How Does Your Garden Grow?
Other Research Done by: Owen Taylor and Summer Gerbing
14 May 2004 Professor Henderson
Urban gardens provide residents in the city with the ability to leave the concrete streets and take in a little piece of nature. These community gardens represent a movement towards the inclusion of ecology into areas of the city that have been met with decline due to land use plan of sprawl. Urban gardens are not just green space but are also a land use element that can provide benefits to a community. Land use planning can work to include these spaces of environmental havens in all neighborhoods so all residents can feel these benefits.
It is important when discussing how land use planning relates to urban gardens to define these terms. Land use planning is the “process by which government agencies
determine the intensity and geographical arrangement of various land uses in a community”
(Fulton, 1999, p.7). There are five elements to land use planning including design, laws and regulations, environmental analysis, socioeconomic analysis, and politics. The element of design includes the plans on specific sites as well as the layout of the city. The laws and regulations of land use planning including zoning rules and environmental regulations. An environmental analysis or environmental impact report is required to begin any development. The socioeconomic analysis defines the effects of growth on the social and economic aspects of the local and regional community. Finally, politics are important to land use planning because the support of elected officials is important to the approval of new construction (Fulton, 1999, p.8-9).
In this paper, the term urban gardens will be used to describe open spaces of parkland located in cities that are created for the use and benefit of the communities wherein they are located as well as for the city as a whole. The benefits of urban gardens include recreation and leisure, nutrition, education, and community development. Most people are aware of the function of recreation and leisure at their local urban park but overlook the other benefits including bringing people together in a common space to share ideas. These aspects and the nutritional benefits from the inclusion of urban agriculture in these open spaces will be further defined in this paper while discussing the important land use issue of sprawl and its effects on central cities.
Sprawl and Urban Gardens
In his book New Vision for Metropolitan America, Anthony Downs describes sprawl as low-density growth with single detached homes in spacious lots, full automobile ownership, low-rise workplaces in a park-like setting and an environment free from signs of poverty (Downs, 1994). By full automobile ownership, Downs means at least one car per household. An environment free from signs of poverty is an important aspect because it implies the segregation of classes.
Downs also includes in his analysis of sprawl the effects of this movement of development to the outskirts of the city. Downs begins with the increase of congestion due to traffic moving into and out of the city for employment and recreation. This congestion increases air and water pollution through exhaust and non-point pollution. Non-point pollution is the pollution of the water table as well as bodies of water by the oil and fluids leaked from cars that move into the water through the sewer system due to rain. This increase in car traffic has also involved a differing energy policy focused on the use of petroleum products. A decrease in public health has also resulted from the increase of commuting and the low density in sprawl which in turn leads to sedentary lifestyles where cars for all transportation as opposed to walking or bicycling (Downs, 1994).
The effects of sprawl also include a loss of community and a lack of social justice (Downs, 1994). Sprawl with its low-density development and reliance on automobiles for transportation takes away from face-to-face encounters. These encounters and the social network and civic engagement that are their results are the basis of community. Within the land-use of sprawl, there are very few opportunities built within the development to actually interact with others thus the loss of community (Barnett, 2003, p.22).
William Julius Wilson has discussed the lack of social justice in his book The Truly Disadvantaged. Wilson describes the land use issue of sprawl as “white flight” or the movement of White America out of the city as well as the “exodus of working and middle class families”(Wilson, 1987, 56). Not only has the movement of people away from urban areas been an important factor in social injustice caused by sprawl but businesses have often followed these people to the outskirts of cities where land is cheap and the workforce is available. This movement of business has created a ‘spatial mismatch’ described by Wilson as a loss of industrial jobs that matched the skill level of the inner-city workforce (Wilson, 2003, p.40-41). The flight of the middle class and business are factors in what Wilson refers to as a “concentration of poverty” within the inner-city by those who were left behind when the land use plan of sprawl began (Wilson, 1987, p.58).
In this paper I will include one more effect of sprawl on urban areas: environmental injustice. When cities began the process of zoning or separating the city into the different land uses of retail, residential and industrial, many of the neighborhoods lower income residents could afford where overwhelmingly the sites of industrial zoning as well (Barnett, 2003, p.70-71). When sprawl and the promise of cheaper land costs that came with it began these industries often left these sites and left behind the pollution that they were producing. These sites now referred to as brownfields still exist and are now the problem of central city residents.
