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Home » DreamtoReality: Project Planet

The Winning DreamtoReality Entry: Emily Harris

Submitted by on March 8, 2010 – 8:25 am 40 Comments

My name is Emily Harris. I’m 25 years old and at the end of last year I finished a legal internship. The natural next step for me was to get a job with a law firm and go into practice. As I contemplated that I realised that immersing myself in the corporate world wouldn’t help me to pursue my dream of making a real contribution to my community and our environment. So I decided instead to strike out on my own. I’ve started by writing a blog on sustainable living and connecting with groups of others who share my passion, but I want to contribute more directly to lessening our impact on the environment. I want to find ways to make environmental responsibility resonate with the whole community in a genuine way. I want to take people beyond paying lip service to environmental responsibility by getting them actively involved in sustainable practices – not because they feel like they should but because they want to.

My vision…
Is for the rooftops of the apartment buildings in Auckland’s CBD to turn green. I want to establish rooftop gardens for city-dwellers, so that they can grow their own fresh, healthy food, right on the roof of their apartment building. I want to teach them the skills of growing their own food, and provide them with the resources they need to set up gardens. As someone who lives in a central Auckland apartment, I know how much value people like me would get from having access to green spaces where we could grow our own food.

This will have a huge positive impact on New Zealand’s environment because…
Growing food locally will give people better access to nutritious organic food, transform wasted spaces into green productive spaces, and reduce carbon emissions from food transportation. There are also flow-on environmental benefits, for example a reduction in how much waste garden participants throw away because they begin to view food scraps as valuable material for composting for the garden, not just rubbish. Additionally, showing people how they can take ownership of one aspect of their relationship with the environment will encourage them to take responsibility for other aspects of their relationship with the environment.

Working together on a project like a shared garden will generate community spirit, something that is often lacking among inner-city apartment-dwellers. Community spirit leads to a greater sense of social responsibility as we see, in a practical way, how together we can create great results. Social responsibility leads to an enhanced sense of environmental responsibility, as we see how everything we do has an effect on each other and so feel more motivated to protect the resources we share.

It’s not just about creating a few gardens on a few rooftops. The people living in apartment buildings in Auckland’s CBD today won’t live there forever. They’ll move out to the suburbs, to different cities, and they’ll start families. But they’ll take their gardening skills and sense of social and environmental responsibility with them. And they can share that knowledge and passion in their new communities, and pass it on to their children.

If Happyzine helps me to achieve my vision publicly, then other New Zealanders will see what can be achieved when people come together to work towards a common goal. They’ll see how much fun it is to be involved in a community project like this one. Some of them will be inspired to do the same thing in their community, and local food growing will spread like ripples in a pond.

How I will make this happen…

My vision is too big for me to achieve on my own. I’m not an expert at gardening, but I’m part of a group of people called Ooooby, who are passionate about creating access to fresh, locally produced food for all New Zealanders. So I’m confident I can get some gardening gurus on board to share their knowledge and experience.

There are lots of examples of successful community gardening in New Zealand, and big cities overseas have successfully transferred the community garden concept to the rooftops, as the images in my video show. Rooftop gardens can be tailored to the available space, structural support, weather exposure and facilities of a building, and also to the time commitment that participants can make. Removable planter boxes can be used so no permanent alterations to the building are needed.

With Happyzine’s help I’ll generate publicity for my vision, and connect with city-dwellers who would like to grow their own food, but have been held back by barriers like lack of suitable space and lack of gardening knowledge. Once those barriers are removed, and the benefits of communal gardening like saving money and forming connections with neighbours become tangible, others in the buildings will be keen to get involved. As for getting building owners on board, there is anecdotal evidence that rooftop gardens can increase the value of buildings by making them a more desirable place for people to live. An objective of the project would be to get garden participants to take ownership of their garden, including keeping it tidy and maintained, so that it would contribute to, rather than detract from, the aesthetic of the building.

Having the backing of Happyzine and the other businesses that are behind Dream to Reality will assist me in obtaining financial support to bring my vision into reality.

This project could bring healthy sustainable living to a large number of New Zealanders who have not really had the opportunity to grow their own food before. I have the passion and the drive to pursue this goal, and with Happyzine’s support I’m confident I can achieve it.

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The Winning DreamtoReality Entry: Emily Harris, 5.0 out of 5 based on 22 ratings

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40 Comments »

  • marty mars says:

    Kia ora Emily

    Your vision for rooftop gardens is a real eye opener. I’d love to see people growing vegetables and having gardens on top of their buildings. There is so much space in the cities that could be used in environmentally people orientated ways, especially to grow food.

    I really like the idea of people learning to love gardening and growing their own food.

    Very inspirational – thanks.

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  • Mark says:

    That would look amazing.It would be such a feature for the city, and a great example for other cities too.

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  • Miranda says:

    Hi Em,

    Great idea and I wish you all the best! Let me know if there is anything I can do publicity-wise for you down in Wellington!!

