Community Gardens as Harbingers of Gentrification

Lauren Markham examines the value of community gardens to the bottom lines of developers—because one person's blighted back yard can easily become another person's veggie garden marketing pitch.
May 30, 2014, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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According to a recent article in The New Yorker, "for house buyers, these community gardens simply have aesthetic appeal, contributing to a kind of rustic, down-home vibe that makes nearby real estate more attractive. And it hasn’t taken long for real-estate agents and developers to take advantage of that commercial potential."

The article cites examples in the East Bay in Northern California, where low income neighborhoods have doubled as bohemian enclaves for decades, but new market pressures due to the region's booming tech economy are pushing low income residents out. "The 'blighted' lots suitable for urban agriculture are often found in lower-income neighborhoods like NOBE, as well as in post-industrial neighborhoods like West Oakland and West Berkeley. These also happen to be neighborhoods that developers see as ripe for construction."

In these cases, what began as a well-intentioned public health benefit, can transition into a signifier for gentrification. "Many community gardens are started with the intention of supporting lower-income communities, Tiny Gray Garcia, an activist and journalist, said. But once they are built, she added, 'the real-estate companies come in and start to reassess the land and use the property value to displace poor people of color. The community-gardening people may be well meaning, but they don’t always understand that they’re pawns in the game.'"

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Published on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 in The New Yorker
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