and started occupying it a few years back, slowly turning it into a garden with the help of neighbors. It is now run by an association with dozens of people actively involved in gardening and the organization of events. The space is now divided into a hardcore gardening space, where people individually take care of wooden garden boxes, and a common space, which is open to everyone. The entire garden was created without any help from the authorities, all thanks to the hard voluntary work and self-organization of a group of people that got to know each other in the process.

Anyone who has ever stepped through the gates of the Jardin des Moraines knows that this place has a soul. The participants in the first brainstorming session described it as "a place where you can reconnect with life", "a bubble of air", a place for exchange and transmission between cultures and generations. The Jardin des Moraines is a fantastic example of direct participation and collective organization, "a philosophy in action", from which "we should draw inspiration for other urban projects". But creating and bringing the Jardin to life is not so simple, "nothing is easy" (All quotes are from the first session). This place, which seems so organic and spontaneous, is the result of a great deal of effort.

Our second session, which happens today, focuses on these efforts. We'd like to take the time to recognise and value the personal investment that a place like this represents. The etymology of the word “economy” is “oiko” - the house, and “nomía” - management or laws. How do we create a space where we all feel at home and how do we manage it collectively? What objective and subjective value does the Jardin des Moraines represent for the city? What is its social contribution? And what kind of support does it need now to continue existing?

More soon…