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Prioritising the places and people that need it the most

Rooftop Garden
Rooftop gardens: growing greens for social inclusion for people with disabilites.
Rooftop gardens is a project to promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities through horticulture. To do so, various urban gardens are installed on rooftops of municipal buildings and farmed by entities of people with disabilities. The main objectives are the improvement of the quality of life of the users as well as the promotion of urban agriculture. Finally, these locally grown products are offered to organizations that work with people at risk of exclusion.
EU Member State, Western Balkans or Ukraine
Mainly urban
It refers to other types of transformations (soft investment)
As a representative of an organisation

Barcelona is a city in need for green spaces and inclusive policies accounting the high diversity of its population . This is how the Barcelona City Council created the “Rooftop Garden” project, exploring new ways to foster urban horticulture for its citizens, specially focusing on people with disabilities. Specifically the project seeks the promotion of hydroponic urban gardens farmed by urban residents with disabilities on rooftops of municipal facilities.

The project is defined in five main objectives:
- The promotion of people with disabilities improving their quality of life in different aspects (leisure, learning, relationships, physical and mental health, etc.).
- The use of disused spaces like the rooftops of municipal buildings and making them accessible from a design for all conception
- The creation of a greener city
- The donation of crop surpluses to vulnerable groups
- The promotion of relationship between people with disabilities and other population groups (children, people at risk of social exclusion,etc)

Starting in 2016, the project counts nowadays on ten urban allotments in municipal buildings run by organisations of people with all types of disabilities (about 250 people from 21 social organisations). These rooftops turned green but, also, accessible spaces as they were rehabilitated for participants with mobility and/or communication problems.

The surplus production is delivered to vulnerable groups (social canteens, food banks and school canteens), thereby fulfilling a social function. Also, while fostering the idea of locally‑sourced consumption, the given away of the production closes the loop of the project from the cultivation to the final consumption. The participants themselves make the donation, changing their usual role as they move from a passive part (receivers)to an active role (donators).

The rooftop garden is a place for coexistence, inclusion and learning in a green space for sustainable agriculture.
Urban space
Green city
The objectives in sustainability affect four different areas:
- The urban transformation with the incorporation of new green areas
- The reduction of ecological footprint in terms of energy and water expenditure
- The use of recycled and biodegradable materials
- The local based consumption
There are currently 10 allotments, all located in high-density urban environments and making use of disused places such as the rooftops. Those are, hence, new spaces for environmental regeneration and attraction of urban fauna such as insects or birds. From the analyses carried out, the level of healthiness of the products show a low presence of contaminants in the vegetables (such as cadmium or lead), probably due to the high altitude situation in which the products are cultivated.
Regarding technology, the project is committed to improve the energy savings and water consumption. The gardens are based on hydroponic technology with drip irrigation and fertigation. Seeking environmentally sustainable models, a first action was the installation of a water recirculation system in the horizontal gardens. Currently, 39% of the water used is being recirculated. Subsequently, it was incorporated a new vertical garden system (present today in 3 of the gardens) that reduces water consumption by nearly 90% and the materials used for the structures are recycled and biodegradable. Finally, in the last garden, rainwater harvesting has been incorporated.
The Rooftop Garden started in 2016 in a pilot allotment with the participation of 15 people with intellectual disabilities. After 7 years, there are currently participating 253 people from 21 organizations working with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, mental disorders, hearing impairments and multiple disabilities. This expansion seeks to extend to a larger and more diverse group the numerous benefits that were detected from the beginning of the project. To determine the specific scope of these benefits, a study was carried out analysing the improvement in the quality of life among participants with moderate to very marked disability derived from intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders. An improvement of 5.5 points was detected among users on the subjective Integral Scale of the Quality Of Life Index (QOL)(see attached documentation). The QOL Index is composed of 8 dimensions: material well-being; physical well-being; emotional well-being; self-determination; personal development; interpersonal relationships; social inclusion; and rights. From all of them, a general level of quality of life (QOL) is obtained. We will highlight here some of the most significant elements of the transformations detected among the users.

