Community gardening is collectively-operated use of outdoor public or private spaces to cultivate gardens. The goal is to turn a previously disused lot, through community gardening, into a land with environmental, social and health benefits.
Community driven gardening is connected to a wider societal issue such as alternative use of land, self-sufficiency and community building and development. It becomes the local source for food, brings community together, educates people and adds green spaces to cities. Moreover, through common activities, community gardening addresses the issues of biodiversity, healthy food, food sovereignty, recycling, environmental justice and climate change. From a socio-political point of view, these gardens bring new life to a public space and facilitate social exchange. From an ecological point of view, they help prevent soil erosion, help filter air and rain water, and mitigate the urban heat island effect. In addition, the cultivation of food contributes to the preservation of variety and biodiversity. The micro-politics of these gardens are quite diversified, from DIY landscaping, over counter-neoliberal development and the right to the city, to community empowerment. Even though sometimes it can be seen as a small-scale beautification intervention of the neighbourhood, it is actually a socio-political gesture that addresses and affects social and spatial injustice, marginalisation and deprivation.
Prinzessinnnengarten (eng. Princess Garden) is a community garden in Berlin Kreuzberg district, that has been a centre of life for the surrounding community since 2009. It was created on an abandoned plot which was unused for 60 years. The garden started as a temporary project with an aim to explore the potential of urban abandoned and vacant lots to provide social and educational value in addition to their potential as green spaces. It was not only about turning the wasteland into something thriving but to make an impact in a district known for its social diversity, alternative culture, history of squats as well as an ongoing process of gentrification. It was activated by non-profit organisation Nomadic Grün with the support of local residents and activists, which altogether turned a wasteland into a social-urban-agricultural venture. The first call for volunteers to clear the place from rubbish gathered around 150 people. Hundreds of engaged neighbours worked together to transform a 6,000 square meter vacant lot in the centre of the city into a mobile garden - everything was in containers and can be moved if necessary. The idea of a mobile community garden has a lot of potential as it offers room for changes and keeps the garden sustained in changing weather conditions. Through community urban gardening, the place became a platform for people to meet, plant vegetables and relax. The important thing is to be dedicated to the cultivation of vegetables, since the outcome of this process is the direct use and consumption of a product that was not purchased but that is the result of a collective activity. It is free to enter and cultivate a great variety of vegetables. In the same way the vegetables are grown here, they can be taken away without paying anything. According to the founders, everyone is enjoying folding sacks for potato plants, pushing wheelbarrows and giving tiny seedlings a new home in earth-filled basket-patches. Most of the garden's variety of goods are cultivated from pots cut out of empty milk cartons and rice bags. Locals who take care of the garden learn from the simplicity of taking basic or repurposed materials and turning them into functional green spaces. The goal is mutual learning and collective experience. Sowing, planting and harvesting are just as important here as seed production, processing and preserving vegetables, keeping bees and the construction of a worm compost system, together with the development of new methods of DIY cultivation, all of course in organic quality. Through time it became a meeting place where neighbours and interested people can participate in a variety of activities. The garden has developed into a multifunctional place running a café and a restaurant on site (where they cook organic and vegetarian food for up to 300 people a day) and hosting various kinds of social and educational activities including workshops on organic gardening, composting, seeds diversity preservation, beekeeping, cooking, bicycle repair for re-cycling and re-use practices, as well as public talks and screenings, artistic interventions, festivals and food events. Together with the association Common Grounds, the artist Asa Sonjasdotterand and the foundation Anstiftung, they founded the Neighbourhood Academy in 2015 – and open platform for knowledge sharing, cultural practice, community work, political education and activism. The main aim of this academy was the self-organized and non-institutional learning about the commons, socio-ecological transformation from the bottom-up and the right to the city. People, organizations and projects from different neighbourhoods come together to work cooperatively on shared issues and develop simple action guidelines accessible and usable for the public. Its methods are as diverse as the people who they wish to connect: they range from community cooking, public talks and film screenings to workshops, artistic interventions and expert contributions. Moreover, through this format they managed to develop a wide network with other local initiatives and organizations, through which they became active in struggles against rising rents, the privatization of public property and the industrialization of agriculture. This later led to a collectively written manifesto “The City is our Garden'', which more than 120 initiatives in Germany have signed. The manifesto advocates: “a city worth living in and an urbanity that is future-oriented. A public space without access limitation or the obligation to consume is very important for a democratic and plural urban society.” Prinzessinnnengarten with all its associated activities is maintained and sustained by a non-profit organization. Since they never received any financial support from the city of Berlin, they are engaged in commercial activities, and profit generated through it goes towards the non-commercial goals of the organization - the garden’s rent, the infrastructure and maintenance costs, the activities in the garden and the wages of 10 permanent employees and 30 temporary employees during the growing season. The garden successfully created a place where food, culture, education and politics intersect. Furthermore, they brought and engaged people into conversations about land use, ownership, food and commons. By starting with gardening, it managed to address contemporary issues and future economic, social and ecological challenges.
The initiative to turn the vacant lot to a community garden started in late 2008. It took sex months to draft the concept to combine temporary use of vacant lots, a mobile garden, social and educational activities, without having a specific location in mind. After searching for several months and negotiating with different landowners they ended up with the site at Moritzplatz, which was owned by the City of Berlin at that time. To gain access to the site, the contract was signed with the real estate fund, Liegenschaftsfonds, a city-owned company. The Liegenschaftsfonds’s primary goal is to privatize public land, as a part of the predominant and world-wide neoliberal strategy. Although the garden became successful, drawing media attention, an estimated 70,000 visitors and more than 1,000 volunteers per year (far beyond the immediate neighbourhood) in the summer of 2012, the Berlin Senate decided to sell the land where it is located. The city of Berlin decided to sell the plot to the highest bidder, causing a bid stir not only in the neighbourhood. Nomadic Grün organization wrote a petition “Let it grow!” which was circulated on the Internet and was signed by over 30,000 people in the first weeks. It was a call attention to the ongoing privatization of what used to be "the commons" of Berlin - publicly accessible land that for decades has offered free space for cultural, social or ecological uses without the goal of monetary profit. Through this massive support they managed to achieve an agreement with the city government and gained additional years to think about the future of Prinzessinnengarten. This garden has been an inspiring model for different spaces in Germany. Through the series of collaborations with kindergartens, schools, youth and cultural centres and universities, more than 60 similar gardens across Berlin, and in other German cities, were created.
Marco Clausen, 2015, Urban Agriculture between Pioneer Use and UrbanLand Grabbing: The Case of “Prinzessinnengarten”Berlin. Available at: https://prinzessinnengarten.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Prinzessinnengarten-Berlin-between-Pioneer-Use-and-Land-Grabbing-1.pdfMarco Clausen interviewed by Kito Nedo (September, 2012): https://prinzessinnengarten.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/tomorrowsCities2.pdf The City is our Garden manifest is available here: http://urbangardeningmanifest.de
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