Besides brownfields, sprawl has led to another form of environmental injustice: the depletion of agricultural land. According to a recent study, “the United States is losing two acres of prime farmland every minute due to development”(Becker, 2002, p.A22). This report also stated “sprawl, not development itself, is the problem” (Becker, 2002, p. A22). This is an environmental injustice not just to cities but also to the whole country.
Due to the increased concentration of poverty in areas of the city, the access of food has decreased. “Supermarkets have abandoned many low-income communities (Pinderhughes, 2000, p.799). The access to foods with nutritional value such as fresh fruits and vegetables has been limited to local liquor stores and food stores that often charge higher prices due to limited competition (Pinderhughes, 2000. p.799). Urban agriculture is a renewable and low cost source for access to these vital nutrients for poorer communities.
These gardens can be low cost with only the purchase of seeds, fertilizer, and tools. Some urban gardeners have found their local stores to be very generous with the donation of supplies due to the benefits to the neighborhood. Community gardens can also be highly productive due to innovative gardening techniques that recognize the limited space in urban areas. These techniques include growing plants in containers, vertical growth along walls and fences, and the use of raised garden beds, and greenhouses.
High yield community gardens in urban areas have benefited many residents’ nutrition and health as shown in a report by California Healthy Cities and Communities. “Community improvements resulting from gardening efforts can range from knowledge and skill enhancement to behavioral and systems change” (Twiss, 2003, p.3). Survey results in neighborhoods that have established urban gardens found an “increased consumption of fruits and vegetables from 3.44 to 3.78 servings per day” (Twiss, 2003. p.3). Community members also worked together to educate each other about “how to prepare meals using fresh ingredients” as well as nutrition including “explaining its relationship to child development and disease” (Pinderhughes, 2000, p.801). Many of these gardens began as a plot of land for growing fruits and vegetables but grew to include education. Knowledge of nutrition is only one piece of education that can be gained by urban gardens.
Urban gardens can also be great sources for learning about ecology. They can provide information about “living systems and the environment, through teaching about nutrition, the food cycle, recycling and composting and alternative sources of energy and its conservation” (Samuelson, 1999, p.1). Many children and adults who live in the city have limited access to nature and urban gardens can provide a place to explore, discover and play (Samuelson, 1999, p.1). The exercise of exploring the environment is a much better educational tool than reading about nature in a textbook.
Access to the earth and its ecosystem not only provides a basic understanding of nature but can also build job skills. These skills are related directly to working in gardening but also underlying skills such as responsibility, leadership and organization. A community garden in Manhattan called Green Oasis involved the youth of the community in the decision making processes of their garden and found that this action “fostered organizational and managerial skills and promoted self esteem and civic pride”(Pinderhughes, 2000, p.802). These skills are beneficial in any job organization. Urban gardening can also be translated directly into the job market with careers related to food production, forestry and environmental arenas.
The nutritional and educational benefits that come from urban gardens are not created in a void. These gardens are created by the community and increase the connectivity in a neighborhood. Community gardens create an ongoing basis for social networking and neighborhood revitalization (Pinderhughes, 2000, p.804). In a world where technology, artificial environments, and sprawl have led to a depletion of personal interaction urban gardens provide an arena for meeting, playing, and discussing ideas (Barnett, 2003, p.23). “The participation and support of diverse community members help a community garden to thrive” (Twiss, 2003, p.3). These members provide different viewpoints and areas of expertise to be shared in the development and maintenenance of the ecosystem in an urban garden.
“Community gardening fosters neighborhood ownership and civic pride, which in turn build a constituent base for broader political agenda” (Twiss, 2003, p.2). The concepts of neighborhood ownership and civic pride are abstract but the results of these factors can be seen in very concrete ways. Urban gardens have been shown to reduce inner city crime including the finding of “a 28% drop in crime after one year around a garden in San Francisco’s Mission District”(Pinderhughes, 2000, p.807). Urban gardens have also led to the formation of Neighborhood Watch Groups, block associations and more political power. “A study at Northwestern University reported that through gardening projects, low-income residents gain access to government and economic resources and get the chance to meet officials in public agencies and non-profits” (Pinderhughes, 2000, p.807).
