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Community gardens as urban social-ecological refuges: Case studies in Vienna, Austria, Lincoln, Nebraska, and New York City

Joana Chan, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Urban community gardens have reemerged in popularity over the past decade, in response to social, economic, and environmental changes. The purpose of this multi-case study dissertation was to explore community gardening in the Global North and its contributions to social-ecological resilience in a contemporary urban context. As resilience is site-specific, case studies in different cities are used to explore how contemporary community gardens contribute to general and/or specific resilience on the local level. From Fall 2011 to Spring 2014, I conducted qualitative in-depth case studies on community gardens in Vienna, Austria, Lincoln, Nebraska, and New York City post- Hurricane Sandy, participating in observations of 18 community garden sites, and performing formal interviews with 37 community garden participants and managers. The case study findings demonstrate that these community gardens (a) serve as diverse social-ecological systems that function as community places, (b) foster meaningful community gardening practices that help people experience reconnection at various social-ecological scales, and (c) develop supportive communities of practice around community gardening. Considered together, these findings suggest that community gardens can function as "urban social-ecological refuges" to support resilience in cities. As urban social-ecological refuges, community gardens have the potential to not only carry and transmit cognitive and biological means for facilitating resilience and response capacity by protecting biocultural diversity and social-ecological memories, but also serve as restorative physical refuges for communities in disaster contexts, as well as general social and spiritual refuges which can enrich and diversify the social-ecological fabric of our increasingly homogenized urban landscapes.

Subject Area

Social research|Geography|Environmental Studies

Recommended Citation

Chan, Joana, "Community gardens as urban social-ecological refuges: Case studies in Vienna, Austria, Lincoln, Nebraska, and New York City" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3667088.