The community garden movement, born in the 1970s, has gained momentum throughout the past decade. According to the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, there are at least 650 community gardens under park agency jurisdiction alone in major U.S. cites. Jeffrey Hou, Julie Johnson, and Laura Lawson provided insight on the movement during a presentation this Wednesday sponsored by the Landscape Architecture Foundation.
They detailed the findings from their new book Greening Cities, Growing Communities, which profiles six community gardens in the Seattle Area, describing the benefits they provide and ideas for their improvement. Among those were three gardens from the P-Patch program, a partnership between the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, which provides land and staff support, and the P-Patch Trust, a non-profit which provides funding for gardening efforts.
Lawson began the presentation by noting that community gardens are often designed for temporary use – founded in vacant lots and other unclaimed places. Despite their cherished status, they are at risk of eventually losing out to development. According to Hou, community gardens are “still at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to urban land use.”
Hou listed a host of benefits that community gardens provide. Among these were:
- Improved health and well being: Gardens foster active living for people of all ages. Caring for plants also improves mental well-being and outlook, while the gardens yield low-cost, healthy produce for their communities.
- Ecological sustainability: Gardens preserve scarce urban open space. Additionally, gardeners are often at the forefront of sustainable landscaping. All of Seattle’s “P-Patch” gardens are organic, and many sites have implemented resource-conserving measures like rainwater harvesting.
- Cultural sustainability: For many of Seattle’s immigrants, gardening is an opportunity to connect with their agrarian heritage. Additionally, gardeners can grow vegetables specific to their cultural cuisines.
- Place-making value: Good community gardens anchor neighborhoods. They provide aesthetic benefits to all residents, and many include tables, benches, and chairs for all to enjoy. The process of collectively managing a garden increases community capacity.
In the final chapters of Greening Cities, Growing Communities, the authors share their recommendations for strengthening gardens, from enlisting design professionals to designating city funding and encouraging networking between garden groups. With praise for the present value of community gardens, they chart a feasible course for their long-term improvement. As one of the garden managers observes in the book, “The garden is never done. It’s a work in progress.”