I recently stumbled across a fantastic plot of community gardens only blocks away from our Old Town Alexandria campus, near the Potomac river along a greenway adjoining the George Washington Bridge. Given it was late November, I was blown away by the green and well-maintained condition of this dense collection of gardens (see images right). Upon asking a busy gardener as to details about the garden, she informed me that the sites were part of a system run by the Department of the Interior that allowed locals to essentially rent out spaces for a minimal fee that covered water supplied. She estimated that 60 different “families” had and maintained spaces within the area (that couldn’t be more than a couple of acres – see aerial image right) and that many more people were on a waiting list. This example was different to what might be applicable to shrinking cities for several reasons, including the demographic difference of being a highly affluent area primarily made up of townhouses, but such a template is adaptable to almost any urban community (including Cleveland) to accomplish a multitude of benefits.

Community gardens’ benefits to the health and well being of local neighborhoods, as well as to the natural environment, are diverse and are well outlined in Lindsay’s two posts about Flint. This example brought a couple of additional benefits into light that would be pertinent to a shrinking city, well planned community gardens are able to:

  1. Create a way to use public green space that is self-maintained, taking away the concern of community development groups of who will maintain, or pay to maintain, public parks.
  2. A sought-after community garden like the one in Old Town Alexandria offers a goal for the education-focused gardens in places like Slavic Village in Cleveland to aspire to. Once community members have the skills and drive to garden for themselves, local benefits amplify.
  3. A great way to protect property vulnerable to flooding. This is a great justification of gardens in the floodplain where often the soil is better, slopes are more flat and alternative uses are limited.

Strategic placement of these gardens is essential to ensure they serve areas with the most need and potential demand. I think that Lindsay’s suggestion of orchards is a great expansion that could easily be incorporated into such a template. It is also critical to choose areas that serve multiple benefits, more specifically the environmental benefit of protecting the flood plain. This benefit (#3 above) ties into the greater goals of  Reimagining Cleveland and addresses greater regional goals that extend to addressing climate change that I will touch on in later posts. This is yet another example of how creative use of vacant or underutilized property in shrinking cities can serve as a template for cities more universally and vice versa.

I have not yet been able to link to expand on the details of these projects by the Dept of Interior, but will be sure to share it if I do. A very similar local example to check out is Baltimore’s “City Farms” program, began in 1978 that now offers 640 plots for urban gardeners.