2015 | Dec
In the early 1970s, in response to the continuous degradation of the city, Liz Christy and the “green guerilla” team decided to sow seeds in vacant plots, to place flower boxes in abandoned buildings and to plant sunflowers in the busy streets of New York. At the intersection of Bowery and Houston Street in Manhattan, a large abandoned vacant lot became the first Community Garden in the history of guerilla gardening, the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden (http://www.lizchristygarden.us/). Today, more than 600 Community Gardens in New York and a vast movement of active citizens around the world bring together residents-growers. They are (re)claiming urban land and public areas, with the aim to resolve problems in neighbourhoods and cities via collective action (www.greenguerillas.org).
Guerilla gardening relies on transcendence, activism and spatial intervention. Groups of citizens acting spontaneously, anonymously and voluntarily, sow and plant forgotten open city spaces (abandoned plots, neglected lawns and flowerbeds of trees on pavements) without authorisation. Their act is a criticism of the bourgeois capitalist system (Crane, 2011).The urbanite spirit of defiance, as expressed by the mass uprisings and civil movements (May 1968 and student riots, antiwar and anti-racist movements, environmental movement, etc.) has shaped an ideology and culture concerned with the urban landscape, social rights, communalism, the nutritional risks of industrialised agriculture, the demand for “clean food” etc. Guerilla gardening is part of the city movements that defend public areas and the right to the city, challenging the dominant modes of production and reproduction of urban space and claiming participation in planning (Zanneti 2010, Eizenberg 2013).
In its most radical form, as a movement acting outside the institutional and sometimes the legal framework (e.g. occupation of open spaces) it has a distinct political profile. Its demands are directly related to institutional power and urban governance in the context of public uses of land. It promotes self-organisation, direct democratic processes, equality and active participation in the management of public space through eco-activism and the creation of community gardens. The non-mainstream press, websites and social media operate as the main hubs for bringing together, informing and multiplying guerilla gardening movements across the world (Tracey 2007). The mainstream media have showed delayed interest in guerilla gardening -and usually refer to it as an innovative aesthetic intervention.
In Greece, the “Synkalliergoume” (Let’s Grow Together) website – a meeting place for urban agriculture groups – declares that “as long as such initiatives of self-managed collective gardens based on organic farming exist, the demand for a different lifestyle is better expressed: it is a demand to move on from dependence on the socio-economic system to self-management, from passive consumption to production, from isolation of the individual to the group. Together we all give small, but concrete examples of another city. We rebel, throwing green bombs in the barren cement landscape” (http: // synkalliergoume. blogspot.gr/).
The “Self-managed Field in Elliniko” is an independent collective of citizens founded in early 2011. Since then, it cultivates an area of 2.500 sq.m. on the site of the former USAF Base, in an effort to respond to the social, economic and environmental crisis afflicting Athens. The objectives of the self-managed field relate to the struggles for preventing the privatisation and commercialisation of the former Elliniko airport and are part of wider social economy and solidarity initiatives. The collective managing the field endorses the call for the creation of a Metropolitan Park and the development of public, sports and cultural activities. Ideas for developing a Metropolitan Park were prepared as unofficial proposals after the international airport moved to Spata at a time when major Olympic projects (2003) were developed on site. The Metropolitan Park proposals were eventually abandoned due to the economic crisis when the HRADF leased the Elliniko site to private investors for residential and business development.
- Crane A (2011) Intervening with agriculture: a participatory action case study of guerrilla gardening in Kingston, Ontario. Queen’s University.
- Eizenberg E (2013) From the Ground Up: Community Gardens in New York City and the Politics of Spatial Transformation. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 25(3): 844–846. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11266-013-9409-y.
- Tracey D (2007) Guerrilla Gardening: a manualfesto. 1st ed. Cabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers.
- Zanetti O (2007) Guerrilla Gardening: Geographers and Gardeners, Actors and Networks: Reconsidering Urban Public Space. Available from: http://www.guerrillagardening.org/books/ZanettiGG.pdf.
Related internet sites:
Information on community vegetable gardens and guerrilla gardening
Information on guerrilla gardening in Greece and on the vegetable garden in Elliniko