Community gardens involve residents in sharing in the creation, maintenance and rewards of gardening. They provide food, recreation and therapeutic opportunities for a community. They can also promote environmental awareness and provide community education.
Where they exist, community gardens form an important part of a city’s public open space network.
For those who do not have the private space or the time, public spaces such as parks and reserves serve as places to recreate, look at pleasing vistas, learn about plants and to re-connect with the environment. Many of Auckland’s public spaces were also once productive orchards and gardens. For example, pre-European Maori cultivated the slopes of Auckland’s volcanic cones and the Auckland Domain provided fresh vegetables to early European settlers.
Many cities in the developing world still source much of their food from within their urban boundaries. Meanwhile cities in the developed world – in North America, Europe and Australia for example – are setting aside areas of public space for groups of like-minded residents to create gardens and share the maintenance and rewards. These community gardens were initially established 25 to 30 years ago and have increased in popularity as cities have intensified and private open space has reduced. Today, there are approximately 10,000 community gardens in the United States cities alone. At least 15 such community gardens are known to exist in New Zealand.
Why establish community gardens?
Flowers grow in flower gardens… vegetables grow in vegetable gardens… and people grow in community gardens.
Overseas experience shows there are many reasons that members of a community come together and create a garden. Some reasons can be loosely described as ecological, others as social or community development.
In cities overseas, community gardens are valued as open spaces and places for socializing and relaxing. Public amenities such as benches, children’s play areas, and art have been added to many gardens to increase their value as community centres. The activities that take place in community gardens — sharing gardening tips, cooperating through work parties, arranging social events for gardeners and neighbours, and enjoying the fruits of the land — bring people from all walks of life and all ages together, building stronger, more integrated communities.
Economic opportunity and security are often intertwined with community development in community gardening. In this context, security means food security. Community gardening allows participants to raise their own food to improve their nutrition, and benefit their health.
They also sometimes provide opportunities for local enterprise, for example for training in work skills and small-scale horticultural businesses such as the sale of plants.
Community gardens are also educational resources within a community, promoting environmental awareness and stewardship and providing opportunities for recycling organic waste and for solid waste and water re-use. Finally, they might also contribute to the diversity of open space use.
What kind of community gardens?
Many gardens start off as a community resource (allotment gardens) and demonstration site to show the public more about the concept of community gardening and the techniques they use.
Fully-fledged working gardens typically require more space and offer a variety of activities. They also require more facilities to attract the general public and school and tertiary groups, and could include on-site shops and ongoing contracts to supply social agencies or small local businesses at cost. The ability to grow sufficient quantities of fruit, vegetables and other produce is essential to the economic viability of such enterprises.
Different controls are required depending on the scale of community gardening undertaken.
The kind of community gardens deemed appropriate for establishment in Auckland City’s public open spaces, more closely resemble the former description.
Community garden is therefore defined as:
…a small scale low- investment neighbourhood communal gardening venture, growing vegetables, fruit and/or flowers. It uses vacant or unspecified open space – either in the public domain, or owned by another organisation or business (for example by a church or through a public housing body). Community gardens may have an explicit gardening philosophy such as organic growing, permaculture or biodynamic gardening, or they may allow participants with individual plots to manage them as they see fit. They may also establish nurseries to propagate and raise seedlings for their gardeners.
Auckland City’s role in community gardens
Auckland City’s role in community gardens is seen more as an enabler and supporter of community garden initiatives, than a provider or funding source.
Community gardens policy
There are no legislative or policy impediments to establishing community gardens on parks or other public open space in Auckland City. However, any proposal for a community garden would need to comply with the Auckland City District Plan, the Reserves Act 1977 (and any relevant management plan prepared under that Act) and the Local Government Act 1974 (for land held as fee simple).
Management plans are required to outline the Council’s general intentions for using, developing and maintaining its reserves. The aim of the legislation is to ensure that reserve development and enjoyment are based on sound principles and that the needs of the public are identified through consultation and are reflected in the development and facilities provided.
Each management plan therefore seeks to balance the protection of natural resources with the provision of recreational opportunities that are relevant to the needs of the local and wider community. The process of writing management plans allows the public opportunities to have input and therefore to contribute to the decision-making which will affect the future of the reserve.
