Urban greens and sustainable land policy management (case study in Warsaw)
This paper examines the changes of meaning of public greens in the contemporary urban landscape. Although the value and preservation of green areas have become important land use policy topics, still little attention is paid to family gardens and their tenants. As a part of tradition and history, allotments have been present on the European landscape for over one hundred years. At first, they were located in the suburbs during the nineteenth century, scattered on the fringes of towns. However, as the gardens are now located on sites found close to city centres, they have recently come under the threat of being overtaken by developers. In Poland, local authorities are responsible by law for the provision and management of allotments, yet there are usually long waiting lists, at least several years in Warsaw. If there is shortage of allotments why not create more ‘family gardens’? What role do allotments play in official spatial planning policy? What is the statistical picture of allotments in Poland? This paper not only examines the tradition of urban allotments and their contemporary picture as a public green space, it juxtaposes two sub-themes: the story of allotment gardens in Poland and the story of a single Warsaw allotment site, where our field studies were carried out. The empirical results of our field surveys show that urban inhabitants are very interested in gardening. First, these gardens represent important source of recreational activity to males and females, regardless of their age and social status. Second, these gardens represent urban and family tradition, as contemporary tenants are often representatives of the third or even the fourth generation of the users of a particular plot. Third, for thousands of low-income families, allotments are both essential as a source of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) and also as an opportunity to enjoy holidays free of charge. All in all our research results suggest that allotment gardens in the contemporary built environment not only improve the urban climate but also play an important role in strengthening family and community connections. Moreover, by providing the opportunity for various recreational, outdoor activities such as gardening, sports and games considerably help to promote ‘healthy life style’. This paper is based on the author’s field experience and on empirical studies, both of which strongly support the notion that contemporary urban allotments play a crucial role in town green systems and provide a significant contribution to life quality of urban inhabitants, especially for the elderly and low income citizens. It seems that a growing interest in urban ecology and sustainable planning policy should lead to the idea of saving allotments (along with other urban green spaces). The paper concludes that, when considering the future of urban allotments, the main problems can be seen in the present institutional context of urban planning policy, land use concepts, and attitudes of the local authorities towards allotments. The allotments, which often occupy the city’s prime locations, are accused of limiting urban development possibilities and are criticised for ugliness and poor management. However, as it seems, as the leisure value of allotments has increased in recent decades, their role in urban space, new plot layouts and garden design should consequently be revised.