Often it seems that gardens are viewed as an indicator of success; the more gardens an area has, the wealthier its residents probably are. While this inclination is valid and sometimes true due to the fact that gardening is an involved hobby which yields the same food that the convenience of a grocery store can supply, dissecting gardens in relation to the neighborhoods which they are in offers a different perspective.
Our tour of gardening spaces in Boston was predicated upon several questions such as how do gardens affect their communities beyond the gardeners themselves?, Do gardens have a profound impact on the areas they’re in?, and also the simple question, Why are there so many gardens in Boston? When we set out to examine Boston’s gardens, we found that while there was some variance in the purpose and operation of each garden, many of them were almost identical. This forced us to dig a little deeper and find areas that are not just gardens, but are areas of unique historical profiles either acting as a reciprocal landscape or acting as a player to the community besides that of simply another green space. The Worcester Street Garden, for example, was almost exactly like the Symphony and Wellington Green Street Gardens at first glance. However after further research we uncovered that the Worcester Garden, established in 1980, received a grant in 2009 to remediate its soil which was contaminated by the railroad ties that were reused as wood inside the garden and were infected with pollutants from its previous use on the railroad. So in addition to being a common ground for residents of Worceseter street to meet and enjoy a special interest, it has been a vehicle for mitigating soil contamination that will benefit the land for generations to come. Additionally the Haley House Community Garden is a perfect example of a garden that goes above and beyond just a community garden. As I approached this garden on Thornton St. on our tour it was clear that the neighborhood wasn’t the most financially stable, however the garden was quite well-maintained, perhaps serving a metaphorical meaning for the true effect that it has on people that surround it. Though it might seem odd for a street garden to bear a mission statement around “strengthening neighborhoods”, the garden truly does this by hosting events with youth organizations and community centers, growing fresh crops for the Haley House Bakery which serves and donates food to those with limited access, and has created dozens of jobs along the way.
As Richard Rothstein discusses in his book, The Color of Law, implementing green spaces in low-income(historically black) neighborhoods in attempt to increase the property value of homes often time leads to blockbusting to make way for the wealthier families who now find the area attractive, as we’ve seen in the past. As the Haley House garden and bakery have taken their interaction with the neighborhood many steps further than just a garden, they are increasing their presence in Roxbury and will hopefully prevent the gentrification like what’s occurred in neighborhoods like Back Bay and South End.
Another aspect of these community gardens we discovered in our investigation is their place as community centers. The Worcester Street Community Garden for example, is home to events such as the garden mixology class, as well as “garden socials”, the posters for which can be found in the surrounding area. Using these green spaces as community centers in an urban environment not only helps connect members of the community, but gives the garden more publicity and could attract new gardeners. However, one aspect of Boston’s garden’s we wanted to give a close look was their relative access to resources. The Worcester Street Garden is a large garden with over 100 members, and thus has access to more funds to host community events. However, our investigation revealed that even a smaller garden with more limited resources, such as El Jardin De La Amistad in Roxbury is still able to serve as a community center. While it’s plots cover a substantially smaller area than the larger Worcester Community Garden, it also hosts a “garden mixology” event, and many community gardening events. It was a part of the Boston Public Space Invitational, a yearly civic competition. In previous non-Covid-19 years, the Public Space Invitational has had competitors hold community dinners, create outdoor art installations, and even hold outdoor plays. This year, the organizers had competitors customize a set of planters or pots that reflect the competitors history/culture. Competitors created a set of pots painted with famous quotes from Boston luminaries such as MLK, Melnea Cass, and Malcolm X. These beautifully decorated pots were then distributed to members of El Jardin De La Amistad, as well as herbs and edible plants to grow in them. This competition reflects the garden’s strong connection to the community and its place as a community center in a substantially less wealthy neighborhood than that of the Worcester Street Community Garden.
The gardens we have been examining have been shown to benefit their communities in a variety of ways. However, a part of our examination was to look at areas considered food deserts. According to the USDA, a food desert is a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas with limited access to a grocery store or other healthy, affordable food retail outlets. In Boston, the 2 areas that meet this definition are East Boston and West Roxbury. Biking through West Roxbury, there is a noticeable lack of fresh food available, and the types of food available are limited to what can be found at liquor stores and convenience stores. This is incredibly detrimental to the community, as it means that to get fresh food, residents have to travel to other parts of the city with grocery stores. One way for people who live in food deserts to get access to fresh and healthy food is through community gardens. For example, El Jardin De La Amistad is located in northwest Roxbury, and most of what is grown in the garden is food for the community. Having a garden that can not only be used for community events, but to help give the people living around it easy access to healthy food is greatly beneficial to the area. Food deserts are a product of long term neglect in a neighborhood, and gardens are a way for a community to help itself eat and live healthier.