Latino Community Gardens in NYC

By Laura Saldivar-Tanaka and Marianne E. Krasny
Ithaca, NY (January 1, 2005)- To determine the role Latino community gardens play in community development, open space, and civic agriculture, a Cornell University study conducted interviews with 32 community gardeners from 20 gardens, and with staff from 11 community gardening support nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The results of this study document the multiple roles that community gardens play in Latino communities in NYC, and provide strong evidence for their inclusion in planned development.

The most important role of Latino gardens appears to be in community development, even though they are also important as open space, and to a lesser degree as sites for food production. In this way, the Latino gardens may be similar to many gardens in other poor and immigrant communities, but differ from gardens in more gentrified communities where enjoying nature and production of fresh produce are most important. It should also be noted that the neighborhood gardens in NYC that served as a focus for this study tend to be small and thus not ideally suited for larger scale food production.
Perhaps more than in other community, Latino community gardens, with their casitas, provide a place for social interactions in neighborhoods where social gathering places are often lacking. This study also points out the importance of community gardens in providing leadership, landscape design, and organizing experience for community members- experiences that spill over into other aspects of civic life. While this aspect of community gardens is not unique to Latino neighborhoods, it takes on added importance in immigrant and poor communities where residents may not have other opportunities to develop these skills.
Community development refers to community members analyzing their own problems and taking action to improve economic, social, cultural, or environmental conditions, as well as feeling part of and identifying with the community as a whole (Christenson and Robinson, 1980; Warner and Hansi, 1987). Urban open spaces, such as parks and gardens, provide a number of benefits, including recreational opportunities, preservation of ecological resources, shade, improved air quality, aesthetically pleasing sites, and quiet places where individuals feel less crowded (Francis et al., 1984; Kaplan, 1973; Mantell et. al., 1990; McPherson et al., 1994).
Related Resources:
Culturing Community Development, Neighborhood Open Space, and Civic Agriculture: the Case of Latino Community Gardens in New York City
Cornell University Garden Mosaics