Cultivating nature-based solutions: The governance of communal urban gardens in the European Union

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Abstract

In many countries in the European Union (EU), the popularity of communal urban gardening (CUG) on allotments and community gardens is on the rise. Given the role of this practice in increasing urban resilience, most notably social resilience, municipalities in the Global North are promoting CUG as a nature-based solution (NbS). However, the mechanisms by which institutional actors can best support and facilitate CUG are understudied, which could create a gap between aspiration and reality. The aim of this study is therefore to identify what governance arrangements contribute to CUG delivering social resilience. Through the EU GREEN SURGE project, we studied six CUG initiatives from five EU-countries, representing different planning regimes and traditions. We selected cases taking a locally unique or innovative approach to dealing with urban challenges. A variety of actors associated with each of the cases were interviewed to achieve as complete a picture as possible regarding important governance arrangements. A cross-case comparison revealed a range of success factors, varying from clearly formulated objectives and regulations, municipal support, financial resources and social capital through to the availability of local food champions and facilitators engaging in community building. Municipalities can support CUG initiatives by moving beyond a rigid focus on top-down control, while involved citizens can increase the impact of CUG by pursuing political, in addition to hands-on, activities. We conclude that CUG has clear potential to act as a nature-based solution if managed with sensitivity to local dynamics and context.

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