Masters Thesis

The relationship between community gardening and empowerment: A study of Los Angeles gardens

Urban cities around the country, including Los Angeles, are faced with a lack of public open space in many high-density urban communities, as well as vacant land attracting blight. Community gardens have historically been implemented as tools to address multiple societal needs, and could be a tailor-made solution to a number of issues facing the city. This study used Laverack’s organizational domains (2001) as a community empowerment evaluation framework to analyze semi-structured interviews with eleven gardeners from four community gardens in the greater Los Angeles area. The interviews were processed through iterations of ‘monster-dog’ matrices to identify respondent themes, and then compare those themes to Laverack’s domains. This study found a strong connection between community gardener responses and Laverack’s organizational domains, in particular the domain Builds empowering organizational structures, which not only encompassed community structures within the garden, but the social cohesion between gardeners, which was a strong element in responses. In particular, this study found that the act of teaching and learning, or exchanging knowledge and skills between gardeners, was a powerfully empowering process. The study also found two domains only tangentially linked to gardener responses. These domains related to the power of outside organizations on program implementation; no responses reflected the presence of an outside organization, however this study determined the absence of an identified outside organization was an indication in itself of an empowered garden. The results show a clear relationship between community gardens and community empowerment, however this study was not able to determine causality, in other words, whether the gardens created empowerment, or those involved in community gardens were inherently more likely to be empowered already. To maximize the impact a garden has on empowerment, landscape architects and community garden practitioners should make space for those activities found to contribute highly to empowerment, such as knowledge sharing, through program organization and support. They should also strive to ensure participatory processes around designing such spaces truly locate decision-making power and control within the community.