Open Letter about the destruction of a Permaculture garden in Amsterdam Noord

Author: D. J. Rojo
Date: 27 October 2011

On the 25 October 2011 a tractor drove over a permaculture garden and other gardens nearby in what was a community setup for urban gardening since 4 years in Buiksloterweg, Amsterdam Noord. The setup is a concession by the renters of the place and neither renters or gardeners had ever wanted a tractor to pass there. At the moment of writing still noone knows why the tractor had to drive there, destroying a variety of approximately 60 different species of plants, but I understood the order was given by the "cultural management" of Amsterdam Noord, the so called "Cultuur aan t IJ" foundation.

More documentation about the so called "Slim Pickins" garden, maintained by artist and permaculture designer Debra Solomon, can be found here:

Here an high resolution picture about the damages made by the tractor, free to publish for the press sloper.JPG

I'm airing my protest in public about what happened because it is injustice, something that gives me no peace. For years the people who were busy in the garden, together with the old and new renters of the ateliers inside the building, were always gracefully agreeing on the use and destiny of the place. There weren't problems for the communication among the people involved in activities on the place. I am just a volunteer, very happy with helping and learning about permaculture, and I know for sure there was agreement to keep the so called Slim Pickins permaculture garden.

So why the garden was ripped off like that? Without even a decision being made about it? We are talking about a urban patch of patiently regenerated land following permaculture design principles, gathering about 60 different plant species and an happy swarm of bees every summer. How could this happen if noone of the people active in the place wanted it to be ripped off?

Calling it error is too simple and I don't believe it is the fault of whoever drove that tractor over the garden. The problem is more complex.

If a tractor is driven over a garden by someone who evidently has never seen the place before, the problem lies in the order to do so. Of one thing I can be sure: the tractor and its driver didn't took such an initiative alone.

One doesn't happily drives tractor inside a small urban garden where several smart people were busy in the last 4 years to regenerate the place and make it blossom. It is easy to realize how delicate is such a garden if you take the time to observe it at least once. Number one: lack of observation.

Furthermore, when we talk about urban gardeners we are not talking about people unable to communicate: to the contrary! we are talking about a flock of very knowledgeable and well connected, totally reachable cultural operators and artists living in the city of Amsterdam. Number two: lack of communication.

Why somoene who cannot observe well and cannot communicate well is given so much power over the planning of a city to the point that a tractor can be moved over a community garden? And how is it possible that such a power reaches beyond the boundaries of common sense? or at least the shared sense of all people involved in developing the place, who had in fact decided to keep the garden. Number three: lack of common sense.

Lets stop it here, but I could go on for more. I believe what happened is the responsibility of someone with too much power on the place, but that is not related at all with it nor with the people active in it. I also think that the lack of accountability of cultuur ambtenaaren, the layer of institutions between such blind designers and the people, is a crucial issue.

Let me be clear: I'm not asking for the name of the responsible now: tt is too late now and I'm definitely not interested in being a judge nor an executor. I'm thinking in terms of systems and I believe the system is wrong.

To make it simple: if the people that are already involved bottom-up on the place would have been contacted, would have been involved in such a decision as moving a tractor on a garden, all this wouldn't have happened. This is an easy argument just in the days of the 99% claiming their occupation grounds on Amsterdam. But let me go further.

If the 99% of people get involved in designing a place, a total mess can happen and some equally bad errors can be made. I think this is reasonable to say: the majority of people isn't interested in taking care of gardens. Many people means many interests and if we think of a bottom-up process it doesn't means involving everyone, but just those who want and who can do it well. I wouldn't be a volunteer there without finding actual experts to learn from.

But I think the problem is that the people who are administering the space have nothing to loose and no reason to be in touch with those who are experts and who are activating the place. As a paradox all people who animate the place are well known Amsterdammers, many of them operating in the cultural sector and have a reputation to defend: that's why so far most of the negotiations around the destiny of that garden were clear, reasonable, peaceful and sensible. There couldn't be ever any conflict about that place, the only possibility I can think of is a tractor passing over it without anyone asking for it - and unfortunately that's exactly what happened.

But I don't believe who sent the tractor "is evil": seriously, I never liked Walt Disney not even when i was a kid. And let me be clear once again: it is not the fault of the tractor driver. This is a systemic error, that of a system where too much power is given to people who are not actively participating, who are not stakeholders of a reputation system, who are not connected, are not experiencing the space they design and administer.

Today it happened on a simple garden, but tomorrow it can happen on a different scale, since this is how urban planning operates: decisions are made above the heads of interested people. Those who have the power to make the decisions and give orders can never have a comprehension of all what counts for the humans below them, nor they need to, so they aren't connected.

Production processes are given no value, nor are social processes: there is a radical abstraction between the world of those who take quick design decisions and those who have long term commitment to development. As this cohesion lacks, the system will suffer from growing conflicts and we will recognize this kind of injustice in more sad occasions.

Public sector employee
URBANIAHOEVE vrijwilliger

Reply by the art director of Cultuur aan het IJ

Chris Keulemans
Date: 28 October 2011

Dear all, this is Chris Keulemans, artistic director of de Tolhuistuin. The destruction of the urban garden created by Debra Solomon, Floor van Spaendonck, Jaromil Dyne and others is a true shame. As I am formally responsible, I apologize deeply.

After hearing about this yesterday, I haven't been able yet to find out exactly what went wrong. As I told Debra yesterday, I will let her and the others know as soon as I know what happened.

Over the past years, as the main renter of de Tolhuistuin (which we, stichting Cultuur aan het IJ, rent from the municipality) these little gardens have been one of the pleasures of the place. A good idea to begin with, some of them well-kept and developed, others more or less neglected. In any case, we were happy that Excelsior Recordings, the new renter of the house surrounded by the gardens, has taken care to be in touch with the active gardeners and support their initiative.

So the situation is not as dark as D.J. Rojo suggests in the open letter. Me and my colleagues are anything but cultuur ambtenaren, layers of institutions or blind designers. We spend day and night developing de Tolhuistuin into an open, multidisciplinary, creative meeting place for everyone. Hands-on, physically and mentally, on the spot every day.

So yes, this was a serious mistake, and I am of course ready to discuss whatever we can do to help repair what can still be repaired - but I hope you will believe we are not barbarians.

All the best

Chris Keulemans
Art director "Cultuur aan het IJ"

SlimPickins (last edited 2011-10-27 22:52:29 by jaromil)