Urban gardens-pockets of social-ecological memory

Author(s): Barthel, S. Parker, J. Folke, C and Colding J.
In: Tidball, KG and ME Krasny (eds.) Greening in the red zone: Disaster, resilience, and urgent biophilia
Year: 2013
Type: Book chapter
Theme affiliation: Urban
Link to centre authors: Barthel, Stephan, Colding, Johan, Folke, Carl
Full reference: Barthel, S. Parker, J. Folke, C and Colding J. 2013. Urban Gardens-Pockets of Social-Ecological Memory. In Tidball, KG and ME Krasny (eds.) Greening in the red zone: Disaster, resilience, and urgent biophilia, Springer, ISBN 978-90-481-9946-4


It is well known that urban allotment gardens provide important ecosystem services. Their potential to act as sources of local resilience during times of crisis is less appreciated, despite the role they have played as areas of food security during times of crisis in history.

Their ability to provide such relief, however, requires that the skills and knowledge needed for effective gardening can be transmitted over time and across social groups. In short, some portion of urban society must remember how to grow food.

This chapter proposes that collectively managed gardens function as ‘pockets’ of social-ecological memory in urban landscapes by storing the knowledge and experience required to grow food. Allotment gardeners operate as ‘communities of practice’ with ecosystem stewardship reflecting long-term, dynamic interactions between community members and gardening sites. Social-ecological memories about food production and past crises are retained and transmitted through habits, traditions, informal institutions, artifacts and the physical structure of the gardens themselves. Allotment gardens thus serve as incubators of social-ecological knowledge with experiences that can be accessed and transferred to other land uses in times of crisis, contributing to urban resilience.

Conversely, failure to protect these pockets of social-ecological memory could result in a collective ‘forgetting’ of important social-ecological knowledge and reduce social-ecological resilience.


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