Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Community gardening, community capital, and civil society

Today at the Library of Congress, LaManda Joy, a community gardening leader in Chicago, founder of the Petersen Garden Project and author of Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook, newly published by Timber Press, is speaking on "How Community Gardens Can Save America."

11:30 am to 12:30 pm
Mumford Room
Madison Building

2.  Similarly, a couple months ago at the Casey Trees conference, Canopy Connections: Urban Forests for Public Good, Jessica Vogt, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sustainability Science, Furman University, presented her latest work, linking concepts of social, human, and economic capital to the value of public greening projects and initiatives.

The one issue that I have with this kind of work is that there are at least two levels of civil society, one is broad and the other is narrow, in that the benefits of the latter tend to be personally focused, even if you work with others.

That's my sense with a lot of the community garden movement.  It's about providing plots to people who don't normally have access to much space for growing food, but outside of the effort to create the garden and some energy in ongoing management, it's not a organizing effort leading to social structural change at the community level.

Chelsea Fringe map of activities from 2013.

3.  London's biggest flower-gardening exposition is the Chelsea Flower Show, going on now (May 19th to May 23rd).  It's a formal, place-specific set of installations sponsored by the Royal Horticulture Society.

In 2012, Tim Richardson, gardening columnist for the Telegraph, created the Chelsea Fringe, an alternative somewhat guerrilla event more civil society than formal ("The Chelsea Fringe: London's alternative flower festival," Telegraph), with events held all around London.

Four years later, venues are no longer limited to London, and a number of the events and programs are now offered across the country, such as an Italian-influenced garden in Bristol.

One of the participants in the Fringe's first year was "The Pothole Gardener" (image left from that blog) who goes around putting plantings in road potholes, usually adding figures and items so the planting simultaneously serves as an art installation.

4.  To me, Chelsea Fringe or focused capacity building and organizing efforts associated with various community garden efforts are more about building civil society than straight up creation of community gardens.

Also see the past blog entry "Main Street and getting schooled in politics, constituency building, and building support for your program," which in part discusses the book Neighbor Power, by the former director of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, where community gardening (P-Patches) is a key initiative of the department's programs.

Apparently the P-Patch program is more focused on demonstrating external benefits these days.  In part, the 2008 Parks and Green Space Levy called for more spaces, and the final report on levy-related programming stated these benefits resulted from the expansion of P-Patches:

28 new and expanded gardens (Required by Levy = 4)
814 new plots (Our goal = 300)
8.1 acres (Our goal = 2)

More than 33,000 Volunteer hours
4,400 Lbs. produce donated from Levy supported gardens in 2013
8.1 acres of new garden space
814 new plots
11 languages spoken community meetings
1570 cubic yards of compost hauled
113 Tons of re-used concrete rubble

5. has produced a webpage and infographic on Guerrilla Gardening.

I don't know if it counts but last weekend, suggested by Suzanne, I did a form of guerrilla gardening.

A house on our block is vacant (not sure these days what is up with the owner, who left a few years ago to take care of an ill relative--she is quite old herself).

The house is on an alley and the more a house looks vacant the greater the chance it becomes a target for illegal activity.

The grass got up pretty high, as much as two feet or more in some areas, so I went and cut the grass.

Other neighbors had done this in past years. While I was out there, another neighbor came by with his mower and joined in--reaching parts of the yard I couldn't reach very well with my electric cords.  And hopefully this example will motivate other residents to step up also.

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At 8:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, you've also got something like the Vermont Ave. gardens which are bit more social capital.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

what block? Is that that Common Garden or whatever it's called? If so, yes.

2. But my expectations were far exceeded by LaManda Joy. She's more like me. Research and system driven, but unlike me, she likes people a lot more, and she is more focused on the doing.

I definitely will track down the book and do a deeper dive into it.

My line about practitioners is that they generally aren't very good at generating meta and structured learning about what they do so that best practices can be learned and communicated to others.

She is definitely a big exception.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Gardening is the bedrock of middle class values.

One of my heros:

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Did not know of Pack, or his involvement. In her talk, LaManda Joy does trace community gardening back to WWI. Her family's involvement likely started then, continuing through WWII and beyond. And her interest was piqued seeing a photo of a neighborhood victory garden at the local butcher in Chicago. Apparently Chicago was the most successful city in terms of victory gardening by volume.

... more stuff to learn.

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally I'd categorize what you did as being a good neighbor as opposed to guerilla gardening. My understanding of guerilla gardening is an attempt (on a somewhat ongoing basis but which is often however brief and fleeting) to beautify a public space by plantings and maintenance.



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