The results indicated that gardening among these participants was associated with:
- personal development and emotional well-being (feelings of freedom, enhanced autonomy, capacity to deal with frustration and disappointment, initiative and creativity build)
- physical well-being (increased energy, healthier nutritional habits, better quality of sleep, etc.)
- social inclusion and interpersonal relations linked to cooperative and collective skills and the extension of social networks (new relationships and a new role in the society)
In a general view, rooftop gardening is a way to enhance health equity in a broad sense, providing a space where people with disabilities can improve their quality of life.
The central axis of this project is the promotion of people with disabilities in the area of horticulture. Among the several benefits detected we will highlight the most relevant ones.
First of all, in the training dimension, users receive formation in horticulture with learning in whole crop processes. There is also an emotional training in areas such as work towards the tolerance to frustration when expectations are not met, the satisfaction of witnessing the entire growth process or the change of role in food donation.
There is a relational dimension too, not only between the participating entities but also at the community level with the delivery of production to vulnerable citizens or the sharing of the garden with other groups. This creates a mutual learning aimed to break the very present stigmas towards people with disabilities based on a weekly relationship.
Finally, as a summary, as mentioned it was found an improvement of 5.5 points on the subjective INTEGRAL Scale of the quality of life index of the participants (see attached documentation).
The participation of people with disabilities has also meant the design of accessible gardens both physically and communicatively. Regarding physical accessibility, the design contemplates issues like allowing the frontal approach for wheelchairs to the growing tables, the design of specific tools for people with low fine motor skills, or the incorporation of ramps for the circulation of wheelchairs. Regarding the communicative accessibility, it has been incorporated issues such as adapted “easy reading” of the training content for a better understanding of people with intellectual disabilities, the recording of training videos by the participants itself or the chromatic contrasts incorporated into the pavement to help orientation for groups with visual disabilities
A relevant element of this project is the high and complex network of participating actors so that part of the challenge is to coordinate the human and organizational chain involved. Some of this actors are groups of citizens that benefit directly from the project.
Firstly, the project is centred around people with disabilities and there are many and varied benefits for this population already mentioned. Specifically, it must be highlighted the improvement of the quality of life index and benefits such as personal development, emotional and physical well-being or social inclusion.
Secondly, the vulnerable groups that receive the production would be one of the most prominent groups also involved. The primary benefit in this case is benefiting from vegetables that are literally local (grown normally a few meters away) and fresh (just harvested), something uncommon in social canteens or food banks. But also, according to the recipients themselves, the project helps not only to introduce healthy habits but into dignify their situation since they receive a product in good condition and of the highest quality, something also not usual among the food they receive. Currently there are 6 social canteens and food banks, and 3 highly-complex schools that receive the production.
Another group that benefits from the project are the students from primary and secondary schools where gardens have been installed. About 115 students farm and benefit from all the elements related to horticulture already mentioned. But farming together with people with disabilities fosters a very prominent educational dimension in the fight against the stigma that people with disabilities carry.
The project also participates in different initiatives to disseminate urban projects related to the urban and social agriculture. It is common to receive national and international visits from schools, universities, research groups, or Barcelona citizens interested in learning about the project.
Apart from the different groups noted in the last section, there are other actors with a more institutional or corporate role who also participate directly in the project, all at a local level.
Firstly, the Municipal Institute of Disabled Persons (MIPD) of Barcelona City Council, the body where the idea was initially born and which plays the role of coordinator. The main tasks of the MIPD are:
- The choice of the municipal facilities where to locate the orchards and the entities to which to donate the production
- The bidding for the contract for the installation, maintenance and assessment of the allotments to the companies responsible for day-to-day operations
- The coordination of the selection panel to choose the organizations of people with disabilities that will participate
- The general monitoring of the operation of the orchards and the participating groups
A second actor are the City Council’s different departments and the schools that host the rooftop gardens. They finance the costs associated with the garden they host and participates in the selection panel of the entities.
A third actor are the hydroponics expert companies responsible for the construction and maintenance of the gardens. They are also in charge of advising people with disabilities in everything to do with garden care (what, when and how to plant; how to fight pests; how to monitor the production or water consumption; etc.). With constant coordination between the companies and the MIPD, the project is in permanent transformation.
Fourthly, the project accommodates organizations from the academic and educational sector. Rooftop gardens managed by vulnerable groups in cities are still a rare initiative. This makes this project a unique field of work for researchers in the agronomic and in the social disciplines. The project therefore hosts academic research on a regular basis, an element of mutual interest given that, in return, scientific results can improve the project itself.
