In August I hosted a small meet up in Stockholm with @Ola and other EdgeRyders @kei and @james on our way back from FuturePerfect festival (on the Island of Grinda) - I wanted to share in this post the work of someone who attended the meetup. His name is Jordan Lane, a modern day Urban Shepherd.
We met in Drop Coffee, on the 18th, early in the morning.
Jordan’s work starts small but is multilayered, multi-stakeholder, is subtle in implementation and takes a whole systems approach to its environment. And in it’s current guise starts with Chickens. Describing his work under the banner of Urban Shepherding, it’s core focus is the reintroduction of animals and agriculture back into the urban environment, at scale - as a means to influence urban development and improve social cohesion. The ambition being to establish new eco-systems in the working lives of a city’s inhabitants -beyond theory- Jordan has been putting his ideas into action.
It’s important to note before explaining this example of Urban Shepherding, that Jordan is an architect, working in the city’s planning office and this is key to the work he’s undertaking, because, in his own words “when people can’t see the whole system, they can do very unfortunate things, without even thinking”.
So, it starts at his home in Gubbängen, a post-war suburb in the south of Stockholm. The area consists of 170 apartments spread out between 9 three storey brick houses. The structures were built in 1947 and had not undergone renovation in the last 60 years. In 2010 the landlord Stockholmshem - a state owned housing company - began an ambitious renovation project of all 170 apartments and the green space in between. Eager to take advantage of the planned disturbance, Jordan and a neighbour saw the opportunity to influence the spaces between the buildings. Using inevitable change as a channel of guided change, disturbance makes a good starting place.
At the back of Jordan’s home, there’s a garden, in the garden are two apple trees and for all intents and purposes, they were sick, ridden by a particular plague of moths that threatened the tree’s wellbeing, ruining the fruits.
[Strategy point: In this instance the trees were sick, but an interesting point was highlighted, if you want to unify your neighbours in a city, a good route can be to create a benign common enemy to unite against - in this instance it was the moths, but it could equally be Knotweed on an abandoned patch near ones home or something more fictional ]
In the first steps Jordan proceeded to explain to his neighbours the threat the moths posed, who in turn grew concerned, creating the excuse for a solution, to introduce chickens to the garden, since these chickens could eradicate the moths and their larvae, and are much more animated, fluffy and child friendly than the other alternative - pesticide
The system could not be realised alone. A small group of 4 neighbours started meeting, discussing tactics of permission and placemaking. As all residents have equal right and access to the green space, it was important to frame the system inclusively and not make this a private project. Whilst one neighbour raised the week old chickens under a heat-lamp in her bathtub (which also meant that she had to shower in the bathrooms of other neighbours), other neighbours were invited to join the weekend activity of building a chicken coop - borrowing tools from those who had them.
This was the first move to creating a sense of shared responsibility, a social pact and line of communication between neighbours. With the coop established and the chickens growing up, a necessity grew to reinforce the social pact, caring for the chickens. Jordan introduced a ‘sunday morning chicken tea’, a regular event where neighbours could come together to hang out and clean out the coop together.
Jordan deliberately resisted putting locks on the coop, instead attached a sign explaining how to handle the chickens and their diet, so kids from the local area could feed, play with and engage the chickens.
With the chickens becoming a natural feature, there was some significant unexpected side effects, people and the local authorities noted there had been a reduction in crime in the area. As well as the depth of sharing and communalism having visibly grown, suddenly neighbours knew each others names. By proxy of the coop the need to build and improve it necessitated the need for a shared tool shed and led to establishing almost 50 square meters of growing space.
Slowly the introduction of Sunday morning socials led to more spontaneous social events between neighbours such as BBQs. Overtime this sense of collective ownership has contributed to a feeling of desirability, of a friendly neighbourhood - which led to the landlord being supportive of these developments, which in turn enabled residents to ask for the landlord to pay for elements that would improve their homes and surroundings.
In order to bolster this work Jordan also joined a local association so to influence the urban planning of the area, encouraging the architects to change the shape of shared space and their plans in order to lay groundwork for attempts to reintroduce more habitat and social space.
In the neighbourhood the plans don’t stop here, now the tree is cured, apples can be harvested, eggs can be shared - it’s led to an enthusiasm to do more, a drive to create more produce, next on the agenda is bees. Jordan described a trajectory contingent on growing responsibility, once they’ve got bees, goats will be next.
Now this is a beautiful story, of a small action in a short time leading to a fundamental change not just in the nature of people’s living environment but the sense of security and friendship in a neighbourhood. An example of how a subtle well considered action can deliver a measurable increase in quality of life without the states assistance. One I believe is easily replicated and iterated upon - part of the reason why I’ve plotted the details above chronologically is because I think it can and should be reproduced by others.
But back to an important point I mentioned earlier; Jordan does work in the planning office of Södertälje municipality, is an architect and has specialised inplacemaking and urban regeneration. Evidently these things go together, as was highlighted to me when the example of how a single policy change in San Francisco, in the 1900s saw the disappearance of chickens from daily life. With the introduction of regulations that demanded a concrete floor be installed in order to keep chickens, this essentially priced individuals out of keeping chickens overnight. Coinciding seamlessly with the advent of industrial chicken farming.
The role of policy and the possibility for “tweaking public space” at larger scale is made visible through actions such as Jordan, the otherwise invisible regulatory framework that prevents us from building the sorts of conditions and environments that make sense to communities, is rendered malleable. Through his work in the planning office combined with outside projects, Jordan is able to identify tactical policy changes that have the potential to open up broad vistas of change. It’s the kind of smart thinking that reminds me of the project by do-tank “Elemental” in building wealth through the design of social housing, as well as Low2No Helsinki timber buildings policy.
This approach, but instead focused on utilising existing policy was further demonstrated in an example given of Bee Urban, who use the Corporate Responsibility Scheme to trigger the introduction and reintroduction of whole ecosystems over a longer timeframe. With corporations having to commit a certain amount of resources, Bee Urban saw an opportunity, and began offering services that adhered to the scheme in the form of rooftop bee colonies, once enough colonies had been established on the city’s roofs, the need for pollinating gardens arose. So Bee Urban has begun providing pollinating gardens to the roof tops of other companies under the same scheme - establishing a sustainable income through the servicing of these sites, the company now has the scope to continue its colonisation and reintroduction of the natural habitat into the urban environment - through a similar iterative approach as Jordans.
There was more, Jordan had amazing insights and a truly holistic approach in his thinking, despite the modesty in his neighbourly chicken coop, in replication through policy and the sharing of knowledge the implications are exciting for future Urban Shepherds. And in conversation he portrayed compelling future visions of grazing routes for animals interwoven into the fabric of the city, with a cross section of citizenry playing their role in the care of the animals as they are moved from place to place, he declared the need for “all kitchens to be designed with the ability to house 2 chickens” as a crucial building block to the growing need for us to readdress our relationship with animals and in the same breath emphasised the need to “raise the value for the chickenness of the chickens”.
In reference to his work he highlighted many other projects and individuals working towards similar visions, for our future research, these include:
- Lena Israelsson
- gps sheep tracking
- Stads Jord
- Incredible Edible
- Jana Cultural Centre (Beras)
- Ray Finlay
- Helsinki Design Lab
- Elemental Chile (Do-tank)