Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


A Deeper Ecology: Community Gardens in the Urban Environment

By: Erin A. Williamson

An Analytical Paper Submitted to the College of Human Resources, Education, and Public Policy in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Masters of Arts in Urban Affairs and Public Policy of the University of Delaware

This page includes the Table of Contents, Introduction and Conclusion from the paper. The complete thesis (22,000 words) can be downloaded here (300K) A Deeper Ecology: Community Gardens in the Urban Environment

Table of Contents


1.0 Introduction

2.0 History and Meaning of Urban Gardens
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Potato Patches
2.3 School Gardens
2.4 Garden City Plots
2.5 Liberty Gardens
2.6 Relief Gardens
2.7 Victory Gardens
2.8 Community Gardens
2.9 Conclusion

3.0 The Need for Urban Community Gardens Today
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Today's Dualism
3.3 Urban Disconnection
3.4 Our Food System
3.5 Conclusion

4.0 Benefits of Today's Urban Community Gardens
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Benefits to the Physical Environment
4.2.1 Direct Benefits
4.2.2 Indirect Benefits
4.3 Benefits to the Social Environment
4.3.1 Public Health
4.3.2 Cultural Connection
4.3.3 Human Interaction
4.3.4 Non-Human Interaction
4.4 Conclusion

5.0 Planning and Regulating Urban Community Gardens
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The Planner
5.3 Particular Policies
5.4 Holistic and Collaborative Planning
5.5 Garden Regulations
5.6 Conclusion

6.0 Deep Ecology: A Basis for Action
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Values and Beliefs
6.3 Lifestyle and Action
6.4 Community Gardens and Deep Ecology
6.5 Conclusion

7.0 Conclusion


1.0: Introduction

The urban environment is a complex one that contains social, built and what might be referred to as more natural elements. The United States Census has roughly defined an urban area as a dense settlement with a population size of at least 50,000 people (U.S. Census Bureau). The existence of these cities act as a sign of human's power to change their surroundings, or environments with resultant a changes within physical and social environments. I mention these two facets of the environment, the social and the physical, not to make them distinct and separate from each other, but to draw attention to the fact that the term environment includes humans, our surroundings, and all the interactions that occur there. It is because of this power to alter environments humans have a decreasing sense of connection and dependence from the natural world. By the year 2025 it is expected that 80% of the United States population will live in urban areas (Parlange 1998: 581). This causes concerns not only for the quality of life for humans, but for all biological systems and the natural environment. The urban environment is an ecosystem and needs to be treated as such. Although it may be difficult, it is possible to view today's cities as an interdependent web of relations. As in any environment, diversity is required in the our modern day industrialized cities.

Community gardens, along with offering many other benefits, add to the diversity to the urban world and contribute to a deeper sense of place and connection with the world and all it holds. This community need not be only residents of a section of town or particular street, for such shared space alone does not guarantee the existence of a living breathing community. Real community requires hard work, realized interdependence, cooperation and so much more than sharing the same town name or a similar address. A particular company, a church group, a band of close friends, or even regulars at a restaurant or bar can all be considered communities. Tuan believes that "in modern times, more and more people, freed from the grip of nature and of the economic necessities, have the leisure to explore the world, both external and internal" (Tuan in Wong 1992: 52). Many are no longer naturally or directly dependent upon certain individuals for particular services, and might not even be tied down to particular places in ways we once were. No longer is a community strictly joined together for purposes of protection and commerce. It is the community garden in our present day industrialized world which just might strengthen particular community bonds, and even extend them further to others. J.B. Jackson writes that "it is precisely now, when urban existence makes it all but impossible for most of us to relish the quality of space, when any contact with a garden in particular is out of the question, that the search for the archetype, a rediscovery and confirmation of its existence becomes so urgent" (Jackson 1980: 20). Written in 1980, Jackson's point regarding the urban existence and environment is still is worth repeating, although contact with gardens in urban areas, as will be discussed in this paper, is far from being "out of the question."

Throughout history, community-based urban gardens have served purposes reaching far beyond food production alone. Along with providing a source of food, a deeper understanding of and dependence on natural systems result. Gardens in the urban environment contribute to increasing diversity of land use, activities, cultural traditions, and bio-diversity. While facing policy and planning challenges, community groups or individuals supporting and developing community gardens within the urban environment have much to consider regarding garden policies and regulations. A philosophy, providing greater meaning and guidance, is a necessary foundation for behaviors and actions aiming to reach a goal or striving toward a greater good. Deep ecology does just this for the urban community garden movement. A philosophy stressing equity, diversity, and an ecocentric world view, deep ecology highlights the importance of broadening our base of interaction. Community gardens increase exposure to and interactions with the non-human and un-built environment as well as with a variety of cultures besides our own. This exposure might very well reduce our anthropocentric, human-centered, view of the world that may, in turn, might result in behavior positively impacting environmental and public health.

