Community Gardens as Third Places

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Howes, Michael

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Bosman, Caryl

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Third place is a concept which describes informal neighbourhood meeting places outside of home (first place) or work (second place). This thesis applies the concept to community gardens and in doing so, relates the findings to the social challenges associated with increased urbanisation and population mobility. Previous studies have made direct reference to community gardens being third places, however, this thesis is the first time the connection has been systematically investigated. In doing so, this thesis engages with theories of placemaking, social capital, neighbourhood resilience, and implications for the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11.7 on providing safe and inclusive green spaces. A qualitative case study approach is taken and a framework based on the eight characteristics of third place, has been applied to six case study community gardens (five in Australia, one in Denmark). Third place is an ideal concept to understand community gardens because it is able to link research on social relations to research on placemaking. Community gardens are dynamic citizen-initiated places that have the potential to be responsive to the specific physical and social needs and preferences of the neighbourhood over time. This thesis contributes to placemaking research by providing insights into designing, building and supporting meaningful third places and in supporting the people who create and maintain community gardens. The thesis critically engages with social capital and placemaking theories by adding insights into how community gardens can function as third places with a communal purpose that is inclusive across socially diverse neighbourhoods, within and beyond the garden boundaries. Thirty years on from Oldenburg’s book on third places, “The Great Good Place”, this thesis critically engages with the concept and adds insights in relation to gender in public spaces and the role of social media in third places. This thesis produces an original model that demonstrates how community gardens can operate simultaneously as a club and a third place, thereby encouraging the formation of both weak ties of association and strong ties of bonding social capital. These are important because they can foster both active and passive engagement, leading to improved neighbourhood resilience for individuals and local neighbourhoods. It was found that community gardens that act as third places ameliorate some urban challenges such as increased isolation and alienation experienced by many in cities. They improve the sense of community, as they offer opportunities for conversations within and outside the garden membership thereby assisting in introducing new people to the neighbourhood and increasing local social capital, which along with improved local food security, improves neighbourhood resilience. Drawing together the placemaking and social capital findings, the thesis provides a number of suggestions that may inform the design of third place community gardens. The framework could be implemented as indicators for progress in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 11.7 to provide safe and inclusive green spaces. Given that community gardens which are third places can exhibit qualities that help improve wellbeing in urban communities, local councils can create social benefits from reducing barriers to community garden participation and increasing access to space and resources. This thesis is significant because it sheds light on the critical role that community gardens that are third places can play in an increasingly urbanised world where there is concern about social isolation and the lack of inclusive, safe and accessible public places.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Environment and Sc

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Community gardens

Third places


Social capital

Neighbourhood resilience

Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

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