Grow your own city

Our city is for everyone. Our city should support everyone and all living things. Our city should be fun for everyone and all living things.

In order to support and be fun for everyone, it should be designed by everyone and all living things. If our landscape had not been influenced by humans it would look very very different – there certainly would not be any cities or towns. 

Being part of a community is about sharing spaces we feel comfortable in with others and other living things. Because we care about the spaces we share with our community, we look after them and care for the plants that care for the animals and insects. Our ecosystems are part of our community and under threat by our own actions. In our cities in particular, natural processes have almost entirely been removed – trees and plants only grow where humans plant them, wild animals are limited to the birds and creepy crawlies that can survive in the ‘human’ environment, or those small mammals that have learnt to exploit human behaviour (rats and foxes).

Biodiversity (meaning the variety of plant and animal life in a particular area) is very important for the planet. Not least because increased biodiversity helps absorb and store CO2 from the air so helping the fight against the climate crisis. Wildflower meadows provide shelter and food for important pollinators such as bees. There are over 250 species of bee in the UK and they play a vital part in supporting our ecosystem. When wildflower meadows disappear so do pollinators, as well as other insects such as butterflies and grasshoppers, and animals that eat insects, such as birds, hedgehogs and bats. 

An oak tree, if allowed to grow as it naturally would, supports more life forms that any other native tree: 300 species of lichen, a vast number of creepy crawly species which provide food for birds such as woodpeckers, treecreepers, nuthatches, pied flycatchers which also nest in the tree, bats roost in holes made by woodpeckers, its acorns feed many mammals and birds such as deer, badgers, mice and squirrels, which in-turn attract birds of prey such as kestrels, owls and sparrow hawks, the soft leaves that break down in the autumn produce a rich habitat on the ground for mushrooms and truffles.

Our cities and towns – and our countryside – are heavily controlled and planned by a select few people, who can’t necessarily know how we want to live and play in our city or care about how to protect the ecosystems that look after us. 

So why do they get to design the spaces that we live and play in and decide when and where nature can protect our environment and mental health? It’s about time that we designed our spaces with nature! Let’s plant the spaces that WE like and want to share with our friends, neighbours, plants, insects, animals, trees, strangers and family while saving the planet!

How and where would YOU grow your own space in the city?

Activity 1: Draw it

What would the city look like if it was designed by nature and play?

Step by step

Step 1

Print or copy the drawing of the city below (downloadable PDF).

Step 2

Draw / paint / stick your ideas about what you think your city would look like if it was allowed to grow through natural processes and play on top of this backdrop.

Activity 2: Grow it

Plant a wildflower meadow with a homemade seed-bomb slingshot and grow your own city! If we plant wildflower meadows around the city, we can support these depleting ecosystems while finding new places to play and deciding for ourselves where that can happen. Wildflower meadows are for running through, hiding in, sitting in, chatting in, having a picnic in, doing a drawing in, looking at stuff in, learning about insects and animals in and having fun! Let’s claim back our city!

Step by step

Steps to make the slingshot (these instructions have been taken from Design Squad Global’s PBS indoor slingshot activity and modified for making a wildflower seed-bomb slingshot!):

Step 1

Making the plunger (the inner tube): cut a toilet paper tube in half, length-ways and then squeeze it so it is about half its diameter and tape it.

Step 2

Make two holes in the toilet paper tube: punch the holes half an inch from the end, opposite each other (holes should be about the diameter of your pencil so that it fits tightly).

Step 3

Make a holder for the seeds at the opposite end of the tube to the holes: find a scrap piece of paper and cut a circle with a diameter of roughly 15cm, then cut a segment out the of the circle from the edge to centre to be able to make the paper into a cone shape (this needs to fit snugly in the tube and be able to hold seeds) – this can be done by testing it out as you’re making it. Tape the paper so that the cone is secure. Cut three or four 3cm-long slits around the edge of the cone. Insert the cone into the tube at the top end and fold the 3cm edges over the top of the tube. Tape the overlapping edges to the tube.

Step 4

Insert the pencil – Gently push the pencil through the two holes, twisting as you push.

TIP: If the pencil holes tear, make two new ones. Punch about half an inch into the tube, away from the old holes. You want a good amount of cardboard supporting the pencil.

Step 5

Cut slits – Take the second toilet-paper tube. Draw two short lines straight down from the rim, about as far apart as the width of your index finger. Make two slits by cutting each line. Do this again at the same end of the tube, opposite your first set of slits.

Step 6

Attach the rubber bands – Push a rubber band into one set of slits gently. Avoid bending the piece of cardboard between the slits. Do the same on the other side. (Thin rubber bands work best because they fit into the slits without bending the cardboard too much.)

TIPS: If the rubber bands don’t fit into the slits – thin rubber bands work best because they fit into the slits without bending the cardboard too much. If the slits bend open – if the rubber band comes out of the slits because they bend open, tape the slits in place while the rubber band is wrapped around them. It’s okay to tape over the rubber band.

Step 7

Assemble the slingshot – Slide the plunger into the larger tube (called the “grip”).

Step 8

Get ready to shoot your seeds! Hook each rubber band around a pencil end – you are now ready to start slinging your seed-bombs!

Steps of how to plant the wildflower meadow:

Step 9

Find an open and sunny place with short grass that you think would be fun to play in.

Step 10

Rake an area of grass so that 50% of the grass is gone and 50% is now soil – ideally you want to create a thin layer of soil that looks like breadcrumbs.

Step 11

Load your seed-bomb into the slingshot (put some of your wildflower seeds into the cone). You need to sow an appropriate amount of your wildflower seed mixture – about 1½ grams to the square metre (refer to the instructions on your wildflower seed mix packet) but this can also be done roughly.

TIP: most wildflower seed mixes grow better if planted in the autumn.

Step 12

Aim & fire! Hold the slingshot’s outer tube. Pull the pencil back to stretch the rubber bands. Release the plunger. Watch your wildflower seeds scatter across your future play space.

Step 13

Make sure your seeds are in contact with the soil but not buried.

Step 14 and 15

Water your wildflower patch lightly. During dry weather, visit your patch to water regularly.

Step 16

Watch your new play space grow!

We Made That is an energetic architecture and urbanism practice with a strong public conscience. We work with our clients to prepare incisive urban research, to develop responsive area strategies and masterplans and to deliver distinctive architecture and public realm projects.

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