The plan, once adopted by the Council, is kept under continuous review so that it may be adapted to changing circumstances or in accordance with increased knowledge.
Issues and opportunities
The possible treatment of community gardens as desirable community facilities similar to community centres, libraries or swimming pools is an issue for consideration in Auckland.
It could be argued that a community garden helps to bind a community and give its residents a sense of pride and involvement. A garden may, for example, serve as a convenient setting for community education. It may even become a community focus in itself, helping to reduce isolation of residents and to provide meeting places for young and old, those in study, those without regular employment and people recovering from physical or mental trauma. All these activities can be achieved at low cost.
One of the greatest potential benefits of community gardens is that of community development.
Exclusive use of sites
People may perceive that a community garden represents a private use of public space and therefore that public access is restricted. This raises questions about whether or not community gardens should be given exclusive rights to occupy public open space and whether leases should contain requirements for public access and use.
Limits on access also exist where sports or recreation clubs restrict access to their facilities on public land either to avoid damage to fields and equipment or to prevent spectators from interfering with play. Such restrictions may be spelt out in leasing arrangements between the club and the Council.
Community gardens in Auckland, and elsewhere, generally encourage public access (for residents and visitors) as it involves people in their gardening activities. This is enhanced when there is adequate signage, and barriers are not permitted.
Unrestricted public access also results in increased activity and surveillance that can contribute to the safety of the area. Requirements for public access can be stipulated in the lease agreement.
As low-cost operations, the gardens are seldom in a position to consider buying land. As such, they are most commonly established under a lease agreement with the landowner.
Security of tenure is a consistent concern for community gardeners both here and overseas. Land is frequently only available temporarily, making it difficult for groups to undertake long-term planning and development. For this reason they are often restricted to small garden plots and facilities which can be easily relocated.
An issue is the kind of leases that might be considered. For example, should leases for community gardens be on the same basis as other community leases, with a fixed finite term, regular reviews and the right of renewal?
Standards of management
The management of community garden areas can cause debate if the garden is perceived as unkempt. A garden may appear unkempt if there is no management plan or if there is inadequate supervision of staff and volunteers. An untidy appearance could equally be the result of garden management techniques such as permaculture, which allows a percentage of plants to go to seed for propagation of next year’s crops.
Consideration needs to be given to specifying management standards in leasing arrangements. Also, public information boards could give information about activities taking place on site and the management techniques being used, thus promoting a better informed neighbourhood as well as encouraging participation in gardening activities.
Funding and income generation
The potential for generating an income from community gardens – through work skills training programmes and small-scale business ventures for example – raises issues relating to the commercial use of public open space. A second issue relates to how income should be used – for community purposes or for the upkeep of the garden?
The costs of operation and management of community gardens are generally low. Community educational activities, information kits and some skill training activities may attract funding from other agencies. Lease arrangements for community gardens often prohibit the generation of income from garden produce or services. This may handicap community garden groups that want to be self-sustaining.
The need for a policy
Developing a policy for the establishment of community gardens on public open space and guidelines for assessing community garden proposals will ensure orderly and consistent management across the city. Where there is any confusion, the relevant reserve management plan would take precedence over the community garden policy.
Auckland City’s general policies regarding the establishment of community gardens are:
Protect open space values
- Auckland City will seek to maintain the public use and open space values of the land.
- Auckland City will enable the establishment of community gardens on public open space.
- Other open spaces identified as potentially suitable for community gardens include schools, residual land adjoining rail corridors, vacant or temporary lots.
- Community gardens are not appropriate in Premier Parks, on volcanic cones, or in Coastal Management Areas.
- The location of Community Gardens within an open space should consider and complement the primary function of the open space, and its associated uses and users.
- Community gardens should be located to minimise potential conflict with open space uses and users.
- Community gardens should not dominate the primary useable area of neighbourhood parks.
- Where submissions for community gardens arise from initial reserve management plan consultation, Auckland City may include community gardening as an option for further consultation and consideration.
Process and assessment
- Auckland City will assess each proposal to establish a community garden on a case-by-case basis.
- Prospective gardeners are required to submit a proposal in accordance with section 5.0 of this policy.
