Greenery & Community

Community gardens in New York

[Above: fragment cover Club Donny #1. Photo by Ernst van der Hoeven]

American metropolises such as New York, Chicago and Washington are renowned for their fantastic green structures, parkways and municipal parks. Nevertheless, some entire districts remain devoid of public parks and gardens and the distance to the original landscape seems ever greater. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of citizens’ initiatives are emerging to help greenery retake the city.

American cities were booming after the Second World War, and a fast-growing group of affluent car-owners departed to the newly constructed leafy suburbs, leaving behind those who were less well-off in the old districts that rapidly became run down. The race riots in the late 1960s were particularly instrumental in prompting the local residents to take action themselves to improve their environment. In 1973, on New York’s Lower East Side, local resident Liz Christy set up the 'Green Guerrillas’; a non-profit organization that activates neighbourhoods to claim waste lands as sites on which to establish community gardens. The plots of land, where stray dogs frequently slept or junkies injected their drugs, were cleared out and renovated by local volunteers. The Green Guerrillas distributed pamphlets containing instructions on how to make 'seed grenades’, a recipe to foliate inaccessible terrain by throwing a balloon or a Christmas bauble filled with seeds+water+fertilizer over the fence. The number of projectiles necessary was dependent on the subsoil and the size of the plot. Balloons had to be thrown overarm, baubles underarm. Thanks to the seeds, more and more wild flowers are burgeoning between the walls of the city. The Liz Christy Garden, named after the founder, who died long before her time, is seen as the mother of all gardens. This community garden, situated above the Houston Street subway station, consists of a wafer thin layer of topsoil supplemented by donated organic material. The garden is home to the tallest Metasequoia in Manhattan, there is a fishpond and a beekeeper also works there. The first small gardens were a great success and were soon being imitated. The owner of the land, the Housing and Preservation Department of New York City, tolerated the gardens. For a symbolic payment of one dollar per year, a Green Thumb label could be obtained: a user-permit subject to thirty days notice. Some less valuable plots of land can even receive lease contracts for five to ten years. Neighbourhood meals, children’s parties and workshops are organized in the gardens. The layouts of the gardens are just as varied as their users, from somewhat unfortunate to slick design. Sometimes it is vegetable garden, or it may be a paved square with a podium for folk art, a playground or an oasis of flowers with an altar to 9/11. The utilization is usually organized collectively, but there are also sometimes individual vegetable gardens. To prevent any inconvenience, the owner requires that the gardens be fenced off. This makes access to the gardens dependent on the sporadic presence of a volunteer supervisor with a key. Local residents are themselves responsible for the maintenance and supervision, and also have to organize the fund-raising. Many of the trees, plants, seeds and the fertilizer are donated in kind. The generosity was such that a sign has been placed next to the pond in the Liz Christy Garden, requesting people not to leave behind any more fish or tortoises. In poorer districts, particularly in Chicago, people are earning incomes by planting crops to be sold, analogous to similar initiatives in developing countries. Sometimes a commercial sponsor is willing to contribute in exchange for publicity, such as Disney, which supports a number of gardens in the Lower East Side.

In 1994, the then newly elected mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided that a large number of New York’s gardens would have to go, to make way for housing development. The city needed money. Local residents sprang into action again and successfully appealed the decision on the grounds of existing law, which requires that a minimum of 2.5 acres of public gardens be provided per 1000 inhabitants in residential districts. Thanks to active citizens, this city currently boasts more than 850 community gardens. An interesting variation on the concept of the community garden is the Mobile City Farm, an initiative of the nonprofit organization Resource Center Chicago. The Farm is constantly being relocated to temporarily undeveloped plots of land. It is a kind of antisquatting measure, which prevents the land from degenerating and having a negative influence on property prices. At the same time it offers an opportunity to people in desperate situations, who receive training in horticulture. A share of the vegetables goes to charitable institutions. The bulk of the produce is sold at farm-markets; even some of Chicago’s top restaurants are regular customers!