This paper begins with a discussion of the history and meaning of community- based urban gardens in the United States. The review considers how urban gardens have served as a way to meet particular needs in our society as well as how the garden movement has had to adapt the changing uses in order to be successful. A brief discussion of community gardens today concludes this section. Analysis of gardens in the urban environment follows in which it is argued that urban community gardens serve to redress urban problems of dualism and disconnection. In this discussion, the benefits of today's urban community gardens are outlined. These benefits address the social and physical environment in urban areas. There is much to consider when planning, organizing, and operating a community garden. Issues related to community and professional planning, certain policies and possible garden regulations are reviewed in section five. Lastly, a philosophy offering a paradigm supporting the success of community gardens today is introduced, discussed and applied to the gardens themselves.

7.0 Conclusion

We learn through experience and from the past. Reviewing the evolving need for and meaning of community-based urban gardens provides for us a chance to more deeply understand the way these gardens have been perceived, why they might have been perceived that way, and what they have had to offer. It also gives us a chance to see what their existence was based on. For example, at times, the gardens' existence was for patriotic purposes and other times, for economic and human welfare reasons. Urban gardens have helped combat unemployment, food shortages, urban decay and have also served as classrooms. With industrial and technological advances, our world seems to be shrinking. In this complex world of today there is still a strong need for gardens in our urban environment, if not stronger than before. Our problems partly stem from our dualistic nature and are complicated by feelings of alienation and disconnection. Such feelings are intertwined with how we see the world, how we define nature and environment and culture, and how we fit ourselves into those pictures and definitions. Specifically, these problems include inequalities within the food system, high energy consumption, abandoned city lots, lack of diversity, and separation and placelessness within what could be communities. These problems are interconnected and if attention is only given to one, more problems might result.

Urban community gardens allow us to address these problems together, but seemingly with a larger goal in mind. The benefits of today's community gardens then pertain to social and physical aspects of the environment. These benefits include aesthetic improvements, increased soil health, a reduction in transportation costs, public health, cultural connections, and interactions with humans, other life forms and biological processes. But, as we have learned from the past, community gardens do not simply appear without hard work and organization. Gardens are rarely planned for in development processes and usually result from community organization or group interest and leadership. When planning for community gardens there are many factors to consider in order to insure its initial success and even more for its ongoing operational functioning and long-term success. Environmental factors, such as light and soil type, need to be included in plans. Safety and theft concerns should also be addressed. Once operational, regulations need to be agreed upon by participating gardeners. These include, but are not limited to, the hours of operation, dues, and allowed gardening techniques.

Lastly, and most fundamentally, as seen in the historical analysis of urban gardens, the success or failure of such gardens is based on interest and perception. No matter how well something is planned for, its perception by onlookers and those involved will have the final say. Deep ecology is a philosophy that focuses on how we perceive and behave in the world. Its values are consistent with the change the community gardens bring about in the today's urban environment. With deep ecology as an ideological foundation for urban community gardens, more focused plans can be developed and result in more successful outcomes. As deep ecology addresses class issues, environmental degradation, complexity, local autonomy and diversity, it is concerned with not only physical aspects of environments but social ones as well. Community gardens address these concerns. They allow humans within the urban environment to feel a greater sense of connection with other life forms see that it all have value - a point deep ecologists would be most happy to see.

As humans, we oftentimes separate ourselves from the rest of the natural world. I offer the following perspective. The main differences between an ant hill and a building seem to be size and form of construction. I was sitting on my porch yesterday, listening and watching the birds. Suddenly, the space between the apartment buildings looked like a canyon and the birds were seeming to treat all the nooks as natural features having been shaped by years of flowing water. We are part of it all and in ignoring that fact, we sell ourselves short. But also, in ignoring that fact, we create problems. We need to create livable and sustainable communities for our fellow humans to call home. As social creatures, we need others to share time, stories, and experiences with. As animals, we need bio-diversity to live. As more and more of our population is living and working in densely populated urban areas, it is important to keep these factors in mind. We need an outlook and perspective that will allow for humans to develop and grow in a sustainable fashion within our world and its communities. If we make too large an impact, we negatively harm other aspects of our environment, including ourselves. Community gardens are sustainable for all aspects of our environment. Consistent with and called for by the deep ecological perspective, community-based urban gardens increase overall diversity and address economic, social and environmental concerns in a holistic and uniting fashion. Community gardens offer a deeper ecology within today's urban environment.

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Revised Monday, September 30, 2002

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture