Urban community gardens: An interdisciplinary exploration of public space – case study of “Záhrada POD PYRAMÍDOU“

Dominika Belanská, Boglárka Ivanegová

SUMMARY

Urban community gardens are extraordinary public spaces, which provide city dwellers with opportunities to transform the city environment according to their needs and wishes. The space of a garden is an attractive combination of natural and urban elements. Along with a satisfaction of the basic need to grow own food, gardens enrich the urban life with new opportunities for socializing and it helps to build awareness of the human ecological context. In the urban garden, diverse communities develop new forms of cohabitation in the city.

Urban gardens are diverse. As opposed to private gardens, they offer multiple functions – for example, the venue for cultural events, food festivals, seasonal farmers markets, excursions, educational activities and they can also offer an array of services (cafés, bistros, fruit stands, workshops, etc.). Thanks to this they attract people of different ages and interests.

Urban gardens are constantly evolving and growing due to the natural growth of vegetation, change of the seasons, but also because of the activities happening there as well as its visitors, gardens turn into constantly evolving and attractive public spaces.

Urban gardens attract life. They attract individuals, groups and the neighboring community to actively co-create urban spaces. They turn into “activators” of the neighborhoods and generate ideas and positive grassroots change.

An opportunity to grow own food in the city can contribute to the food security of the inhabitants and decrease their dependence on imported, often low quality, food products. Direct contact with one’s natural environment can decrease psychological stress. Acquiring new skills such as gardening, through joint work in a shared place, cultivates feelings of companionship and reward.

Urban gardens are unique meeting places which can help people gain new contacts, build new relationships and take part in mutual activities. They build strong horizontal social capital not only within, but also outside of the garden – the neighborhood in which they are located. They can also affect the interest and motivation of inhabitants in the co-creation of the city.

Community gardens enrich the scope of the use of public spaces and contribute to the better quality of urban life. They are usually bottom-up initiatives, directly addressing the needs of the civil society. Well-conceived municipal legislature can ease and stimulate such activities. On the other hand inadequate cooperation or the reluctance of authorities can hinder their creation – and thus spare the city of civic stimuli in the regeneration process of urban neighborhoods.

“Záhrada POD PYRAMÍDOU”, located on the roof-terrace of the Slovak Radio in Bratislava, is the first rooftop community garden in Slovakia. The ambition of its founding members, coming from the Jedlé mesto civic association and the Na streche initiative, is to enable the local community to rediscover the formerly locked off and nonfunctional rooftop landscape and to help to revive it and make it a diverse public  space. The project enables the co-creators of the garden to explore its complexity, to see it as an open system, where the physical space and social relationship add up to each other. The project bases its philosophy on the idea that if people have an opportunity to meet and share a space on an informal platform, they would communicate and seek out ways of common understanding, respect and cooperation to achieve their shared goals; be it smaller challenges like building wooden raised beds or grand challenges like changing the urban environment to a healthier, more comfortable and happier place.

Keywords: public space, participatory planning, town gardens, community gardens, food safety, town greenery, social and spatial inclusion, community development