Community Garden Research Paper

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Community gardens have long been a part of New York City’s alternative spaces.

Researchers at the Earth Institute recently published a paper that investigates the environmental and social dimensions of community gardens in East Harlem.

The study was conducted by Nada Petrovic, Troy Simpson, and Ben Orlove, all from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, and Brian Dowd-Uribe of the University of San Francisco.

While they learned that growing food is one of the primary motivations, most gardeners grow only enough food for a few meals a week.[This study] was an opportunity to understand how people relate to the built environment and how it’s changing all the time.” A brief history of community gardens in NYC Most of the nearly 500 community gardens in NYC were started during the financial crisis of the 1970s.In vacant lots and the footprints of buildings destroyed by arson, communities took care of these ravaged spaces and made them their own.Simpson recalls “riding bikes around East Harlem and getting to know the gardeners and getting a sense of the whole neighborhood.” The inventories took time— about 1.5 hours each—and sometimes required multiple visits, so the researchers got to know the gardens and communities well.To collect social data for the study, the team interviewed gardeners in 16 of the gardens, with up to four gardeners interviewed per interview garden.Through immense effort, community-based advocacy, and political action, over half of the threatened gardens were successfully protected in various ways.The Green Thumb program now manages 400 of these gardens under the Parks Department, according to a 2009-10 survey conducted by Grow NYC.The findings In the paper, the team writes that “It is immediately clear from the interview data that the gardens are deeply significant spaces to their members.” The vast majority of gardeners agreed with statements such as, “I am satisfied with the garden,” and “The garden means a lot to me.” Gardeners also indicated that their gardens increase their pride in the neighborhood and make them less likely to move away.However, almost half of the gardeners reported feeling insecure about the future of their gardens; the researchers noted that this perspective was especially noticeable among members of gardens managed by HPD that could be developed by the city at some point.The study The researchers investigated the “basic characteristics” of 35 gardens in East Harlem, and the extent to which these characteristics correlated with the gardeners’ feelings about the gardens, particularly their attachment to them.During the summer of 2012, the researchers visited each of the 35 gardens, mapping them and inventorying things like trees, open space, garden beds, seating options, and structures like casitas or gazebos.

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