By now, the first cautious initiatives by citizens seeking more informal land utilization are also emerging in American suburbs. A few years ago, the architect Fritz Haeg started the project 'Edible Estates’, in which he demonstrates that the tidy green lawns in the suburbs can also be used as a vegetable garden. The results of a series of interviews he had with residents are alarming. The top three reasons they gave for choosing to roll out the trusty lawn instead of planting flowers or vegetables are: fear of falling property prices, fear of vermin, and fear that neighbours would steal the vegetables. There is, thus, still a long way to go.

One thing is certain, that the counter-movements mentioned here are able to combine idealism with pragmatism. The value of this lies not so much in re-establishing contact with nature, but primarily in bring people into contact with each other. The community garden is unsurprisingly a synonym for a church or bar. It is a place for reflection and offers the possibility to meet interesting people.

Harry den Hartog

Club Donny is a strictly unedited journal on the personal experience of nature in the urban environment, edited by Frank Bruggeman, Ernst van der Hoeven and Ben Laloua. (lezing door / lecture by Harry den Hartog)


Club Donny #1
Rotterdam, Spring/Summer 2008
Copyright: Urban Language

Research & Design

Urban Village regeneration

URBAN LANGUAGE is currently working on a regeneration project for an urban village in Changsha. Conceptual Design proposals have been approved. More news soon...

Research & Consult at Vanke

February 2017
Since February 2017 Harry den Hartog works as researcher and consultant on new town planning and design issues at Vanke.

Research on residential high-rise

Since January 2015 (ongoing)
Research with Tongji University on carbon emissions and sustainable development of residential high-rise complexes in the Yangtze Delta.

Living on Water

Urban Language performed preliminary research on possibilities for floating neighborhoods in China, commissioned by DeltaSync

Salon and excursion on urban villages

November 2014
Organizing a salon and visits to Shanghai-based non-profit groups for the World Banks main economic expert and specialist on climate change, with as central theme the role of urban villages, the position of migrants and gentrification.

Resilient Port Development

November 2014
Capacity building by workshop in Singapore on resilient port development in the context of urbanizing deltas, organised by the Future Cities Laboratory at ETH and Delft University of Technology.

New Town development in Zhejiang

Consulting for World Bank on a New Town development in Zhejiang Province

Urban Sustainability in China

Research on urban sustainability and liveability in Chinese new towns commissioned by the European Commission.

Urban Design Workshop in India

November-December 2012
Urban Language was invited to participate in a 10-day cross-disciplinairy urban design workshop on the development of a new town in central India.

Research for Moscow Urban Forum 2012

Autumn 2012
Urban Language was asked as Chinese representative by the organizing committee of the Moscow International Urban Forum «Emerging World Cities» to do preliminary research on the quality of life as experienced by residents of Beijing and Shanghai.

Dutch New Worlds

Scenarios in Physical Planning and Design in the Netherlands, 1970-2000
Shanghai - Zurich - Rotterdam, June 2012
"Our decisions shape our future, but we know little about how. To find out, planners and designers construct vivid images of what could be."
Urban Language translated Christian Salewski's fascinating book on the use of scenarios in physical planning and design in the Netherlands into Dutch.

Edge of Public

Exhibition + book + forum in Hong Kong's Kowloon Park, curated by Liu Yuyang, Li Xiangning, and Harry den Hartog
Hong Kong, 16 February - 23 April, 2012
In the countless new town developments in China, we witnessed an increasingly privatized domain both spatially and socially. What is the real shape of the public domain and how can architects respond to this phenomenon?

Critical advice on developing a new town (2)

Liaoning, 2011
Urban Language was asked to give an independent critical reflection on existing plans for a new town near Shenyang supplemented by suggestions for further development.

Redevelopment plan for an island

Vladivostok / Shanghai, 2011
Urban Language consulted with the international communications and strategy to be followed, and made a master plan, in a design competition regarding the redevelopment of a Russian island near Vladivostok.

