Panel Paper: Seattle's Community Gardens: Examining the Efficacy of Cross-Sector Cultivation

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 4:10 PM
Calhoun (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Diane Yoder, University of Southern California

Since the 1890s, community gardens have provided an antidote to industrialization, urban blight, and environmental hazards. Cities looked to improve the environment, increase patriotism, promote social relations among diverse populations, and provide resource-generating and educational opportunities for local citizens and immigrants through Vacant-lot Cultivation Associations, the School Garden Movement, Work Relief Gardens, Victory Gardens, and Green Cities initiatives. Today, community gardens are also seen as solutions to food shortages, community food insecurity, and rising agribusiness and transportation costs.

Research shows that in addition to providing food, community gardens can increase social capital, create physical and mental health benefits for participants, increase values of neighboring properties, promote social cohesion among heterogeneous populations, and provide education for urban youth. The success of community gardens is critical in the age of scarce public resources, but creating and sustaining community gardens involves a complex relationship between city governments, nonprofit organizations, and citizens. Local governments contribute political and financial support in the form of property rights, usage agreements, and development funds. Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations contribute financial and managerial support in the form of ownership/lease agreements, donation of equipment and materials, and rules. Finally, without citizens to tend the gardens, they would wither. The long-term viability of gardens depends upon an intersectoral and collaborative approach.

In this study, I examine the collaborative governance regimes and policies that undergird community gardens in Seattle, WA. I move beyond economic determinism to examine public-private partnerships, political processes, and citizen participation as factors that have helped sustain Seattle’s 68 community gardens in the face of financial constraints. Seattle represents an interesting case study because of the important nexus of the city’s P-Patch program, the 501(c)(3) P-Patch Trust, and individual citizens like members of the Marra Family, all of which have contributed to the longevity of the gardens in a time when their survival seems counterintuitive. Using GIS analysis, I examine the spatial location, ownership, and demographic context of each garden. I then employ case-study and historical analysis to understand the evolution of the gardens in a city where ground rents have been traditionally high and land-use and zoning ordinances have given priority to industrial, residential, and recreation/athletic uses. The results of this analysis will be of interest to cities that are dealing with contested space, nonprofit organizations hoping to improve their collaborations with local governments, and citizens looking to contribute to community political processes.