Growing food in urban gardens and allotments has a long history. In the Netherlands, allotment gardens are a marginal but natural part of the city’s infrastructure. Other European countries have their own history in urban gardening too, such as many Eastern European countries. Also in the US, urban gardening is a long standing practice.
However, in the Netherlands as well as in the US, urban gardening is moving from the fringe into the heart of a debate about health and sustainability. The manifestations look similar. For example, the Alemany Farm in San Francisco which started on a vacant lot (see story) or the Red Hook urban farm (see earlier blog). Also in Rotterdam, Proefpark de Punt started on a vacant lot and also this initiative met skeptics of urban planners and city leaders until it had proven itself.
Reading the articles and websites of initiatives related to Urban Agriculture in the US and its counterpart ‘Stadslandbouw’ in the Netherlands, there seems a striking difference too. In the US, the food production aspect of the gardening is taken far more serious as an option for providing people a significant portion of their daily food. Growing food in urban gardens is about access to fresh food. Not in the last place for those who do not have easy and affordable access.
In the Netherlands, this notion is not absent of course. But the language around the initiatives starts from a broader notion of the need for ‘green space’ for the health of the urban citizen. A green environment, education about nature and food, recreation possibilities in accessible green spaces, the improvement of mental health and social cohesion by means of gardening. These notions can also be found in the initial objective for setting up Proefpark de Punt:
‘Landleven in de Stad’, een natuurlijke speel- en recreatiemogelijkheid voor de buurt te creëren.
A trend watcher on the website of Proefpark de Punt talked about ‘squatting green space’ which is what many initiatives in the US and the Netherlands essentially do. However, the local context differs considerably which means that the connections to health and sustainability are interpreted quite differently. A call for comparative studies I guess.