Alumni Profile: Charlie French
Degree: Natural Resources and Environmental Studies
Dissertation Title: The Social Production of Community Garden Space: Case Studies of Boston, Massachusetts and Havana, Cuba
Advisor: Dr. Bruce Lindsay
Description of Research
Community gardens in Boston and Havana are in the midst of major transition – transition both in terms the physical structure of the gardens, as well as transition with respect to the social structure of the garden organizations. As a result, many community gardeners feel that they are being marginalized by forces of socioeconomic change.
In Boston, a primary force of socioeconomic change impacting community gardeners is a phenomenon that geographers refer to as neighborhood succession. In essence, the ‘old guard’ of established gardeners in Boston’s community gardens is gradually giving way to a new wave of gardeners. Each new wave of gardeners comes with its own set of cultural norms, values, and motivations to garden. As the demographics of participation in the gardens changes over time, the physical nature of the gardens changes correspondingly to reflect the values, norms, and motivations of the new wave of community gardeners. In this regard, community gardens serve as a window by which neighborhood-level demographic transformations can be observed.
In Havana, the main force of socioeconomic change impacting community gardeners, particularly the diversity of participation in gardening as an activity, is industrialization. Although the food crisis that hit Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union during the 1990’s is largely responsible for catalyzing the urban agricultural sector, the more recent force of change is industrialization. Unlike the neighborhood succession that Boston’s gardens are facing, Havana’s gardens are facing a succession of a different sort: a succession of land uses as industrial uses usurp agricultural uses in the urban corridor.
Therefore, because the social, cultural, and economic implications of succession on both individual gardeners and on the broader community/neighborhood are largely unknown in both Boston and Havana, the goal of this research is to gain a deeper understanding of how certain forces of socioeconomic change impact individual community gardeners, their garden organizations, and the surrounding community. As well, this research seeks to elucidate what can be done to reduce the potential negative impacts of socioeconomic change in individual gardeners and the broader community.