What then are the legitimate roles for designers from beyond the plotholding community? Our critique of the new modernism suggests a need for caution in exposing allotments to the ministrations of the architectural profession. There is a great deal of positive character inherited in the allotment landscape that deserves to be conserved, but this is a living heritage, best tended by its practitioners. Of course, it must be acknowledged that some sites have potential for recovery from neglect brought about through plotholder inaction, or landowner inattention, or even intended oversight (Crouch, 1998). There is a role here for the designer/architect, but it is a complicated one, requiring distinctive and discerning skills: listening rather than telling; catalysing rather than directing. Crucially, this requires an empathy with the culture that produces allotment landscapes; the culture that the design expresses is largely given rather than imposed. Learning from the experience of good community architecture, designers can translate ideas using knowledge of, for example, efficiency of space use, tolerance, and the potential of particular materials. Plotholders may even have a grasp of the possibilities for articulating allotments with other open space and built uses, but where they do not, the designer’s knowledge of how to realise the potential is of value. However, it is crucial to recognise that the knowledge that allotment holders use is lay knowledge, something that cannot readily be acquired by an unfamiliar designer, and which therefore provides a valuable resource with which to work, and which is spurned at the peril of repeating Thorpe’s folly. The designer has to work with the landscape producers, the plotholders themselves.
We would argue that the proper role for the designer is in mediating change, in finding ways to accommodate the living landscape and culture of the allotment within the newer logics that Growing in the Community (Crouch et al., 2001) identifies as essential for their future; mediating access, for example, to realise the allotment as a more open and more widely valued green space, through designs which encourage and enhance the gaze, stimulating the viewer to ponder the merits of buying a fork and joining in, while protecting crops and property from misadventure with softened but appropriate security – the thorn behind the lowered wire. Within the site, design criteria might be integrated into new tenancy agreements, creating separate rules for gazed plots, or reduced rents linked to the retention of trees that add ornament at blossom time and opportunities in autumn for sharing the fruits. There are opportunities to exploit the subdivision of plots to accommodate busy people in innovative ways, mixing productive microspaces with shared facilities like benches and public art – things that reinforce the opportunities for social intimacy within the allotment and across its boundaries.
At a higher scale, the designer as urban planner can help integrate allotments in creative ways into the urban scene to achieve valuable synergistic effects. Crouch et al. (2001, p. 25) cite adjacent locations for plots and playgrounds as good practice – so that parents can cultivate in peace when the children get bored with worms and mud, while others without plots provide passive security when the gardeners are away. Co-location also creates opportunities for virement between the allotment and other green space uses, in accordance with changing demands, while other locational considerations can help bring allotments into the centre of a style of living, in harmony with the principles of sustainable development. Thus Hall and Ward (1998, pp. 206-7) call for the incorporation into new residential developments of: ‘. .. an allotment garden, which ideally would be provided in the communal open space in the middle of a superblock, entirely surrounded by houses and their own small private gardens. It would answer the insistent call for organic food from an increasingly sophisticated and worried public.’
What is essential, however, is that there be inclusion of the gardeners themselves in the design process, for both new and inherited allotment spaces, so that the outcome is compatible with the sense of ownership of the design, and of site and plots. There is a need, in other words, to work with the grain of allotment culture and the knowledge it embodies, to achieve better design through empowerment rather than imposition – design made sustainable through community pride, and where the details are left open, as opportunities for people to express their creativity informally at the microscale, where the arts of cultivation and the everyday accommodations of allotment life are played out.
Crouch, D. (1994). Introduction to Crouch, D. and Ward, C., The Allotment: Its Landscape and Culture. 2nd Edn. Nottingham: Five Leaves.
Crouch, D. (1998). The street in popular geographical knowledge. In Images of the Street (N. Fyfe, ed.) London: Routledge.
Crouch, D. (2002). The Art of Allotments. Nottingham: Five Leaves.
Crouch, D., Sempik, J. and Wiltshire, R. (2001). Growing in the Community: A Good Practice Guide for the Management of Allotments. London: Local Government Association.
Crouch, D. and Ward, C. (2002). The Allotment: Its Landscape and Culture. Nottingham: Five Leaves.
Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (2001). Revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 17 Sport, Open Space and Recreation: Consultation Paper. London: Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions.
Hall, P and Ward, C. (1998). Sociable Cities:The Legacy of Ebenezer Howard. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
House of Commons, Environment Transport and Regional Affairs Committee (1998). The Future for Allotments: Fifth Report of the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. Volume I. HC560-I. London: The Stationery Office.
Midgley, S. (2000). Finding the plot. The Guardian, Higher Education, 4 April, p. 12.
Thorpe, H. (1975).The homely allotment: from rural dole to urban amenity: a neglected aspect of urban land use. Geography, 268, 169-183.
Urban Task Force. (1999). Towards an Urban Renaissance. London: E&FN Spon.
Wiltshire, R. (1999). Towards an Inedible Urban Renaissance. Allotment and Leisure Gardener, 3, 16.