This project is basically built on the basis of two disciplines, apparently very far apart but which have shown a very fruitful combination. On the one hand, the project requires knowledge in the field of education and social work with the central participation of people with disabilities as well as the rest of the participating groups (some of them also vulnerable). This work has been developed especially by the municipal technicians as well as the educators of the organizations of people with disabilities and social canteens, working on elements such as the adaptation of spaces and contents based on design for all perspective; the daily organization of the groups to attend the gardens and make the donation (each garden is shared by several entities and each one attends weekly the allotment); the work with the acquired learnings; etc.
The second discipline is agronomy and in particular hydroponics. The expertise in this field comes from the companies in charge of the installation, maintenance and advice for the operation of the orchards and which coordinate the tasks that the participants must perform. This is done on a daily basis through internet based groups where municipal technicians, the contracted company and educators from organizations of people with disabilities participate.
The interaction between the two fields has therefore become permanent both in the design of the project and in its daily operation. Actually, the cooperation between the two disciplines has been beneficial for each of them: on the one hand, horticulture has become a new field of work for people with disabilities with great benefits at various levels, as has been explained. On the other hand, hydroponic urban gardens, but above all the fact that someone takes care of them permanently, offers agronomy a testing ground where to find out elements such as which varieties work best or the degree of healthiness of the productions in the big cities.
This project provides several innovations in reference of giving priority to the places and people who need it most and it does it from different perspectives.
Regarding to places, the project provides innovation in the reuse of disused spaces. Barcelona is a highly dense city (16,140 inhabitants/km2) and with a very limited space for growth. This is a great difficulty when planning spaces for public facilities such as traditional urban gardens: there is simply no free space to promote horticulture on the ground. This fact has led to think of new possibilities by noting that Barcelona has thousands of square meters of built-up and passable flat roofs, most of them completely disused. This was the seed of the project, taking advantage of municipal owned facilities (offices, schools or civic centers), to place urban gardens. A second innovation is the use of hydroponics, an area of horticulture in constant innovation and completely unknown to all the participants. Hidrponics where also necessary in order to place the gardens on roofs without having weight problems, water leaks, etc. Finally, the project involves opening up public spaces to citizens by offering access to municipal facilities for their regular use, something new and normally only intended for workers.
Regarding the people, the project seeks to promote the quality of life of people with disabilities, a vulnerable group that requires special attention to ensure their social inclusion. The work in horticulture with this collective, is a field that is almost non-existent in urban environaments where most people with disabilities do not have any possibility of regular contact with nature. Another usual demand of the sector of the people with disabilities is the traditional lack of relationship with other groups and citizens. The project, through its wide range of participating actors, has managed to overcome this barrier by promoting the relationship with other colectives
The project has a methodology with 4 defined work phases that to be replicated for each new orchard.
Phase 1
- Call for proposals of spaces available in municipal facilities interested in participating. The accessibility conditions of these spaces and the profile of nearby organizations for people with disabilities are determined.
- Public tender for the design and construction of the garden, the maintenance and training of the participants, as well as a weekly follow-up for each participating entity. The expenses arising from each orchard (except the general municipal coordination of the project) are assumed by the departments or schools where the orchards are located.
Phase 2
- Public competition for the selection of the participating entities. They will be non-profit organizations working with people with disabilities and priority will be given to those closest on the territory. Municipal project coordination and technicians from the departments and schools hosting the orchards participate in this evaluation panel. In this case, the contest has no financial consideration associated with it. The number of entities chosen will be according to the capacity of each garden. In any case they will have to share the allotment with the need to coordinate one each other.
Phase 3
- Once the entities have been chosen, the project itself begins with the training of the participants and the planting. Each entity will have a personalized follow-up in the training, the coordination of the tasks or the doubts that may arise.
- The creation of a joint telematic group with all the participants of each allotment to direct the tasks and instructions.
- Detection of territorially close social entities to which donate the food .
Phase 4
- Evaluation and monitoring of the project with a six-monthly frequency by the chosen company with previously defined indicators of operation.
- Promotion of scientific research around the different dimensions of the project.
The Rooftop Garden project offers many opportunities to be replicated practically in its entirety given that none of the elements present are unique to the place where it has been developed. On the contrary, we find the same actors and similar conditions in other European countries or in the immediate environment.