Urban gardens are one land use element that can repair the damage done to the central city and its residents by sprawl. The development of a sense of community surrounding the implementation of urban gardens mends the lack of social interactions in low-density developments. The inclusion of ecological and nutritional education in urban gardens helps to repair environmental injustices of the past. Urban gardens also provide the basics for needed recreation and leisure for the public health of residents.
Land Use Planning and Urban Gardens
Land use planning and urban gardens are linked through the general plan, the framework for development “guiding a city’s future” (Fulton, 1999, p.102). The general plan is described as “the supreme document from which all land use decisions must derive” (Fulton, 1999, p.104). All general plans must include the elements of land use, circulation (transportation), housing, conservation and open space, as well as noise and safety (Fulton, 1999, p.105). In the city of San Francisco the information and guidelines pertaining to urban gardens are contained in the conservation and open space element. The land use element in San Francisco’s general plan is also related because it contains the zoning specifications for the city.
In the open space element of San Francisco’s general plan Policy 2.12 relates directly to urban gardens. The general plans goals in regards to community gardens is to
“expand community garden opportunities throughout the City” (SFGP, 2004, p.6). The general plan continues with its description of the benefits of community gardens and the guidelines with which to deal with this land.
“Community gardens are a valuable use of open space in dense urban areas. They improve the quality of life in the city by revitalizing neighborhoods, and stimulating social interaction and neighborhood cooperation. In addition they provide opportunities for recreation and exercise for those who work in the gardens, and provide visual interest to the general public.
There are many existing community gardens in the City. They are located on private property, undeveloped street ROW’s and underused (vacant) public property, public parkland, rooftops, etc. Acknowledging the values community gardens have for the City, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution encouraging a minimum of 100 community gardens to be established in the City by 1996.
City departments should fully cooperate with neighborhood organizations and non-profit organizations, such as the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, SLUG, to establish, maintain, and administer community gardens at sites throughout the City. The City should also investigate opportunities to preserve existing gardens, in order to maximize the opportunity for San Franciscans to use, enjoy, and benefit from community gardens” (SFGP, 2004, p. 6-7)
The land use element of the general plan sets up the zoning of specific plots of land. The labels for specific sites are residential, commercial, industrial or open space (Fulton, 1999, p.129). This element is especially important because as stated in the open space element many urban gardens exist by communities taking over land that is not zoned as open space but rather as residential, commercial or industrial. In order to legitimize these parks, residents and the city must work together to change the zoning categorization to open space.
Changing the zoning on a specific parcel of land involves all aspects of land use planning: design, laws and regulations, an environmental analysis, a socioeconomic analysis, and politics. According to Fulton, politics play a major role in zoning changes. “City councils and boards of supervisors have always shown a willingness to change zoning if the project proposed is something they really want to build” (Fulton, 1999, p.131).
An environmental analysis or environmental impact report (EIR) is also a large part of zoning changes, as the California Environmental Quality Act requires it. This EIR is “a detailed information document prepared by the public agency responsible for carrying out the project as part of the CEQA process that describes and analyzes a project’s significant environmental effects and discusses ways to mitigate or avoid those effects” (Fulton, 1999, p.352). Simply, the environmental impact report is a study done by the Office of Environmental Review and looks at the impacts that the proposed design will have on the ecology if allowed to go forward.
Both the open space and land use elements of San Francisco’s general plan are important to the creation and maintenance of urban gardens. These elements will be incorporated in the case studies of three urban gardens located in San Francisco as well as the benefits that urban gardens bring to the communities in which they are contained.
Parque Ninos Unidos or Park of United Children on 23rd and Treat Avenue in the Mission District is an urban garden established in San Francisco after ten years of hard work by the neighborhood, community organizations and the City of San Francisco. The half-acre lot, “previously used for various manufacturing purposes was contaminated with two underground storage tanks that had seeped gas into the soil, lead railroad tracks that had been left behind, and illegal dumping”(Wagner, 2002, p.33). Despite this contamination, children “have played on the property for decades” for lack of other park space (Wagner, 2002, p.34). In order to counteract these environmental and social injustices, the City of San Francisco worked with the residents to gain this land and create an urban garden that satisfied the needs of the neighborhood.