Critical advice on developing a new town (1)

Beijing, 2011
Urban Language was asked to give an independent critical reflection on existing plans for a new town near Beijing supplemented by suggestions for further development.

Advice on various international projects

Shanghai, 2011
In the autumn of 2011, Urban Language worked on several studies and consultations commissioned by professionals related with Tongji University.

Urban China magazine

Shanghai, 2011 - 2012
Urban Language consults regularly with the urban research center of Urban China magazine. Harry den Hartog was member of the editorial board of #51 and #52.

Area development in rural Henan

Zhengzhou, 2011
Urban Language has been consulted by a local developer for independent critical advice in an area development in rural Henan.


Shanghai New Towns

Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis
Shanghai, 2010
Research on the rapid urbanization and decentralization in the direct controlled municipality Shanghai, resulting in the book Shanghai New Towns - Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis, published by 010 Publishers.

From Almere to Qingpu

Shanghai, 13-19 May 2010
Urban Language coordinated an excursion for the International New Town Institute (INTI) with as central theme the new towns and new cities around Shanghai.

Urban Flux

Beijing, Summer 2009
The Chinese magazine Urban Flux invited Harry den Hartog as a guest-editor to make this special issue on Dutch Architects and China. The magazine also discusses the state of architecture in the Netherlands.

BNSP workshop discussion

Amsterdam, 22 October 2009
Urban Language organized a workshop discussion on the urbanization of the Dutch countryside during a BNSP Congress.

Shanghai Dialogues

Shanghai, 17 October 2009
Urban Language mediated the Chinese contacts during a Sino-Dutch conference, as part of the Shanghai International Creative Industry Week.

Shanghai Globalism

Shanghai, 2009
Organisation of a study tour to the 'One City - Nine Towns' development around Shanghai commissioned by New York University.

Urban Galleries

Nanjing - Rotterdam, 2009
Organization of a study trip through Germany and the Netherlands for a group of young Chinese designers and critics with a special interest in museums

Are cities more important than countries?

Rotterdam, 2008-2009
Publication commissioned by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) on the occasion of its 50th anniversary

Urban Meetings

Rotterdam, October 2008
Urban Language made a series of reports and an essay, commissioned by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), meant to explore the outlines of an 'Urban Agenda' for the 21st century.


Executive-editor of Huig#8 and Huig#9
Rotterdam, 2007
Harry den Hartog was executive-editor of Huig#8 and Huig#9, the biannual magazine of the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Design.

NL2040 - Hints for later

The Hague - Rotterdam, 2007
Harry den Hartog wrote a number of columns, reports and an extensive essay as input for a series of meetings and debates with the aim to give an 'alternative' vision on future spatial tasks for The Netherlands.

Living farmyards

Overijssel, 2006
The Dutch Province of Overijssel counts thousands of farmyards. Yearly several hundreds of them loose their agricultural function. The province asked us to do a research on the possibilities for transformation of abandoned and old farmyards.

Private Territory

Study on the rise of private controlled outdoor spaces in the Netherlands
Rotterdam, 2005-2006
Following his graduation project at the Academy of Architecture and Urban Design in Rotterdam Harry den Hartog researched the rise of private controlled territories in The Netherlands.


Living outside the city
Rotterdam, 2005-2006
The book Exurbia - living outside the city, made by Harry den Hartog, criticizes the fast changing Dutch countryside. The new spatial policy in the Netherlands seems to be a threat for the countryside and the edges between urban and rural. This book gives some critical comment on the new policy, supplemented with appropriate suggestions.

