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Growing Green: An Inventory of Public Lands Suitable for Community Gardening in Seattle, Washington


Prepared by Megan Horst
University of Washington, College of Architecture and Urban Planning
July 1, 2008. 74 pages


Planners and policy-makers in the United States and around the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of food systems planning. Effective food systems planning at the local and regional levels offers tools to address some of the major challenges faced by modern cities, including high rates of joblessness, poverty, and hunger along with growing environmental problems related to fossil fuel dependency and resource consumption. Urban agriculture, mainly in the form of community gardens, is one of the many food systems planning strategies that different cities have been using to address these kinds of problems.

Urban agriculture offers many economic, social and environmental benefits to cities, including increased food security and equitable access to food, the beautification of previously vacant or under-used sites, opportunities for training and employment of under-skilled residents and youth, and the enhancement of community life.

Seattle is one of many cities across the United States and the world that has established a public community gardening program. The existing 72 gardens, or P-Patches as they are called in Seattle, are popular with residents; many have waiting lists of up to three years. As the city’s population continues to increase and particular areas increase in population density, there will likely be a demand for more P-Patches. The city has already expressed its desire to create additional community garden spaces in some of its key policies and plans.

Securing land for garden space is not an easy feat in a city where pressure for land and the cost of purchasing are increasing. Nevertheless, as in most American cities, there is vacant, excess, and under-used public land that is suitable for urban gardening. Recognizing this, the Seattle City Council recently passed a Local Food Action Initiative Resolution. As part of the Resolution, the Department of Neighborhoods is requested to create an inventory of publicly owned land that has P-Patch potential. The following report responds to that request. It represents the first comprehensive attempt to identify publicly-owned lands that are potentially suitable for community gardens in the city of Seattle.

The methodology used to identify and evaluate sites was developed using two similar predecessor reports, one created for the city of Portland, Oregon and the other for Vancouver, British Columbia. The methodology was adapted to fit preferences expressed by City of Seattle Department of Neighborhood staff and expanded to be more robust and comprehensive. The different categories of publicly-owned land that were evaluated include: vacant, excess and unused parcels, rights-of-way along multi-use paths, energy transmission lines and water pipes, and public school and public park properties. GIS and aerial photo analysis was used to evaluate the potential for community gardening according to particular criteria, including size, slope, shade and building coverage, impervious surface, access, and local development plans. Other characteristics, such as proximity to an existing P-Patch or a public school and local population characteristics like population density, number of families, average median monthly income, percentage of rental housing, and percentage of minorities, were also identified to assist in future decision-making.

A total of 45 vacant and unused sites comprising over 12 acres of land are identified as being suitable for urban agriculture. In addition, 122 school properties and 139 public parks have under-used space that has the potential to be turned into community gardening space. Furthermore, the rights-of-way along four multi-use paths and one transmission line are shown to contain possibility of being converted into space for gardening. The findings including in this report are intended to provide the City of Seattle, and particularly the Department of Neighborhoods, with information to assist in the establishment of new P-Patches. In addition, the information can serve as a dynamic database to be used to assist in decision-making and future inventories. The following inventory highlights the reality that there are many opportunities for the City of Seattle to establish additional community gardening sites.

Table of Contents

Introduction pp. 4-5
Food Systems Planning and Urban Agriculture pp. 6-11
The Need for an Inventory of Potential
Community Garden Sites in Seattle 12-16
Methodology pp. 17-21
Vacant, Unused and Excess Parcels pp. 22-39
Rights-of-Way pp. 40-43
Public Schools and Public Parks pp. 45-50
Discussion and Conclusions pp. 52-59
References pp. 60-63
Appendix pp. 64-75

See the complete report here (PDF). It is a large, slow download of 12 MB, so be patient. It will arrive.

1 comment

1 Perry { 07.25.13 at 10:31 am }

Very impressed with this report. As a result of reading it I became especially interested in two areas of great potential: Vertical Agriculture, i.e. the Mithun design for the 23 story Center for Urban Agiculture; and P-Patches at Seattle’s Public Schools.