Ten years ago residents of the Mission District as well as PODER, People Organizing To Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, and Calle 22, a Mission District community group, began demanding the right to have safe clean green spaces in their neighborhood (Wagner, 2002, p.34). They lobbied the city to get involved and purchase the property for redevelopment. In 1995, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department began looking at the sight as part of the Park and Open Space program. This program established in 1974 and allowed the city to acquire green-spaces for high needs districts. “The Mission District is considered a high-need area due to its lack of green space and high population density” (Wagner, 2002, p.35). The Mission District’s population density is much higher than the rest of San Francisco averaging at 85 residents compared to the rest of the city at 34 residents per acre (Wagner, 2002, p.35). Park space is also limited to only seven small parks for the recreation of 12,000 children, the smallest proportion of parks to children in all districts of San Francisco (Wagner, 2002, p.34).
In order to obtain this property, the Parks and Recreations Department needed to purchase the land from the rightful owner, Embarcadero Trust Fund. In 1998, the City of San Fancisco obtained the property for1.7 million dollars this purchase began the land use planning of this site. The property is considered a brownfield because of its hazardous toxins including lead, and petroleum products. In order to deal with this contamination the City had to decide how best to clean the area. Because of the community involvement that persuaded the city to purchase the land, the Parks and Recreation Department included the neighbors in the decision about remediation. The Department of Health determined that the top two feet of soil were the greatest concern and it “either needed to be removed or covered over (Wagner, 2002, p.38). The residents deciding not to spread their polluted soil with other communities chose to build a retaining wall with “a liner placed over the contaminated soil and then two feet of clean fill” was placed over this. In order to finance this renovation, the City used $800,000 of its own money and the old owners, Embarcadero Trust Fund set aside $325,000 for the repair of the damage done to the site over the years.
In order to begin the development of the site, the residents would be involved in what elements they would like to be included in the park. The residents were involved through the work of PODER and Calle 22 as well as a core group of twenty individuals who assessed the neighborhood’s opinions in bilingual surveys and through community meetings (Wagner, 2002, p.37). They also involved the neighborhood schools to become involved in the decision making process. The neighbors decided that the park should include two play areas and a food-producing garden (Wagner, 2002, p.40).
Pararque Ninos Unidos was one step closer to being a legitimate play area for the neighborhood children as well as a nutritional and educational arena to benefit the community for years to come. The proposal for development and to change the zoning of the land to open space went before the Board of Supervisors. The site had been zoned industrial since the 1920’s and was displayed on the recent zoning maps as blank because it was an empty lot. Most developments must undergo an environmental impact report, but because the proposal for Parque Ninos Unidos contained minimal physical structures it was declared categorically exempt from the EIR. (Yee, 2004). The only factor left to be tackled was the decisions of the Board of Supervisors. In staying with the goals of the general plan to correct the inequity of the distributions of neighborhood parks and recreation areas, the Board allowed the development of the park to go forward.
The creation of Parques Ninos Unidos was truly the act of a community united together to right the wrongs of the past. They declared their needs and worked together to accomplish their goals of having an area for the children to play and neighbors to come together. Besides the community organizations who were a driving force in this urban garden coming to fruition “over 250 children and youths participated in the revitalization efforts, specifically in the design and naming of the site” Wagner, 2002, p.40). Danielle Wagner and Riti Dhesi found in their case study that “incorporating local children in the process not only empowered them, but taught them about engaging in community action behind a common vision”(Wagner, 2002, p.36). The children are not the only ones feeling a sense of empowerment all of the “residents now feel a sense of pride and ownership in this property”(Wagner, 2002, p.36). The act of establishing power over this piece of contaminated land has endowed this neighborhood not only with a place to play but also with a place to achieve improved nutrition, share ideas and establish more control over their neighborhood.
