Urban spaces and urban food systems are continuously challenged, negotiated and remade by women and men, as groups and as individuals. Whilst much has been written about the radical potentials of urban agriculture, the reality is less clear. Urban gardens reflect broader social and economic trends as well as the individual and collective politics of the gardeners and other users of the space. As such, there is nothing inherently radical about either urban gardens or urban food producers.
But the idea of the right to the city is about the process of autogestion; the ways in which urban inhabitants self-organise to participate in the production and management of the city through the appropriation of spaces, resources, and systems. Similarly, the notion of food sovereignty can be understood as the right of people to define their own food systems, including where the food comes from, how it is produced and by whom. In this way urban community gardens do represent potentially disruptive spaces within the broader urban project; spaces that provide opportunities to break the rhythms of individualism and unsustainable consumption that characterise European cities. And where myriad micro transformations can contribute profoundly to the social and spatial reorganisation of urban food systems, and of cities themselves.
In Seville, in the south of Spain, communities and collectives are practicing urban agriculture in different spaces, in different ways, and for different reasons. Young and old hortelanos (productive gardeners) grow organic vegetables on municipal, private, and occupied land in and around the urban centre. Whilst some come to gardens actively seeking alternative political spaces to reconnect with food production, others are looking only for tranquil spaces; to escape their daily routine and the urban environment.
In May and June 2016, urban producers in Huerto del Rey Moro and Parque de Miraflores engaged in a participatory action research process, using participatory video to explore the themes of communication and transformation within and between the two gardens. Through this process they explored the role of urban community gardens as both refuge and incubator; as spaces where people come to be ‘restored’, as well as spaces for radical new forms of self-organisation.
Huerto del Rey Moro is an occupied permaculture garden in the centre of Seville. A committed collective of younger and older food growers maintains the open and democratic space, used by women, men, girls and boys from across the city; building new forms of self-organisation, and reconnecting with the land for sustainable food production.
Parque de Miraflores, in the north of Seville, was formerly a dump-site for construction waste during the city’s rapid expansion in the 1960s and 70s. Reclaimed by a mobilised community in the 1980s, the garden is now a tranquil and productive space. Retired gardeners work alongside school groups to grow organic vegetables, and preserve and share knowledge.
The participants discovered that in spite of the heterogeneity of the gardeners, and the diversity of their motivations, there exist strong commonalities both between the gardens and the generations of gardeners. They also found that the transformation of the gardens – the development of the space and management of the land – was reflected in transformations of the people that worked in them. The process also revealed that even a brief engagement with agroecological practices – growing and sharing food – can profoundly impact how urban citizens think about and interact with their food systems.
So what is the significance of using video? Whilst the value of visual forms of research is now broadly accepted, what has emerged over the past decade is a more nuanced understanding of the potentials of participatory video making process to create spaces for critical engagement and dialogue. Participatory video making facilitates not only the emergence of a collective narrative – itself one form of appropriating the city, reclaiming how spaces and projects are represented – but also a process of collective critical reflection. By using a potentially transformative methodology to explore the significance of these potentially disruptive spaces, this video project created multiple opportunities for critical engagement and reflection, active-learning, and conscientisation.
The French philosopher George Bachelard tried to understand the complexities of life through the rhythms and plurality of durées (time periods). For Bachelard, time is made up of simultaneous dialectics between the perceived and conceived, experienced and created, social and biological, linear and cyclical. In Seville, urban gardeners are finding new rhythms and new ways of working; reclaiming the city and reclaiming urban food systems by rethinking and reappropriating time, space and resources.
In Seville, through quiet acts of self-organisation and agroecological food production, urban producer collectives are articulating their visions for a more inclusive city, and a more socially and environmentally just urban food system. In understanding the significance of their efforts we can better communicate to urban policy makers the current and potential significance of these small spaces, and build solidarity with other urban producer groups and citizen initiatives working in different contexts but facing similar challenges.
The short participatory film was co-developed as part of an on going doctoral action research project exploring the spatial and political significance of urban community gardens in London and Seville entitled, ‘Urban Agriculture and the Right to the City’.
This post is based on the article, ‘Garden Inside: Communication, Representation and Transformation in Seville’s Urban Community Gardens’, published in in Canadian Food Studies/La Revue canadienne des etudes sur l’alimentation, available: http://canadianfoodstudies.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/cfs
Chris Yap is a PhD Candidate and Participatory Video-Maker at Coventry University Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience.
Contact Chris email@example.com