Our Publications


China Urban Lab: Nut en noodzaak van experimenten

Published in: Rooilijn
Amsterdam, November 2016
Article for Rooilijn, a journal by the University of Amsterdam on science and policy in spatial planning

Attempts to Control Urbanization

Published in: Volume #39
Amsterdam, April 2014
Article on China’s Hukou System: Attempts to Control Urbanization by Strictly Separating Urban and Rural

Correspondent for Mark magazine

Published in: Mark magazine
Since 2009
Harry den Hartog regularly contributes articles to Mark magazine, a platform for the practice and perception of architecture at the dawn of the third millennium.

Urban Tensions in the Yangtze River Delta

Published in: IOSPress
Delft, April 2014
Essay contribution in the book 'New Urban Configurations'.

Eastern Promises

Published in: Hantje Catz Verlag
Vienna, June 2013
We were invited by MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art) to contribute a series of critical articles on pioneering architectural projects for an exhibit and accompanying catalog 'Contemporary Architecture and Spatial Practices in East Asia'.

Shopping for History

Published in: Mark #43
Zhujiajiao, April/May 2013
Article on an urban renewal project in an ancient Chinese water town west of Shanghai.

Correspondent for ArchiNed

Published in: ArchiNed
Since 2004
Harry den Hartog regularly contributes articles to ArchiNed and made temporarily part of the editorial team.


Published in: Society and Public Welfare
March 2013
Urban Language contributed an article at the request of a renowned Chinese magazine

Publication on Moscow's new town development

Shanghai, Autumn 2012
Urban Language was invited as critical independent expert to contribute a chapter to a book on conurbations, commissioned by the Moscow Urban Planning Institute. This book serves as a moment of reflection in the development of a new city near Moscow.

Quality towers over quantity in building cities

Published in: China Daily
Shanghai, 22 June 2012
Opinion piece for the newspaper China Daily, by Harry den Hartog. The inducement for writing this article was the Joint Declaration on the EU-China Partnership on Urbanization, signed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and China's Vice-Premier Li Keqiang on 3 May 2012.

From central control towards laissez faire

Published in: S+RO
Shanghai, June 2012
Article about the similarities and differences between the Netherlands and China in the field of urban and regional planning.

Everyday Theme Parks 日常主题公园

Published in: Urban China magazine #52
Shanghai, May 2012
Essay about the role of malls in contemporary China, with references to worldwide experiences, the decay of existing cities, an urban renaissance, and of course Michael Sorkin's 'Variations on a theme park: the new American city and the end of public space'.

From Qingpu to Jiading

Published in: T+A magazine
Shanghai, January 2012
Paper on the urbanization of the countryside around Shanghai and the role of architects in creating new cities.

Haphazard growth in a land of plenty

Published in: DAMn°28
Shanghai, April 2011
Essay on extremely fast and uncoordinated urban developments in Shanghai.

Creación de comunidad e identidad en los pueblos nuevos de Shanghai

Published in: Materia Arquitectura #2
Shanghai, November 2010
Essay on the creation of new communities and new identities in Shanghai for a Chilean magazine.

World Expo Shanghai

Published in: de Architect
Shanghai, May 2010
Report on the World Expo in Shanghai for the Dutch magazine 'the Architect'.

Bubbles in Shanghai: decentralization, speculation and the housing shortage

Published in: SR+O
Shanghai, April 2010
Essay on the effects of spatial and administrative decentralization, increasing speculation and huge housing shortage.

Letter from Sichuan

Published in: MARK magazine #23
Chengdu, December 2009 - January 2010
Report about reconstruction activities in the earthquake devastated area.

Green Fields, Orange Clouds

Chicago, September 2009
Essay on urban - rural relations in American cities, notably Chicago

Greener City, Better Life

Published in: Urban China #37
Shanghai, August 2009
Essay for the magazine Urban China on the meaning of parks as public spaces, in east and west

Dutch architects building global architecture in China?

Published in: Urban Flux #7
Shanghai, May 2009
Essay on the works and experiences of Dutch architects in China.
Urban Language was also invited as a guest-editor for a special edition about 'Dutch architecure'. (circa 60 pages). The magazine also discusses recent projects and developments in the Netherlands.

