Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but it suffers from a lack of green spaces. This challenge is extremely evident in the central Újlipótváros district. The neighborhood has only two square meters of green space per person – the World Health Organization recommends nine. Densely built and paved, Újlipótváros is a heat island and routinely floods during heavy rain. And with climate change, these weather impacts are only getting worse.
Seven out of ten Hungarians believe they are powerless to do anything about the negative effects of climate change. Team Budapest had a mission to create new green spaces, and to demonstrate to citizens that they can make a difference by taking local climate action.
In addition to contributing to a city’s climate resilience, green spaces offer opportunities for relaxation and recreation for local communities and help to increase biodiversity.
Available public space is limited, but Team Budapest identified plenty of opportunities for new green spaces on private land: nearly every residential building in the neighborhood has an inner courtyard. Usually, these spaces have been used for bicycle parking or waste disposal. What if some were transformed into green spaces where neighbors could gather under the shade of trees amidst flowering plants and vegetable gardens – places of cool, natural respite in a dense, hot city?
Team Budapest set out to demonstrate how this could happen by transforming six courtyards in the district, ranging in size from a tiny pocket garden to an almost one hectare community park. Bringing together neighbors for the design and the renovation work, they removed trash and weeds, planted trees, flowers and vegetables and installed seating and bicycle stands and enclosures for building utilities. Owners pledged to maintain the spaces for community use.
These small-scale courtyard interventions created wide interest and built momentum for more garden projects.
The team’s work had a significant impact on policy in the district. The municipality initiated two grant schemes to encourage more creation of green spaces, receiving many applications immediately and funding nearly all to begin construction. To share their methods with others, participants in the Actors project created a traveling exhibition telling the story of the process of creating a courtyard garden through the entire process of finding funds, participatory garden design, construction and maintenance with a focus on sustainability.
Budapest’s citizens have succeeded both in creating higher-quality urban green spaces, and in realizing how much their local actions can mitigate the effects of climate change in their city.