Seeds Under Our Streets: Why Community Gardens Are Worth Protecting

The term public space has only been around for a few decades, but the concept has been with us for much longer. In many ways the definition of public space has come out of struggles to protect it—a sort of “don’t know what you have until it’s threatened” kind of thing. Historically, public spaces were conceptualized as large tracts of land to be used by everyone – known as the Commons – because they belonged to no single person, they belonged to the community. This is the situation we see with green spaces, community gardens, Community Technology Centers (CTCs), and maker spaces. In larger cities, these spaces are becoming increasingly threatened by so-called development, and in Athens the “Atlantafication” of downtown shows this to be something to watch out for.

Public spaces aren’t just physical places to go, but locales for self-actualization, civic engagement, and democracy. Community gardens are not only spaces for the growing, sharing, and purchasing of food, but are places to learn new skills, meet friends, interact with others, and build community. Without public spaces we do not have a chance at enacting democracy, self-actualization, and community. As we move further into the digital age, a strong sense of community becomes ever more important in individual, group, and community well-being. If we lose our community gardens, we lose our opportunities to experience and build more healthy and just communities—better lives for everyone.

athens, ga

Not only do community gardens have utility as project-based forms of community organization, but they have numerous benefits at individual and community levels. Numerous studies show that community gardens and similar project-based spaces, revitalize distressed neighborhoods, empower participants through gardening and community building, and foster conservation ethics and respect for the environment and place. Community gardens have also shown to foster coalition formation, healthier eating, preserve culture, and increase levels of community engagement. These ingredients are all the basis for fighting community disempowerment, and poverty. We have seeds beneath our streets. Seeds of opportunity for community cohesion, empowerment, engagement, and health. We must protect our public spaces in the face of development, even if unpopular or stressful. Community gardens are worth saving, let’s plant more seeds and grow.

Joel Izlar
May 31st, 2016


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