Sidewalk versus Mall

Public spaces under threat
Published in: Urban Flux #6
Shanghai, April 2009
Essay on the similarities and differences between the Netherlands and China, regarding the use and meaning of public spaces.

Building your own house

Published in: id+c
Nanjing, April 2009
Column on private commissioned housing in the Netherlands for the Chinese-language magazine id+c

Architecture in the Netherlands

Published in: id+c
Nanjing, January 2009
Essay on recent developments in the field of architecture in the Netherlands. This essay is also an introduction for an extended special on Dutch Design.

Greenery & Community

Community gardens in New York
Published in: Club Donny #1
Rotterdam, Spring/Summer 2008
Essay for Club Donny, a new biennial magazine on the personal experience of nature in the urban environment.

Beijing 080808

The meaning of the Olympic Games for Beijing
Published in: de Architect
Beijing, August 2008
Host country China intends to use the Olympic Games that will take place this year in Beijing to show off what it has achieved. What is the impact of the Olympic Games on this city?

The Limits to Growth?

How Beijing is preparing for the future
Published in: de Architect
Beijing, August 2008
Beijing, like Shanghai, wants to present itself as a model city for the future. How will Beijing continue to develop itself after the Games?

Olympic Games, a motor for urban renewal

Conversation with Kees Christiaanse
Published in: NAi Publishers
Rotterdam, May 2008
Urban Language interviewed Kees Christiaanse and others about the usefulness of Olympic Games in the Netherlands. These conversations are included in the book Olympic Fire, published by NAI Publishers and edited by Winy Maas.

Tamed 'wild living'

Municipal management versus freedom of building
Published in: de Architect
Almere, June 2007
Over the coming years the municipality of Almere will make 30,000 sites available to private individuals so that they can build homes as they want to. A new balance has to be found between municipal management and this new freedom.

City and Countryside

Physical planning and design in contemporary China
Published in: de Architect
Shanghai/Beijing, May 2006
The relation between the rural and urban economy have been changing ever since China became a World Trade Organization member in 2001. To overcome the dichotomy between city and countryside, farmers must find a way to join the world economy.

Collective Housing in Suburbia

Published in: SR&O
Rotterdam, October 2005
Article (in Dutch) on new forms of collective housing in suburbs and new towns in the Netherlands.

China imports European flavoured suburb

Published in: de Blauwe Kamer
Beijing, April 2005
Article on a new community in Beijing (Dutch only).


Roadside tourism in China

Published in: de Blauwe Kamer
Zhejiang / Anhui, februari 2005
Article (in Dutch) on emerging rural tourism

Rice with gravy

Holland Village in Shanghai
Published in: ArchiNed
Shanghai, 31 January 2005
Article on a 'Dutch' new town in Shanghai.

News about us


Interviewed by CCTV

19 October 2018
During a conference on new town developments Harry den Hartog was briefly interviewed on urbanization in China

ZAOjiu talk on 'Shared Urbanism

9 September 2017
ZAOjiu talk on 'Shared Urbanism"

Interviewed on metropolitan agriculture by Shenzhen TV

Shenzhen, July 2016
Interviewed on metropolitan agriculture by Shenzhen TV


TEDx talk in Caohejing High-Tec Park, Shanghai
Shanghai, 28 October 2015

Urban Agenda

November 2013
Visiting Beijing as participant at EU China Urbanisation Partnership Forum.


invited as panel-member by Urbanus
Shenzhen, 7 December 2013

Urban Interiors in contemporary China

Invited speaker at World Interiors Event
Amsterdam,7 September 2013

Lecturing in Italy

Invited by two universities in Italy for guest-lectures
Milano/Pavia, May 2013

Creating liveable cities in China

Debate at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Lausanne, 23 October 2012

Study session on high-rise in Asia

Shanghai, 19 September 2012

History and Design Studio Shanghai

Workshop and lecture at Politecnico di Torino
Turin, 2012

Debate in Rockbund Art Museum: Disappearing Rural Shanghai

Discussion on 'Disappearing Rural Shanghai'
Shanghai, 29 June 2012

Book presentation 'Edge of Public'

Hong Kong, 16 February 2012
Today our bilingual booklet Edge of Public was presented in Hong Kong's Kowloon Park, during the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism \ Architecture 2011-2012.