This happens on the one hand with the groups involved, starting with people with disabilities, but including the local administration itself, the groups that perceive the production, the students, or the educational and academic community. In fact, it is a project that can be extended to new actors, as has been happening until now. For example, although it has been developed by local administration through Barcelona City Council, it can be replicated by any local, regional or state level administration.

Regarding technology, hydroponics are in fact already fully active in other countries and in constant evolution. However, what could be an impediment to the replica of the project is the availability of spaces for practicable terraces, much less present in Central and Northern European than in Southern European countries. Hence, it would be necessary to find equivalent disused spaces in other urban contexts.

Regarding the methodology and the development processes of the project, they are detailed and improved in each extension of the project with every new orchard. It exist an accurate procedure of the various phases to be followed as well as the legal aspects that may be required in each phase.

Finally, regarding to the economic costs (that may vary from 4000 to 15000 € per allotment for the installation, depending on the technology and space used), the expenses are well justified given the returns in the high number of direct and indirect participants the benefits and synergies that are generated. Preliminary research on the project indicates that the social return of the project is 2,48 € per euro invested (see attached documentation).
The project stands out for local solutions based primarily on the inclusion of people with disabilities. This is verified by:

- The planning of repetitive and easy to perform horticultural tasks adapted to any kind of disability
- The use of infrastructures adapted to all types of mobility and/or communication needs
- The promotion of light physical activity with benefits in terms of mental and physical health
- The promotion of social interaction with other population groups
- The donation of production surpluses to groups at risk of exclusion.

Regarding the environmental sustainability, the solutions are verified by:
- The energy savings of hydroponics and fertigation technology
- The recirculation and reuse of water, including the harvesting of rainwater
- the making use of disused spaces of municipal facilities
- The monitoring of the healthiness of the production generated
- The use of recycled materials in an important part of the gardens
- The incorporation of new vegetables for research and to increase the production diversity
- The incorporation of flowers to attract insects in order both to increase pollination and fight against plagues.
- The fight against the insects disappearance and the increase of the biodiversity in the cities

All of the above are local solutions adapted to the project but which, at the same time, follow the global challenges integrating objectives of the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030. Specifically, the project responds to the following SDG: zero hunger (SDG2), ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all age (SDG3), Quality education (SDG4), sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), and responsible production and consumption (SDG12). Finally, all the actors are committed to improving the social, environmental and economic sustainability of the project as new solutions are found.
The most unique aspect of the Rooftop Gardens project is probably the combination of a social-based initiative with environmental sustainability goals. The project incorporates a usually invisible population - people with disabilities - in an inclusive initiative that encourages green spaces in the city. In this framework, the initiative has shown to have several results and impacts of great interest.
With regard to people with disabilities, we have detailed how numerous the benefits acquired are: enhancing autonomy; promote self-esteem; apprenticeship in horticulture; improvement in the physical and emotional health of the participants; expansion of the relational network; healthier consumption habits; etc. All of the above is confirmed by the analysis of the improvement in the Quality Of Life Index, which the research has stated as an increase of 5.5 points.
The transversal network of actors involved in the project also receive direct benefits with their participation. These benefits range from the reception of fresh food in good condition and good quality by the social canteens and food banks; the students training in horticulture and the work against the disability stigma; the opening of public spaces to citizens; or the possibility of an open space for research for national and international educational centres and universities.
Beyond these actors directly involved, the project contributes to the expansion of urban agriculture in Barcelona, essential to achieve food sovereignty. And it does this by using disused public spaces with innovative methods of hydroponic cultivation, designed and installed by local agricultural entities.
The above have been palpable results of the project for years, which, together with the positive social return on investment (figured by the research at 2.48 euros per euro invested), reaffirm Barcelona's commitment to this initiative.
  • Final notes on the documentation provided.pdf
    (380,56 KB - pdf)
  • The rooftop garden_0.pptx
    (5,35 MB - pptx)
  • EPSA winners.pdf
    (455,77 KB - pdf)
  • Winner Certificate Rooftop Gardens.pdf
    (106,06 KB - pdf)