The Pedagogical Life of Edible Verge Gardens in Sydney: Urban Agriculture for the Urban Food Imaginary.

Hsu, Jesse P.
Urban and Regional Planning
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Re-integrating agriculture into the city is an essential task of planning for urban food systems. Despite efforts to stimulate the expansion of urban agriculture (UA) in cities, it remains a secondary concern for many local governments and residents. One critical barrier in establishing UA as a vital infrastructure in cities is that the vision of an agriculture-infused city not being shared with the wider culture. The struggle over UA’s appropriateness can be viewed as a clash between differing spatial and material expectations of the city food system, or urban food imaginaries. Food systems research suggests that UA is often viewed as regressive, ‘out of place’, and better as a temporary land placeholder. As a form of visual culture, UA spaces are ‘pedagogical’ or have agency to mediate discourse and practices and therefore potentially influence urban food imaginaries. This dissertation explores how UA spaces may act as ‘public pedagogy’ and potentially contribute to shift the urban food imaginary through the case study of edible verge gardens in Sydney, Australia. I employ a three-part approach to guide this inquiry. First, I formulate a theoretical model for understanding UA spaces with respect to public pedagogy and the urban food imaginary, applying it towards a single verge garden case. Second, I focus on the representation frame of public pedagogy, utilizing multimodal discourse analysis (MDA) and walking ethnography to over a hundred gardens to understand the pedagogic potential of the verge garden form. Third, I focus on the social practice frame of public pedagogy to understand the extent to which gardens enable foodoriented practices and the dynamics undergirding maintenance of those practices, considering qualitative data that includes 29 in-depth interviews with gardeners, local council staff, food movement leaders, and residents; and four months of diary entries by four best-case garden owners. I propose policy interventions targeting the dynamics of verge garden practice that can guide the development of gardens that are more aesthetic, productive, and community-oriented. Findings elucidate the tremendous potential of verge gardens to influence urban food imaginaries, but only if design consideration is given to overcoming the hostile growing environment of the footpath.
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