Urbanization and class-produced natures: Vegetable gardens in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region

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Abstract

This paper examines urban vegetable gardens in the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona (MRB) in the context of a political ecological approach. We argue that these gardens provide an interesting example of how the urbanization process creates particular "socionatures" linked in this case to retired members of the working class who occupy (often as squatters) and transform the interstices left by the expanding city in order to produce food at a small scale. We document how these vegetable gardens are the product of a peculiar form of the recent urban history of the area, and also how they are increasingly under pressure due to the rapid process of sprawl now characterizing the expansion of the built environment in the Barcelona region. Vegetable gardens also highlight the contradictions of public policies in managing urban development, since the general attitude towards their elimination from the urban landscape stands in opposition to many of the sustainability initiatives such as the "greening of cities" promoted by city councils in this area. The empirical analysis was carried out in the municipality of Terrassa, one of the largest cities in the MRB, and also one with a higher number of vegetable gardens. We interviewed 132 plot users and obtained data about the legal status of gardens, their size and appearance, and crops grown, as well as the reasons for pursuing this activity. Our results show that, in general, this is an activity undertaken by people over 60 years old, often retired members of the working class that migrated to Catalonia from other Spanish regions in the 1960s and 1970s, and that use these spaces for a variety of reasons (personal goals, support to their families, and also as a bond to their rural past). Finally, we develop some conclusions regarding vegetable gardens in which we maintain that different social classes may create different natures but that class and power relations appear to legitimize some of these natures over others, for example, private and public gardens having a much larger social and institutional appeal and support than the vegetable gardens of the retired workers. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-298
JournalGeoforum
Volume38
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007

Keywords

  • Barcelona region
  • Political ecology
  • Socionatures
  • Uneven development
  • Urbanization
  • Vegetable gardens

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