Duck Duck Book

29 – city bountiful
01.18.2006, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

City bountiful : a century of community gardening in America / Laura J. Lawson.
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: 635 L4255c 2005; two copies, one hold]

In my childhood neighborhood, there were two city-run community gardens with little rectangular plots full of vegetables, berries, and flowers. They were messy and neglected in the winter, verdant and lurid in the summer. I liked to walk by them; they seemed useful and interesting in the way that a factory or a fire station is to a small child. But they were also just something that was there, natural, expected, and nothing much to comment upon. I thought of the community garden as a logical component to a city, as natural as the bus system or the bridges over the river or the city parks. But I never considered how the gardens came to be there.

City Bountiful gives the history that I never stopped to wonder about. It is a detailed and comprehensive history of community gardening — discussing vacant-lot cultivation associations organized in response to the depression of 1893, the school garden movement of the early 20th century, victory gardening during the world wars, work program gardens of the 1930s, and the 1970s-era community garden movement and its descendants today.

Lawson’s work is academic in tone, with innumerable citations and a careful approach to documenting the history of organizations, institutions, social trends, and community efforts. The book is not going to become a best-seller on literary merits alone, but it is readable, and the topical/historical arrangement of chapters and excellent index allow readers to find subjects easily and quickly. The dozens of black-and-white photographs illustrating community gardens of the last 100 years are worth a look on their own. All in all, City Bountiful provides readers a way into the odd space that community gardens take up: the juncture between urban space, economics, politics, teaching and learning, community, and the act of gardening.


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