New Internationalist

Gardening in the margins

Issue 448

Derelict inner-city sites are being transformed by green-fingered volunteers, writes Anna Weston.

Photo by tedeytan under a CC Licence
Bringing urban gardeners together in Washington DC. Photo by tedeytan under a CC Licence

Community gardens grow from a need for such shared spaces, brought into being by a group of people working together for the free enjoyment of all. While allotment gardens are formed by dividing up land for individuals to use in return for a fee, a community garden includes shared areas as well as small plots available for individual users to garden rent-free.

The land used is often reclaimed from derelict sites in the centre of the community. A group of volunteers come together to clear the site, committed to providing a green environment in what are often inner-city areas. From the Culpepper and Phoenix Gardens in London to the Clinton Gardens in Hells Kitchen, New York, what used to be rubbish dumps, car parks and bomb sites are now thriving gardens producing flowers, vegetables and fruit, and providing urban homes for wildlife. The gardens are run by management committees formed by local people, usually working on a voluntary basis, and the emphasis is on co-operation and the sharing of labour, experience and responsibility, as well as the produce.

A community garden not only enables people to reconnect with how food is produced, it also brings urban gardeners together and provides a safe place for people to meet. It is a valuable educational resource, often encouraging links with local schools and community groups and encouraging all age groups to learn about growing and eating their own fresh food.

Unfortunately, the future of individual gardens can be precarious, with management committees often paying for short or temporary leases on what was previously derelict land. As such, they are easy targets for developers and many community garden committees have had to run publicity and fund-raising campaigns to stay open.

Such initiatives do much to provide city communities with precious green spaces: they are a perfect example of people taking positive action to directly improve their environment.

The Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens –
Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network –
Community Gardening in the US and Canada –

Anna Weston is office manager at New Internationalist's Oxford office, and our gardening guru.

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