Urban gardens are adaptable to many different spaces as pointed out in San Francisco’s general plan so when Diana Samuelson decided to bring an urban garden to San Francisco Community School it didn’t seem like a weird idea at all. Samuelson had always enjoyed gardening and thought that the children in her community could benefit from the education that was possible through urban gardening. Samuelson’s proposal of bringing a community oasis to the school at 125 Excelsior in the Mission/Excelsior District was an effective means to counteract the asphalt jungle that had become the city schoolyard. Unlike schools in low-density sprawl, urban schools throughout San Francisco have minimal greenspace due to the high cost of land and the need for housing development (Danks, 2004). Samuelson’s Outdoor Learning Environment Project would open up the world of nature to students and give teachers an opportunity to teach about ecology and natural science in a natural setting.
Land use planning elements that are required by the City of San Francisco did not apply in Samuelson’s case because “schools are owned and operated by a completely different political entity”(Fulton, 1999, p.303). Although schools are planned for in cities, their land is maintained by their own elected Board of Trustees. San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) supported the plan wholeheartedly. Linda Davis, Deputy Superintendent of the Division of Program Development and Instructional Support at SFUSD wrote a letter of her support and even attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
As project facilitator, Diana Samuelson began her project by applying for a grant through San Francisco’s Urban Resource Partnership. This grant allowed Samuelson to involve a Berkeley based firm, Moore Iaconfano Goltsman (MIG), Inc (Samuelson, 2004). MIG Inc. works with communities to develop projects that are child-friendly and “support the development and education needs of children”(Goltsman, 2004). MIG, inc. designed a Master Concept Plan that included food producing garden beds, rock gardens, play areas and a shade orchard (Samuelson, 2004).
In order to fund this project teachers and students organized fund-raisers. They also visited other eco-schools, “ecological schoolyards that teach ecological principles through the design of the schoolyard landscape” (Danks, 2004). These tours guided the parents and teachers to a better understanding about what they could have at their school.
These ideas were brought back and presented to the student body. The student body was surveyed; the results were tallied by the students and presented to the staff, parents and fellow students. On April 14th, 2000 the development of the site began. With the help of the Department of Public Works, the asphalt was removed and garden beds were brought in.
Project OLE has not only removed the asphalt on the schoolyard, it has opened up a connection with nature for these children. “The students plant the gardens and then raise, harvest, and eat the crops, improving their nutrition, their knowledge about plant growth, and their patience” (Danks, 2004). Another objective of the project was to “strengthen our ties to the surrounding neighborhood residents and merchants by inviting them to volunteer in this process”(Samuelson, 2004). Project OLE is not just an urban garden but a means to development community, education, and nutrition as well as provide a space for recreation and leisure.
The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary began ten years ago with the vision of one man who saw the encroachment of development and gentrification on his neighborhood. He took this opportunity to retake his neighborhood through the creation of a community park. Unlike the other parks in this paper the focus of this park was not to provide nutrition or recreation to the area but rather to build a place where people could come together and discuss neighborhood issues as well as build an ecological arena for education and relaxation. This park, the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary has been built from the ground up and is currently in the center of a conflict between community activism and business as usual.
The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary is located in the Bayview District of San Francisco along the northern shore of Islais Creek. The land is at the southern end of Illinois Street stretching east into the Port of San Francisco’s North Container Terminal. Because the garden is located on the shore of Islais Creek the size of the garden varies according to tide. During low tide the garden grows “an additional two or three acres of wet sand, when the tide came in, it sometimes converted the garden into a marshland about the size of half a city block” (Lowenthal, p.2).
According to David Erickson, the organizer of the sanctuary, ten years ago the land was a fenced-in vacant lot used by the homeless. Erickson recognized this area as having useful benefits for the community as well as an opportunity to rebuild an ecosystem that had been lost to San Francisco residents. He began the process of reclaiming the land and establishing a group of volunteers to work with him on this process.
Unlike most developments in urban areas, the procedure for the development of the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary is through the Port of San Francisco, which owned the land. The Port of San Francisco is exempt from the zoning regulations and the San Francisco general plan. The agencies that deal with development on Port of San Francisco land are the Port Commission, the Southern Waterfront Advisory Committee (SWAC) and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) (Erickson, 2004). Erickson began to work with these agencies to establish legal right to the refuge.
