Guerrilla Gardening

(11 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

There was once an alarmist diary at dKos about the coming hard times, and how people in the country can grow their own food, but city-dwellers and those people who will be rendered homeless by the mortgage implosion during the Great Depression Redux will have no such recourse.

And it made me remember a few things.…

That link goes to a pic of one of the most famous headlines in 20th Century U.S. journalism:


and it ushered in what we were subsequently to understand was the GOP’s compassionate conservatism toward all beings, human and otherwise.

In 1975, NYC went bankrupt.  The federal government, led then by GOPer Gerald Ford, refused any assistance.

It took two decades for the city to fully dig out of that there li’l boondoggle.  In the meantime…well, therein lies the story.

Vacant lots covered with trash and littered, so I am told, with drug paraphrenalia, including syringes.  Abandoned buildings left to rot.  But–this is so typically NY–rents in “nice” neighborhoods still too expensive for the artists and musicians who create the culture that lures all the tourists, with their deep pockets.  The cash-poor artists tended to be squatters in the abandoned buildings, maybe hijacking a bit of electricity from the city.…

(Hint: the city lied to the NYT in the story linked above.)

That’s the background.  What happened against this backdrop of urban blight was:

Guerrilla Gardening

Take an abandoned lot, littered with syringes, McDonald’s wrappers, and weeds, and dig it up.  Get the community involved.  Offer interested people a little spot where they can grow tomatoes and peppers and garlic–whatever they want to grow, really–organize the people who live there to grow on this blighted spot and keep it nice–to make it into a place of greenery amid the concrete and asphalt.

And so they did, beginning in those benighted days before the Total Gentrification Program.…

I don’t remember the total numbers, but definitely over 100–probably triple that–urban gardens were operative in NYC before Ghouliani and his thugs started turning them over to the developers.

And then there’s Detroit:

PAUL WEERTZ lives less than 10 minutes from downtown, but the view from his window is anything but urban. On a warm day this fall, the air was ripe with the smell of fresh-cut hay and manure. In the alley behind his house, bales of hay teetered and listed where garbage cans once stood. Chickens scratched in the yard, near a garage that had been turned into a barn. Mr. Weertz drives a Ford – not a sleek sedan but a rebuilt 1960 tractor.  [snip]

After decades of blight, large swathes of Detroit are being reclaimed by nature. Roughly a third of this 139-square-mile city consists of weed-choked lots and dilapidated buildings. Satellite images show an urban core giving way to an urban prairie.

Rather than fight this return to nature, Mr. Weertz and other urban farmers have embraced it, gradually converting 15 acres of idle land into more than 40 community gardens and microfarms – some consuming entire blocks.…

That story is years old, but it points toward the many possibilities.

Guerrilla Gardening, IMHO, is not very different from the Victory Gardens of WWII–some of which, iirc, were also urban community gardens.  


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  1. more urban gardening programs in my city (Memphis) because it is fairly spread out and has plenty of  sad looking vacant lots.

    Many of the elderly people here grew up farming and picking cotton and other products so there would be plenty of consultants for the gardeners. Southerners love their food and in our poorest neighborhoods are some awful grocery stores. I drive through a place  in the hood called Frayser on my way home from work in the hood and occassionally stop at the local grocert store there for bread and milk.

    Besides the inevitable “what is this white chick doing in the store” looks I get although many of the people who work there know me by now and say hey I was shocked by the quality of produce and meat. Well known chain store using different standards.

    You know we could also raise a few chickens in the city… Pretty common urban sight in other countries, guess we think we are too sophisticated.

    • Edger on August 11, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    in one high rise I lived in there was a couple of guys who got themselves evicted, because the damage they had done to their apartment had caused the apartments below them to flood. I think they were on the 10th or 11th floor.

    They had filled their living room wall to wall with earth a foot deep, planted a garden, and run a hose off the water tap to a sprinkler…..

    true story

  2. would be a terrific subject for some federal funding. It would help with urban renewal that isn’t just based in gentrification and condo developments that kick the working classes out of their own neighborhoods and encourage people to develop a different relationship with their food that is more affordable and personally satisfying. Plus it undercuts agri-corps…

    A lot of cities could use the help with federal funds their budgets are already stretched out and local politicians tend to be in bed with developers who would oppose that kind of initiative.

  3. I live in Portland OR, 40 blocks from the ‘downtown’ which is getting more and more filled with high rise high end cement ‘lofts’. The east side where I live a series of neighbor hoods built at the turn of the century 1900-1920 on mostly small lots 100-50 standard size.

    My block has in the last year or so undergone a interesting transition. People are taking out their front lawns and installing gardens, raised vegtable beds replacing and mingling with decorative plantings. At our block party least night the discussion of maximum sun and planting was a hot topic.

    We have already lot’s of community gardens, but it’s good to see this happening on an individual level. The strange part in our community is the empty lots and what the city is doing with them in a time like this. Portland has a city planning entity called Metro which encourages inner city density and growth. The strange part is that instead of adapting and building to the decidedly eco friendly neighbor hoods of the SE they are just slapping up these concrete nasty condo units they cover whole lots and sit empty with for lease signs. Slums of the future? Developers seem to take no notice of either the financial aspects or the make up op of the neighbor hoods.      

  4. Road blocks a mile away, national guard troops suited up with gas masks, snarling and refusing entry to “the combat zone”, all over a 1/4 acre urban garden on an unused lot off Telegraph Ave.

    Things have gotten better, I guess, in this aspect anyway, I haven’t heard of any troops pulling potatoes out of the ground with a snear on their face lately. But there is still resistance to utilizing a piece of land that represents someone’s broken dream, and some bank’s predatory lending practices.

    I think that it was here at Dd recently that I heard of some dude in Miami helping people in need to squat in repo’d houses. This practice is considered anathema to the banks, who see their “investment” being abused and possibly damaged/destroyed. Yet vacant houses in urban areas all over the country are being stripped of all copper wiring and piping, destroying their economic value in the process. Many of these houses would still be occupied by their original owners if the banks had re-written loans to a less predatory loan rate, and terms.

    The up side of all those gutted houses is of course the opportunity for more gardens. IMO remaining residents of a neighborhood should turn these already written off, and paid for by taxpayers, repos into community gardens as fast as they can. I seriously doubt that The National Guard in gas masks are going to be running anyone off anytime soon. And if the economy blows up (or down as the case may be) it may be the saving grace for a neighborhood.

  5. Thank you for recollecting that period to us — I now recall that there was a great effort to have “communal” gardens, where a number of people worked the soil and gardens and shared in its bounties.

    It’s always a good thing, anyway, I think — certainly, healthier!

  6. Wow, thanks again!

  7. and one that would be MUCH harder to implement…on having schools grow food, using the process as a biology-related educational tool (economics-related, too, for that matter) and then use the food in the school caf.

    ….this would put urban schools at a disadvantage they need another disadvantage…so i’m still chewing on the idea…

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