- The application, community garden management plan and proposal will be assessed by officers in accordance with the criteria set out in section 6.0 of this policy.
- Following the initial assessment, officers will report to the relevant Community Board for a decision.
- The delegation for approving a community garden proposal rests with the relevant Community Board.
- If approved, a lease will be formulated and approved under the appropriate delegated authority.
- Successful community garden applications will be granted a short-term lease.
- Community Garden tenancies will be for a maximum term of five years.
- Community Gardens will operate on a not-for-profit basis.
- It will be the responsibility of the tenant to:
- maintain control of noxious weeds and pests in accordance with any policies of council (and Auckland Regional Council), and to the satisfaction of the Parks Officer or other Council Officer responsible for the public space
- maintain the garden’s vegetation, fencing, signage, furniture and/or other structures to the satisfaction of the Parks Officer or other Council Officer responsible for the public space
- maintain public access rights and any other conditions as stipulated by the lease
- allow monitoring and review as stipulated by the lease.
- Community garden tenancies will not confer rights to cut down or remove any trees from the public space, without written approval from Council.
Management and monitoring
- Community gardens will be monitored and reviewed annually.
- Auckland City will establish a contact database, including links to relevant web-sites.
The proposal to establish a community garden should include the following:
- the purpose of the proposed community garden
- the objectives of the community garden group
- benefit of the garden to the local area and community (including who will benefit from the produce)
- what opportunities exist for links and synergy with other community activities, for example schools, training facilities and church groups, volunteers
- whether the proposal outlines innovative techniques for demonstrating urban sustainability, for example, water conservation
- the proposed legal/organisational structure (including membership fees if applicable)
- identification of a liaison person for the gardens
- skills and competencies of group members
- hours of operation
- approach for public liability.
- an estimated budget and timeline for establishment and maintenance, including identified sources for funding and other resources (such as mulch, compost etc)
- process for the gardeners to make decisions, solve problems and resolve conflict
- training and induction process for new gardeners
- what is required from Auckland City
- characteristics and size of the land required – including an outline of traffic/parking/access requirements
- analysis of fit with proposed environment/open space
- community garden management plan outline, including:
- organisational meetings and requirements (including induction of new members)
- gardening method(s)
- mowing and maintenance
- weed and pest control
- safety, security and vandalism
- structures and storage
- aesthetics and tidiness
- signage (including information of gardens, purpose, methods and contact details)
- noise and odour.
Criteria for assessment
Criteria are needed to help assess the likely success of any proposal to locate community gardens on public open space. Assessment criteria for community garden proposals fall within the following categories:
- the nature of the receiving environment
- the characteristics of the proposed community garden activity.
Consideration of the receiving environment
The receiving environment covers not just the physical and natural environment. It includes the social, cultural and policy environments which influence the decision-making. Factors for assessing a community gardening proposal include:
- whether the natural and physical characteristics are conducive to successful community gardening. These include aspect, topography, soils and soil toxicity, the presence of other vegetation, exposure/shelter and flooding potential.
- whether health and safety issues, such as poor access or lighting, steep or eroded banks, unfenced watercourses or previously contaminated sites or landfills, can be addressed.
- whether the location allows good access to the site for community groups or individuals.
- whether the location has good access to site infrastructure such as water, drainage and transport.
- whether there are Treaty of Waitangi issues or claims relating to the site.
- the presence or proximity of significant natural, cultural or heritage sites , which may be protected through the District Plan or the Historic Places register.
- the site’s compliance with any regulations or development controls , including the site’s zoning, classification and management plans prepared under the Reserves Act.
- whether the proposed community garden would enhance the social amenities and economic wellbeing of the neighbourhood, and whether or not it will be supported and used by nearby residents.
- how the proposal fits with council policies, strategies and plans.
- how the proposal fits with central government’s strategies relating to economic development and employment creation, waste management and community development.
whether the community garden is more suited to a private open space location.
- whether the space is suitable for other uses.
- potential conflict with adjoining land uses.
Consideration of the proposed community gardening activity
Factors for assessing the proposed gardening activity cover the establishment and operation of a community garden on a particular site. This will be assessed according to the criteria outlined in Section 5.0 of this policy.