These roofs are made for gardening? Photo: Jennifer Hattam.
Residents of Cairo have celebrated and cleaned up following the historic protests in the country. Now, the hard work of, as one sign put it, "building Egypt" begins. Though the factors that have created the ongoing unrest across the Middle East and North Africa are numerous, both peak oil and high food prices seem to have played a role. Could environmental measures help create solutions as well?The Middle Eastern environmental blog Green Prophet published its piece on "What Urban Rooftop Gardening Could Do For The Middle East" just before unrest broke out in Tunisia and subsequently spread across the region, but it takes on new significance in light of the past two months' events.
'I Just Want To Feed My Family'
Speaking about urban gardening in the region, Neveen Metwally, a researcher at the Central Laboratory for Agriculture Climate in Cairo, emphasized the importance of focusing on the needs of regular people: "'I can say to someone, "A rooftop garden will help the environment," and they'll say, "No, thank you -- I just want to feed my family." So I must identify and communicate benefits that are of interest to that person.'"
The inability to feed his family, as those who have been following the news well know, is what led Tunisian vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself on fire in protest of police confiscation of his vegetable cart, in the process becoming a symbol for thousands of demonstrators in Tunisia and beyond.
Urban Farms Reduce Air Pollution
"[People] being able to supply their own fruit and vegetables is clearly an advantage in a time of food scarcity and rising prices. And it's also not impossible. Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, both produce more than 20% of their meat and vegetables within the city limits," Green Prophet writes. "As well as helping to reduce air pollution, keeping the city cool during hot summers and warmer during cold winters, the rooftop crops can help those living in poverty stave off starvation and even generate a decent income."
As the site notes, traditional dwellings in the Middle East have flat roofs, which are well-suited for urban gardening. Turkish garden historian Gürsan Ergil told me recently that you can still see people covering their roofs with soil and growing vegetables in rural Anatolia -- and evidence at ancient sites that this practice was common in the past as well. Even Istanbul's famous Topkapı Palace had hanging gardens, he said.
Rooftop gardens won't solve poverty or political repression, of course. But as a small step toward improving the lot of millions of people, it seems like a good one.
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