Legal and policy barriers to community gardening in Winnipeg, Canada.

Author:Mikulec, Philip


Community gardening can provide important social, economic, and environmental benefits, including enhanced community cohesion, greater food security, and reclamation of vacant lots. More and more cities in North America are recognizing these benefits, and Winnipeg is no exception. In 2009 it adopted a policy stating that it views community gardens as beneficial for supporting healthy communities and improving the quality of life in neighbourhoods. This research investigated the extent to which the legal and policy framework governing community gardening enables or hinders gardening initiatives. The focus of the work was the inner city. Our methods were an analysis of legislation and policy documents, participant observation, focus groups with gardening coordinators, City officials and gardeners, and key informant interviews. The results revealed important legal and policy barriers, e.g., the use of license agreements rather than leases to grant access to City land, the short-term nature of the agreements, incentives for infill development in the inner city, and lack of political and planning support for establishing more green space in the city. Lowering the barriers will require better dialogue and partnerships among neighbourhood associations, gardeners and the City. It will also require the City to fully integrate community gardening into its environmental planning framework.

Keywords: Community gardening, City of Winnipeg, legal and policy barriers, infill development, environmental planning


Le jardinage communautaire peut fournir des benefices economiques, sociaux, et environnementaux importants. Ceux-ci incluent une cohesion fortifiee de la communaute, une meilleure securite alimentaire et la recuperation de terrains non batis. De plus en plus de villes en Amerique du Nord reconnaissent les avantages du jardinage communautaire et Winnipeg n'en fait pas exception. Winnipeg a adopte en 2009 une politique qui affirme que les jardins communautaires peuvent promouvoir des collectivites saines et ameliorer la qualite de vie dans les communautes. La presente recherche examine jusqu a quel point les cadres legislatifs et strategiques qui regissent les jardins communautaires permettent ou entravent les initiatives de jardinage. Lobjet de notre recherche est le centre-ville. Nos methodes ont compris une analyse de la documentation strategique et juridique, letablissement de groupes temoins avec des responsables de jardins, les fonctionnaires municipaux, des jardiniers, et des entrevues avec des temoins privileges dans ce domaine. Les resultats ont revele des obstacles strategiques et judiciaires tels que l'usage des conventions de droits d'utilisation au lieu des baux accordant le droit aux proprietes de la Ville, des ententes a court terme, des subventions pour encourager le developpement sur terrain intercalate, et le manque de support strategique et politique pour letablissement des espaces verts dans la ville. Pour reduire les obstacles, il faudra encourager le dialogue et les partenariats entre les diverses associations communautaires, les jardiniers et la Ville. II faudra aussi que la Ville integre les jardins communautaires dans sa planification environnementale.

Mots cles: Le jardinage communautaire, la Ville de Winnipeg, les obstacles strategiques et judiciaires, ledification sur terrain intercalaire, la planification environnemental


Community gardens, depending on their purposes, can fulfill numerous community and neighbourhood development goals (Ferris, Norman and Sempik 2001). Governments and community organizations have used gardens for purposes as diverse as unemployment relief, educational opportunities, and food production in times of war (Lawson 2004). Community gardens have also begun to play a role in beautifying and greening city streets and neighbourhoods, as well as providing various other social, health, and environmental benefits, including enhanced community cohesion (Alaimo et al. 2008; Bartolomei et al. 2003; Glover 2004; Hancock 1999; Shinew, Glover and Parry 2004), greater food security and vegetable intake (Wakefield et al. 2007; Blaine et al. 2010), reclamation of vacant lots (Schmelskopf 1995; Schukoske 2000), and increased education (Rahm 2002) and recreation opportunities (Blaine et al. 2010). Many of these benefits complement sustainable development goals (Ferris, Norman and Sempik 2001; Holland 2004; Irvine, Johnson and Peters 1999; Lovell 2010).

