Last spring, the world was divided between those who cooked and those who gardened. I was in the second category, as the happy owner of fifteen plants crammed into a small balcony. Statistically, almost 50 per cent of Romanians practice urban agriculture in their balcony – the favourite choice; 14 per cent use the plots around their block of flats; 8 per cent cultivate land on the outskirts of the city, while the remaining 28% use plots outside the urban perimeter.
One of the solutions to diminish the percentage of balcony gardening is to set up plots of land known as community or social gardens and give them to residents, tenants associations or non-profit organisations.
Although they have existed for more than 200 years, community gardens have changed their role over time. Originally created for economic reasons, they proved to be very useful during food crises, as in the two World Wars. Currently, they are a place to spend your free time, gardening being an activity closer to a hobby than subsistence farming.
Recent studies show that such gardens bring together people of all ages and occupations. Gardening may be their main activity, but it provides other opportunities as well – learning and education, community events or holidays. This common passion joins groups working together to create a place of contemplation and relaxation.
Each garden takes on a unique character given by the gardeners, the plot size, the environment and the way the garden is managed. No matter where or how local residents choose to get together, they are given the chance to meet and experience the connections among them while doing things together.
In recent years, a number of private initiatives have been launched to redesign public space through art, architecture and landscaping interventions. Among the most active are the civic initiative groups that bring together experts in the field, organisers of workshops dedicated to the inhabitants of an area, as well any interested people. For instance, under the project A Garden of People, initiated by the Civic Initiative Group Cișmigiu and managed by the Bucharest Community Foundation, green areas around blocks of flats were redesigned and turned into the Liric, Sion and Romfilatelia Gardens. In Timișoara, in the Ronaț area, the Timișoara Community Foundation designed Grădinescu Timișoara-GreenFeel, a place where people interested in gardening work and socialize together.
Unfortunately, urban green areas (parks, public gardens, squares) are becoming increasingly smaller, which has an immediate negative impact on the residents’ health. Rapid urban sprawl harms the environment and causes greenhouse gas emissions.
The benefits of working in social gardens are visible within the community and the environment. Social gardens help forging local identity, and the tenants are more involved in the common problems of their block of flats.
Community gardens are spaces for relaxation and socializing, where we learn to work and live together.