Clever Mobile Gardens for City with Too Little Green

A 'floating garden' concept for Istanbul.

With just six square meters of green space -- not all of it usable -- available to each resident of Istanbul, people seeking an escape from the city's concrete jungle may have to start carrying their own little patch of green around on their backs. That's just one of the not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek concepts proposed by a local designer for "mobile gardens" -- an idea he says dates back to the Ottoman Empire.

Alarmed by the lack of planning for green areas and parks as the city develops at a rapid pace, Gürsan Ergil set up a tiny "garden bench" -- a bench planted with grass and a small tree -- and hung a "swinging garden" at last fall's Istanbul Design Week to draw attention to the issue. He also conducted a "Create Your Own Garden" workshop during the event where participants sketched plans for pocket green space.

Minimal Space for Recreation
Both the hanging garden and the garden bench are one meter square, representing the actual amount of recreational green space per capita in the city. As-yet-unrealized concepts for a "rolling garden" on a trailer bed, a "floating garden" on a barge, and a "raised garden" on a scissor lift utilize the full six square meters of per-capita "passive" green space. European cities such as Berlin, Dublin, and Vienna have around 40 square meters of green space per person.

Ottoman-era miniatures from the 16th (left) and 18th centuries showing wheeled gardens.

"By proposing such extreme solutions, I wanted to raise awareness about the lack of green space in Istanbul and encourage its citizens to search for alternative solutions," said Ergil, a landscape designer and garden historian who also makes furniture out of reclaimed wood. His latest concepts include "backpack gardens" and "digital mobile gardens" that he envisions would use a laptop and small projector to create customized, interactive garden holograms:

Trees and plants that you choose to plant would grow in real time and they would need to be looked after ('watered' and 'pruned') in order to have a healthy garden. There would be real weather conditions of the real location.... This 'personal paradise' would be ready to be with you wherever you go. It could even give off a specific scent according to your choice of plants....

Wheeled Gardens from Ottoman Times
Though many of his ideas are fanciful, Ergil says they are rooted both in the current problems facing the city, and in some elements of its past. "In Ottoman times, as early as the 16th century, when there were special celebrations such as a prince's circumcision party, every group of tradesmen would parade with some display in front of the sultan. The bostancı [vegetable gardeners] would come with gardens on wheeled carts," he said.

The value of green space, if not recognized by urban planners and politicians, is felt by city inhabitants, who throng the coastlines in good weather to breathe in a bit of fresh air, Ergil said: "You see people picnicking along motorways, on road medians. They really want some green."

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