If there’s one word that captures the potential of urban gardening, it’s transformative. Even if I didn’t love gardening, I would be compelled to write about urban gardening and urban agriculture just because I find so alluring this transformative potential.
I’m not pulling this adjective out of thin air–there’s a ton of research backing up my claim. Here are the highlights:
According to the Royal Horticulture Society’s report (PDF) on urban gardening, gardens make cities more sustainable and increase city dwellers’ quality of life because
- plants and trees in an urban environment cool the air and temper urban heat waves.
- strategically placed vegetation around homes can decrease residents’ energy consumption by serving as a wind break for cold air, and by serving as a form of insulation.
- gardens can prevent flooding in cities by slowing runoff, which would otherwise speed toward urban drains.
- gardening requires regular exercise, which can reduce stress and contribute to both physical and psychological well-being.
- even urban gardens attract and support an impressive range of wildlife. Says the report, “Some animal species are now more common in cities, and particularly domestic gardens, than in rural areas.”
These aren’t the only benefits of urban gardening, however. Members of the Community Food Security Coalition’s North American Initiative on Urban Agriculture published a paper (PDF) on the health benefits of urban gardening. Among them are
- People who grow food consume it, and the food grown in home gardens tends to be closer to the organic end of the food production spectrum than food grown on large commercial farms.
- Urban agriculture and gardening promote the development of safe, healthy, green neighborhoods, sometimes transforming residential yards, school campuses, and abandoned areas into informal neighborhood meeting spaces.
Sprouts in the Sidewalk offers another list of benefits. Socially, Sprouts points out, urban gardening strengthens communities; connects individuals with food production and empowers them to take responsibility for their food’s security; greens the city; teaches self-sufficiency; creates jobs, income, and food; combats hunger in communities; and instills respect for safe, green food production. Environmentally, gardens clean the urban air and water, slows erosion, decreases a community’s garden footprint because food need not be trucked in, encourages composting, and directly impacts urban ecological health. Gardening, Sprouts emphasizes, also has economic benefits: It creates jobs and income from spaces that may previously have been abandoned or otherwise unproductive, helps people regardless of socioeconomic class, creates a vibrant local food economy, and allows people to pool resources (particularly those, such as compost, that would otherwise go to waste in an urban environment).
Gardening’s impact on urban communities can’t be overestimated. Gardening brings people out into their yards–and increasingly their front and side yards, where they may be visible to their neighbors. In some cases, these connections spark small businesses, as entrepreneurial neighbors collaborate to create community-supported agriculture subscriptions.
What about you? What draws you to urban gardening or urban agriculture? How has gardening changed your yard, your immediate neighborhood, or your larger community?