Shanghai New Towns to see on the UABB biennial in Shenzhen

Shenzhen, 8 December 2011 - 10 February 2012

Needed: Architecture with Chinese characteristics

Interviewed by Shanghai Daily
Shanghai, 25&26 October 2011

Sanghay ile Istanbul

Turkish-language review of Shanghai New Towns
September 11, 2011

Rural Kitchen

Lecture and jury member during the Rural Kitchen workshop
Chongming Island, Fall 2009

Beijing International Book Fair 2011

Beijing, 30 August - 5 September 2011

Blue eyes looking at China

Beijing, 4 September 2011
Urban Language in debate during the Beijing International Book Fair 2011

Photos by Urban Language on display in the NAi

Rotterdam, 1 July 2011 - 15 January 2012
During the exhibition Daring Design in the NAi, some photos by Urban Language were exhibited.

Shanghai New Towns rewarded by 'Best Dutch Book Designs 2010'

Exhibited from 11 June to 17 July 2011 in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam
Amsterdam, 11 June to 17 July 2011

Book review by Time + Architecture magazine

Chinese-language review of our book 'Shanghai New Towns'
Shanghai, May/June 2011

Interviewed by Urban China magazine

Shanghai, June 2011
...on sprawling cities and the edge between urban and rural.


Ontwerpen aan China

Rotterdam, May 2011
Interviewed by Arjen Oosterman

Public lecture and debate in the Shanghai Study Center of the Hong Kong University

Shanghai, 7 March 2011
Presentation of the main findings of our recently published book "Shanghai New Towns - Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis".

Exported to China

Shanghai, February 2011
'Shanghai New Towns. Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis' is also available now in Chinese bookstores.

Book Launch and debate in Trouw Amsterdam / De Verdieping

Amsterdam, 30 November 2010
Presentation of our book Shanghai New Towns - Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis followed by a debate.

Presentation in Tai Wu

Rotterdam, 20 September 2010
Presentation in Tai Wu for an association of architects on recent architectural developments in China.

Local wisdom and globalization

Shanghai, 20 July 2010
Urban Language was member of the jury during the CUMULUS Shanghai Conference 2010 at the College of Design & Innovation.

First copy Shanghai New Towns

Shanghai, 14 May 2010
Today a first (preliminary) copy of our book 'Shanghai New Towns - Searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis' was handed over to Sun Jiwei, the District Governor of Shanghai's Jiading district, during a conference organized in cooperation with INTI, in the VIP lounge of the Dutch Pavilion 'Happy Street' during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Presentation on urban developments in Shanghai

Delft, 28 November 2009
Presentation on the turbulent urban developments in Shanghai during the international conference 'The New Urban Question - Urbanism beyond Neo-Liberalism' that took place from November 26th to 28th, 2009 at Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).

Interviewed by the Chinese-language newsmagazine Modern Weekly

Shanghai, 3 October 2009
This well-read newsmagazine, which has a wide circulation, interviewed Harry den Hartog on the changing urban-rural relations in China.

Interviewed by Urban China magazine

Shanghai, March 2009
We were interviewed by Chinese-language Urban China magazine on 'the ideal city'.

Looking for green

The Hague (Nl.), 29 September 2008
Lecture on community gardens during the debate 'Greenspotting Haaglanden' in Stroom The Hague

Book launch Exurbia - Living outside the city

Amsterdam, 5 January 2007
Today a first copy of our book was handed over to Government Advisor on Landscape Dirk Sijmons in Architectura & Natura.