Since the 1970s, environmental awareness groups backed by local authorities, public developers and community enthusiasts have also been battling to safeguard, promote or improve open urban space. Whilst this might have been less important for the established urban parkscape, it encouraged a different approach to the design of new types of open space, often benefiting smaller, underused or formerly industrial (brownfield) inner-urban sites.
The early 1970s marked a change in fortune for allotments and brought new forms of urban food growing activity in Britain. The main reason seems to have been a growing environmental ethic, developed initially during the 1960s, as alternative lifestyles, and notions of self-sufficiency supported by the use of alternative (renewable) energy led to a renewed appreciation of urban food production. The effect of this culture shift was to greatly reduce the rate of allotment loss in Britain (down by 84 per cent from 1970 to 1977) and sharply increase the demand for allotments in many places. This burgeoning environmental awareness also gave rise to the development of new forms of urban food growing activity – notably the urban farm and community garden movements.
In Britain, the first urban farm was started in Kentish Town, North London, in 1971, and by the 1990s there existed more than 60 such farms all over the country (Hough, 1995). Urban farms are about more than simply bringing the countryside into the city. They are invariably located in poorer districts and the most successful have tended to act as a focus for environmentally conscious urban regeneration. Within this broad framework, most farms are multi-purpose entities, although environmental education is always a strong theme. Farms generally keep livestock for food, for educational purposes and for their other products, as well as running garden or allotment plots. Many have a commercial aspect with craft workshops, shops and restaurants selling farm produce and offering activities such as horse riding. They also provide venues for public meetings and frequently run training courses.
The closely related concept of community gardens originated in the USA in the early 1970s. Like urban farms, what characterises community gardens and distinguishes them from traditional allotments, is the emphasis on group activity and their role as a focus for community regeneration. They tend to differ from urban farms in being generally smaller and in not
having livestock, although exceptions exist. The movement has often been strongest in deprived urban districts, in places like The Bronx and Harlem in New York, where women, particularly black women, are especially prominent as activists and participants (Hynes, 1996). In 1978, the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) was formed and the movement has since grown dramatically. Between 1990 and 1992, the ACGA reported the setting up of 523 new community gardens in 24 cities across the USA (Hynes, 1996). In New York alone, the Green Thumb Community Gardening Programme has developed from its inception in 1978 to encompass 700 community groups across the city by the mid – 1990s (Garnett, 1996). The community gardens concept has now become established in Britain, and is represented by the Association of City Farms and Community Gardens (see Chapter 11).