The community gardening movement in urban areas across the United States has been rapidly expanding and changing since its beginnings over 30 years ago. Municipal and not-for-profit community gardening support programs like New York City’s GreenThumb, started in the late 1970s at a time when American urban areas were largely financially bankrupt. In reaction, residents created community gardens on derelict land that had been abandoned by the government and private owners responsible for its maintenance. GreenThumb and other community gardening programs were created and funded by local [nfr1] governments to support and to regulate the growing community garden movement. Today these programs continue to provide funding, material, and technical support to gardeners nationwide. They have continued in spite of threats to the community garden movement occasioned by the real estate boom in the 1990s in New York and other cities, and in contrast to the perception in some gentrifying cities and neighborhoods that community gardening is an outdated solution that is no longer relevant. Numerous recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of community gardening and the gardeners themselves have continued to display conviction in their largely voluntary efforts. Favorable municipal attitudes towards community gardening programs in recent years are reflected in zoning and other government ordinances intended to support community gardening, now often defined as “urban agriculture”.
In this paper we will discuss why the land use form “community garden” performs a specific function in the urban space and is thus to be treated differently from other urban agriculture projects. The analysis is based on a practitioners’ analysis and conducted via the example of the development of community gardens and urban agriculture in New York City with a focus on publicly owned urban open space use.