    Best of luck,
    M

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  • Tracey Hunt says:

    Congratulations on a fantastic dream! I like the simplicity of your idea, I think this is brilliant. I saw a documentary recently where they had done this in New York, they had a fully functioning orchard and the employees assisted to maintain this during thier lunchtimes. Good on you!

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  • Tracey B says:

    Hey EM,

    I love this, it sounds fabulous when your done conquering NZ lets make a movement in Aussie!!

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  • Solange says:

    Yes yes! Awesome idea, it would be an excellent implementation for Auckland :)

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  • Emily Harris says:

    Hi Tracey H,

    Thanks for your support. I’d love to know the name of the documentary you saw, as it sounds very inspiring!

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  • Rebecca Savage says:

    Such a good idea Em! x

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  • Quigs says:

    Heya,

    Emily you are a true legend. Such a great idea. I think that cities would be so much more livable if there was more green. So keep it up.

    xoxoxox

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  • Jeff Vickers says:

    What a great vision Emily!

    Having lived in a central Auckland apartment for a few years, I think this has great potential for community-building. I didn’t even know my neighbours, let alone the rest of the building, and a green roof would be a great way to meet like-minded people who are quite literally a stone’s throw away.

    One other benefit that comes to mind is that green roofs can reduce the burden on Auckland’s stormwater system. The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering building has a green roof for this reason. You might like to have a chat with Dr. Elizabeth Fassman who is running their green roof project.

    One slight technical challenge, other than the weight issue which you mentioned, is that the rooftops of many of Auckland’s apartment buildings aren’t easily accessible at the moment, either for security or accessibility reasons. I’m sure that if you get enough buy-in from the building’s residents then this will be easy enough to overcome though — you will be liberating downtown Auckland’s roof space after all! :)

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  • Kylie says:

    Great initiative Emily. All the best

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  • Tanya says:

    Great idea! I saw some rooftop gardens in Brooklyn, New York and they were achieving great things for their communities.

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  • Emily Harris says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the link. The more people I can get in touch with who can potentially support me in implementing my vision the better!

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  • Denise says:

    This is a fabulous idea Emily, you may also be interested in these links:

    http://nysunworks.org/?page_id=6
    http://www.greenskinslab.sala.ubc.ca/
    http://www.greenroofs.com/
    http://www.greenroofs.org/
    http://www.waitakere.govt.nz/abtcit/ec/ecoinit/greenroof.asp

    I’m no gardening guru but I would love to be involved in a small way. I’ll contact you through ooooby :)

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  • Emily Harris says:

    Wow, thanks for those great links Denise!

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  • Aaryn says:

    Hi Emily,

    Fantastic initiative. I work at EcoMatters in Waitakere and am the Young Greens co-convener. Apart from voting for you, let me know how I can help.

    Regards,
    Aaryn Barlow

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  • Hannah says:

    All the best Emily,
    This is a fantastic idea and one I hope will start in Auckland and swiftly spread

    We need more people like you xx

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  • Joshua says:

    Fantastic idea, happy to help if you want to spread it into wellington.

    cheers,
    Joshua

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  • Emily Harris says:

    Hi Aaryn,

    Thanks for your support. I bet you and your colleagues at EcoMatters have valuable gardening wisdom that I’d very much love to tap into! I’ll be in touch.

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  • Emily Harris says:

    Hi Joshua,

    It’s fantastic to see the anticipated ripple effect of this project manifesting itself long before we can show off any functioning rooftop food gardens. I am definitely keen to spread this to Wellington so will be in touch.

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  • Craig says:

    Hey Emily,
    I think this is a great idea. You probably know of the green star rating for commercial buildings. This has become a success with tenants now considering this as an important factor when deciding to lease a building. Some, but not all green star buildings have really embraced this idea. The new NZI building on Fanshawe Street is probably the best example. It has climbing plants throughout the office.

    http://www.nzgbc.org.nz/documents/greenstarnz/casestudies/GSNZ/interiors/NZICaseStudy.pdf

    I know that the Green Building Council was looking at implementing some sort of rating for residential buildings, so it might be a great idea to talk to them. I would say that the existing rating tool for commercial buildings would be easily adaptable to inner city apartments. If there was some sort of rating system then this would really kickstart the idea and also motivate owners to reach a high rating. As a result owners would also boost their apartment values and there would be an attraction for tenants due to the cost savings of fresh veges!
    Good Luck

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  • Josie Campbell says:

    What a brilliant plan. All the best. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

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  • I really liked this blog, and will definetly come back for more. Only thing is, I didn’t find how to subscribe to this blog. Will you implement this later on?

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  • Grant says:

    Kia ora Emily

    I have just caught up on the “dream to reality” project after many months forgetting about it! I am stoked to see that you won and are making good progress. It is such a great idea.

    I used to work in a highrise office building here in Tauranga and spent many a morning looking out the window and dreaming of greening all the Building rooves. Apart from the environmental benefits I think there is great potential for “roof top tourism”, roof top gardeining competitions etc.

    Keep up the good work!

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