Bridging the Green Divide
Dr. Meghan Gough’s seminar on February 15th focused on her research on the efforts of public botanical gardens to bridge the green divide, and make sustainability relevant to low income, low wealth communities. The gardens have a secondary purpose of maintaining their relevance in an ever-changing world.
The gardens follow various models of bridging the green divide. Common programs include setting up allotments in low wealth neighborhoods and inviting the local residents to participate in an education and gardening program and performing outreach to local schoolchildren. However, community empowerment is a common theme as gardens often try to work through or form local organizations so the gardening is not only greening the community but also increasing the community’s social capital.
Public gardens embarking on this mission of service, education and greening face many challenges, one of which is how the gardens’ staff can relate to a more diverse community than their ordinary patrons. Another is how to refrain from alienating potential donors while straying from their traditional purpose of building and maintaining places of respite for the residents of their localities. Gardens’ challenges also vary depending on the locality. In urban neighborhoods such as New York city, the high population density and inherent lack of green space work in favor of such programs, whereas in cities such as Richmond, the bounty of green space, large lots and negative view of agriculture due to historical baggage in the local African American community make the task of encouraging participation in the gardening activities a hard sell. So, to be successful the public gardens embarking on these sorts of programs will need to truly know the needs and character of their surrounding communities.
As stated earlier, Dr. Gough is still researching the programs that various public gardens have set up in various locations throughout the country. It will be interesting to see the different manifestations of the bridges to the green divide that she will uncover.
Dr. Meghan Gough at Virginia Commonwealth University: http://www.people.vcu.edu/~mzgough/index.html
American Public Gardens Association: http://www.aabga.org/
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Greenest Block in Brooklyn program: http://www.bbg.org/greenbridge/greenestblock/