Numerous cities in North America have lively community gardening programs, and governments are beginning to recognize the importance of such programs (McNair 2002). Cities such as Montreal and Seattle have model community gardening programs and have used various innovative methods to promote their programs (MacDonald 2010; McNair 2002; Ville de Montreal 2006). However, there are numerous challenges facing community garden organizers. Creating and maintaining a community garden requires a significant amount of time, energy and resources. For example, to establish a garden plot on a vacant lot it is often necessary to first clear away existing debris, weeds or grass. Additional challenges include poor soil quality (e.g., Hough et al. 2004), the costs of obtaining necessary equipment, tools and seeds, and the requisite physical labour needed to tend the garden throughout the growing season.

With respect to policy, one of the most significant challenges is insecure land tenure (McNair 2002; Schmelskopf 1995; Schukoske 2000). Community gardens--especially in the inner city--are often located on city-owned, formerly vacant lots that can become contested spaces because of development pressures (Schmelskopf 1995). A prominent example of such conflict arose in New York City in the 1990s when, without warning, many of the city's community gardens were auctioned off (Smith and Kurtz 2003).' This type of experience is not an isolated incident; community gardens across North America have faced similar conflicts over space (McNair 2002). Furthermore, due to numerous factors, community gardens have historically been viewed as temporary spaces to fulfill short-term government goals, leaving the gardens vulnerable to being allocated for other uses (Lawson 2004). Such attitudes are beginning to change. Nevertheless, if appropriate tenure arrangements are not put in place, community gardens can succumb easily to development pressures. In addition to land tenure, there are other important policy factors affecting the success of community gardening initiatives. One such challenge is the difficulty of navigating bureaucratic civic systems, which sometimes requires much time and expertise (Chisholm 2008; Dow 2006).

Research in Waterloo, Vancouver and other cities has focused on how to improve the community gardening climate by delving into policy issues (Chisholm 2008; Dow 2006; Hall 1996). However, this has not occurred in Winnipeg, which has a blossoming community gardening network. The Winnipeg literature discusses various social, economic and environmental issues, including the benefits of gardening, but very little information exists on the barriers (including policy barriers) to establishing and maintaining community gardens (Hall 2000; Lind 2008). This research, therefore, identified and prioritized the legal and policy barriers to community gardening in Winnipeg. The focus of the work was on the inner city, where population is dense and land is not readily available. The study was community-driven, motivated by needs identified by a neighbourhood association, and as such it is applied research and was intended to be highly practical.


This project was led by the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA), which manages eight gardens in Winnipeg's inner city. The gardens are an important part of SNA's five-year Green Plan 2010-2014, and are founded on an increasing demand for opportunities to participate in gardening (Spence Neighbourhood Association 2009). (2)

We used four qualitative data collection methods: a review of legal and policy documents, participant observation, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews. The document review included both government and non-government materials pertaining to community gardens in Winnipeg and selected cities in Canada and the United States. The biggest part of the review was a detailed analysis of legislation and policy governing community gardening in Winnipeg. The analysis covered statutes, regulations, by-laws, the City's garden policy document, its garden license agreement, and its terms of use document.

The observation activities involved visits to the SNA gardens in August and November 2009 and May and July 2010. The purpose of the visits was to develop a better understanding of the physical lay out of the gardens along with some of the challenges facing community garden spaces. We recorded the observation data with field notes and photographs.

We conducted three focus groups, held in January, March and April 2010. The first session involved five community-level greening coordinators who ran community gardening programs in Winnipeg's inner city. The second involved an official from each of four City of Winnipeg departments having a mandate directly affecting an aspect of community gardening. The third session involved 14 SNA community gardening participants (or volunteers). The focus groups used a SWOT analysis, i.e., a strategic analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, of the City's community garden policy. They also used a nominal group process (Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafson 1975) to prioritize the issues raised. Prioritization involved a voting process, in which participants were given the opportunity to select the issues of greatest importance. The subsequent analysis emphasized what we classed as the high priority issues, i.e., issues that received at least two votes.

In addition, six in-depth...

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