4 real-life cases where city meets nature, inspired by Tokyo Digs a Garden

Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka’s picture book, which was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, may be closer to reality than you think.
Tokyo Digs a Garden, written by Jon-Erik Lappano (left) and illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka, won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people literature — illustrated books in 2016. (Robert Scarborough/Kiersten Hatanaka)

In the world of Tokyo Digs a Garden, architecture and environment come together in unexpected ways. The picture book follows a contaminated city as it transforms into a garden with the help of a few seeds and a little imagination. The collaboration between Jon-Erik Lappano and illustrator Kellen Hatanaka was among the finalists for the 2017 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. It also won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.

Here are five examples of how real-life cities commune with nature, as in Lappano and Hatanaka's vivid picture book. 

1. Wild animals call many cities home

Three people spot a deer in Vancouver's Stanley Park. (Chris Corday/CBC News)

In Tokyo Digs a Garden, pole-climbing bears and urban bison parade through the city. Across Canada, various creatures have reclaimed urban spaces. Wild deer are often spotted in Vancouver backyards. Toronto is famous for its raccoons. Until recently, the brown snake thrived in Montreal, but its urban habitat is increasingly under threat due to construction — so much so that the Quebec government is assessing whether it should be classified as an endangered species.

2. In some cities, inside meets outside

Montreal's Biosphere is a museum dedicated to the environment. (iStock)

Kellen Hatanaka's illustrations in Tokyo Digs a Garden fuse greenery and architecture. Montreal's Biosphère follows the same mandate. First built for Expo 67, the structure now houses the only environment museum in North America. It has an interior garden, green roofs and a transparent frame granting a panoramic view of the surrounding city park from within the geodesic dome.

3. City gardens reflect the people behind them

David and Cheyenne Thomas are responsible for leading the design process for Assiniboine Park's Indigenous People's Garden. (Lenard Monkman)

The garden in Tokyo Digs a Garden is a collaborative effort between Tokyo, his grandfather and Tokyo's cat, Kevin. In Winnipeg, the father-daughter team Cheyenne and David Thomas are working to incorporate an Indigenous worldview into their design for the Indigenous People's Garden in Assiniboine Park. They envision the park as a sustainable and inclusive space, incorporating the landscape's features and the input of Indigenous community members.

4. Guerilla gardeners make cities come alive

Flowers planted in northwest Calgary. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

Guerilla gardens are alive and well in many urban communities across Canada. In northwest Calgary, for instance, some gardeners have taken it upon themselves to use plants to beautify public spaces—with or without permission. Here, wildflowers line a local noise barrier, where guerilla gardeners say they plan to keep planting, despite bylaws restricting public gardening.

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