Urban Gardens: Pockets of Social-Ecological Memory

  • Stephan BarthelEmail author
  • John Parker
  • Carl Folke
  • Johan Colding


It is well known that urban allotment gardens provide important ecosystem services. Their potential to act as sources of local resilience during times of crisis is less appreciated, despite the role they have played as areas of food security during times of crisis in history. Their ability to provide such relief, however, requires that the skills and knowledge needed for effective gardening can be transmitted over time and across social groups. In short, some portion of urban society must remember how to grow food. This chapter proposes that collectively managed gardens function as ‘pockets’ of social-ecological memory in urban landscapes by storing the knowledge and experience required to grow food. Allotment gardeners operate as ‘communities of practice’ with ecosystem stewardship reflecting long-term, dynamic interactions between community members and gardening sites. Social-ecological memories about food production and past crises are retained and transmitted through habits, traditions, informal institutions, artifacts and the physical structure of the gardens themselves. Allotment gardens thus serve as incubators of social-ecological knowledge with experiences that can be accessed and transferred to other land uses in times of crisis, contributing to urban resilience. Conversely, failure to protect these pockets of social-ecological memory could result in a collective ‘forgetting’ of important social-ecological knowledge and reduce social-ecological resilience.


Ecosystem services Social-ecological memory Resilience Urban gardens Allotment gardens Community of practice Food production 



We would like to thank the editors for inviting us to contribute to this exciting book, and to the reviewers for excellent comments on this chapter. Thanks to FORMAS, URBAN-NET for funding the Sustainable Urban Planning for Ecosystem Services and to the Resilience Project and the urban theme of Stockholm Resilience Centre for intellectual stimulation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Barthel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • John Parker
    • 3
    • 4
  • Carl Folke
    • 2
    • 5
  • Johan Colding
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of HistoryStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Stockholm Resilience CenterStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.Barrett Honors CollegeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  5. 5.Beijer Institute of Ecological EconomicsRoyal Swedish Academy of SciencesStockholmSweden

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