Saturday, 23 June 2012

Are there any community garden horror stories? Last week, in a session I helped to organise at the Millenium Library in Norwich, Fran Ellington from the Grapes Hill Community Garden Group got me wondering if there are any negative issues at all with community gardens. Of course, there can be instances of grumpy disinterest or even, as Fran told me, someone who resolutely tries to create obstacles. And there can be thefts or vandalism, usually overcome. But hearing about what has been achieved in a project that stimulates social interaction, has inexpensive health benefits, is broadly intergenerational and intercultural, is not time-limited and never finished, and which improves the visual appeal of a neighbourhood, you really get the sense that success is more probable than in most other sorts of community initiative. This is not to minimise the enormous effort, energy and people-skills needed to achieve something like this. But, I’m curious, are there any horror stories about community garden initiatives? Meanwhile, the Social Life project asks, Should every development have a community garden? I wonder: supposing every development just left a neglected or ‘confused’ eyesore space, whose presence inspires or infuriates residents to do stuff themselves… That’s a sort-of ‘built-in-adversity’ principle of community development, and it isn’t always going to work. What counts, as was clear from Fran Ellington’s experience and that of so many others recently, is reducing the bureaucratic constraints and the negative culture in authorities that stops people from getting sufficient momentum when they have an idea.

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