Erickson began by approaching the Port of San Francisco for access to the land and to begin its development as an urban garden. According to Erickson, the Port Commission “gave its full endorsement and support.” The Commission only required that Erickson present his development plan to the Commission and the Southern Waterfront Advisory Committee. According to the Port of San Francisco website, the Southern Waterfront Advisory Commission is a panel of community members who do not have any actual authority but are a useful tool so that “communities in the Southeast portion of the city would be included in the Port’s plans for development of the southern waterfront.” Both the Port Commission and SWAC embraced the concept of the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary and gave Erickson and his group of volunteers a Permit for Entry. Erickson stated that this permit is similar to a leaseholder accord.
The Port of San Francisco also assisted Erickson in dealing with the Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission (Erickson, 2004). This commission was established by the California Legislature in 1965,and is in charge of “regulating new development within the first 100 feet inland from the Bay,” The Port informed Erickson that the BCDC permit would not be necessary due to the minimal amount of development that the sanctuary would need to rehabilitate the wildlife. The BCDC’s permit process only relates to built structures, dredging of the Bay and Bay fill (BCDC, 2004).
Erickson received his permits and began working on his sanctuary. His decision to create a new park in the Bayview District of San Francisco brought with it the hope of more open space in an area of the city that is deprived of this land use element. “According to data from the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Neighborhood Parks Council, a San Francisco non-profit organization, only the tip of Heron’s Head Park and the San Francisco Port’s Warm Water Cove are available to the approximately 16,906 residents living within a 1-mile radius. The San Francisco general plan states that the City along with the state and federal government has “dedicated to open space approximately 4,090 acres, or 5.5 acres per 1,000 San Francisco residents” (SFGP, 2004, Policy 2.1). This designation has apparently over looked the Bayview District.
Erickson received a grant worth $30,000 towards the implementation of his plan to replace the natural habitat of his small sanctuary. With this grant he surveyed and documented the habitat in the area and well as collaborated with other volunteer agencies such as Youth In Action to have stewardship days (Erickson, 2004). The habitat survey found species that were rare in the San Francisco Area. Erickson’s urban garden also gave a refuge to the pacific chorus frog whose song can be heard on his website. The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary was also a favorite field trip locale for area schools. Erickson stated that he believed the connection to the water was a unique experience for these youths due to so many parks being land locked (Erickson, 2004).
On November 22, 2001, Erickson’s oasis came crashing down. A contractor working on MUNI’s new Third Street Light Rail drilled into a sewage pipe and split the sanctuary in two (Lowenthal, ). Erickson turned to MUNI to accept responsibility for the destruction of the southern waterfront habitat and although MUNI representatives stated that they would take care of the situation, it is three years later and the restoration process has not yet begun. Patrick Goggin, Erickson’s attorney, stated, “the sanctuary has recovered enough money to cover the damage and labor.” This money will be coming from the City of San Francisco who is committed to working with a community organization to restore the sanctuary. Unfortunately there is no community organization that is the official leaseholder. Erickson is working with Neighborhood Parks Council to discuss their willingness to hold the lease on this site (Erickson, 2004). Despite the City’s efforts to help this urban garden recover, Goggin pointed out that there are continuing problems with the pipe that was broken and there is no use in renovating until the City fixes the pipe (Goggin, 2004).
The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary filled a void in the Bayview District provided a place for leisure, education and community building. Erickson stated that over the years more than one hundred volunteers have worked to maintain the garden. The unique characteristics in this sanctuary have been decimated but will return when the City of San Francisco and the developer work together to return this urban garden to its former state of grace.
Urban gardens are scattered throughout the City of San Francisco but some neighborhoods have been left out of this greening. Land use planners must no longer discount these areas but work with city planners and the community to provide a natural environment for all city dwellers. These community havens are not just pieces of land; they provide much needed benefits to neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the effects of sprawl. They give residents a place to meet and develop their communities, educate themselves and others, have leisure and recreation time as well as gain access to nutrition that is severely lacking. Urban gardens counteract the social and environmental injustices in the cities due to the land use plan of sprawl. The case studies found that community members can truly make a difference in developing urban gardens. Urban gardening has been proven to be very adaptable. They can develop on brownfield sites, along industrial waterfronts and even in local schools. With all of these available design elements and benefits, urban gardens can no longer be denied as advantageous and necessary as a land use element for our cities.
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