The Governance of Community gardens as Commons and Its Role in the Socio-Environmental Outcomes of Gardening in Austin, TX
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Community gardens represent vacant lots in urban areas with public or private land ownership that community members use primarily for urban agriculture. Community gardens are a product of local alternative food movements that contribute to urban socio-ecological resilience-building (i.e., urban community’s ability to address issues of food insecurity, social exclusion, and environmental degradation). Local alternative food movements seek to connect people to the land and to food through urban gardening, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agriculture, in contrast to industrial, corporate foods. Many studies associate community gardens with neighborhoods’ ‘commons’– a natural resource, a property, a practice, or a knowledge that is shared and collectively managed by a group of people for individual and communal benefit. This research studies community gardens in Austin, Texas, as alternative local food movements and argues that community gardens represent different types of commons – biophysical, social, cultural and intellectual. It focuses on: 1) approaches taken to govern community gardens, and 2) socio-environmental outcomes of gardening associated with the implemented models of governance. Social outcomes are represented by the level of gardeners’ satisfaction and perceptions of their success. Environmental outcomes represent ecological services provided by gardens as green spaces and expressed through net primary productivity (NPP), which measures carbon sequestration. Both types of outcomes affected by how the gardening process is organized and managed. This research argues that the efficacy of community gardens as different types of commons depends on their commitment to the principles of “ethical action” proposed by the diverse-economies framework that can be incorporated in gardens’ goals, values and governance. This study analyzes community gardens as spatial socio-environmental outcomes of organizational structures that reflect the spatially explicit dynamics of power, social and ecological processes existing in Austin, Texas, through the lenses of urban political ecology, Ostrom’s socio-ecological systems (SES) framework, and the diverse-economies framework. For the purpose of this research, the word ‘spatial’ is meant to describe the cohesive patterns and places of social activity, which are also described as ‘spatial practice’ from Henry Lefebvre’s spatial triad. The SES framework reflects both social and natural aspects of community gardening and explains the connection between the governance approaches, gardeners’ perception of their success and changes in carbon sequestration. This study employs a mixed-methods approach with a concurrent transformative design, a type of research design when the research process is informed by a theoretical perspective/conceptual model, and the qualitative data are used to explain the results of quantitative analyses. Key informant interviews with managers of community gardens yielded both qualitative and quantitative data. Other quantitative data were acquired from remote sensing imagery from the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) and Planet Inc. to derive ecological variables to calculate the amount of biomass for the carbon sequestration model.