Under the cobblestones, the Flowers; a portrait of Parisian shared gardens

Marie-Ève ​​Chaume
Consultant in viable strategic development and candidate for a master’s degree in environmental sciences at the institute of environmental sciences at UQÀM

Paris is the most densely populated European metropolis. Its population, combined with that of its arrondissements, reaches 11 million inhabitants, while its intramural area has a density estimated at more than twenty thousand Parisians per square kilometer. At the dawn of the 21st century, Paris must face two major challenges. First of all, that of supplying all its city dwellers with food, water and energy, in a context increasingly disconnected from the living world. Then, that of countering the perverse effect of the current way of life which encourages the increased exile of the population to peri-urban areas. In other words, Paris must consider, in its management and its orientations, important issues of density, mobility and urban sprawl. It is in this context that the Parisian shared gardens fit.

For the City of Paris, a shared garden is “a space of nature managed by an association of motivated residents, who decide together and with the support of the City to create a garden, divided into plots, where everyone can, as they wish, sow and plant what pleases him. The shared garden is presented as a place open to the neighborhood promoting encounters between generations and cultures. He is known for building relationships between the different places of life in the borough: schools, retirement homes, hospitals, etc.

These places are said to be collective since the space is shared and the management of the garden is done collectively, through an association. Also, these places always include a significant proportion of their territory which is dedicated to the establishment of a shared space of conviviality.

More and more Parisians have green thumbs

Today, it has become easy to develop a shared garden in Paris. In fact, all you have to do is locate a vacant lot without an immediate project, form an association whose function will be to manage the garden, then present the project to the Paris City Hall. However, it has not always been so. Indeed, even if France has an important and distant history of allotment gardens, which have become “family” gardens, it was not until the beginning of the 21st century that the first official urban gardening program appeared in Paris.

In the early 2000s, more and more citizens or citizens’ associations were spontaneously occupying land they spotted in order to create a garden. The proliferation of these independent initiatives and official requests prompted the City of Paris to develop, in 2001, a municipal project of shared gardens.

The City of Paris is therefore committed to two fronts: education relating to the environment and the creation of social ties. On the one hand, it is developing a system, managed by the management of Parks, Gardens and Green Spaces, dedicated to education relating to the environment. Through this system, it organizes conference-debates on gardens and nature in the city (Cafés Jardins) as well as exchanges of plants (Troc Main Verte). These two educational approaches take place at the Maison du jardinage in Paris, which thus becomes an official resource center for gardeners. Then, in parallel, the City of Paris collaborates with the association Graine de Jardins, regional branch of the network “The garden in all its states”, to develop the Main Verte program. This program includes shared gardens in a partnership approach between residents, associations and institutions, following a logic of creating social ties. It will become the cornerstone of the municipal program of shared gardens.

The Main Verte program and its La Main Verte charter were formalized in September 2002. An entity was also identified within Paris Nature, from the environmental education department of the Parks, Gardens and Green Spaces department, to ensure program management.

A charter as the cornerstone of the creation and management of Parisian shared gardens

The La Main Verte charter is an agreement that binds the City of Paris to the association supporting the shared garden project. It must first be voted on by the Borough Council and the Council of Paris. This charter specifies the respective commitments of the City and the associations. The main principles defined by the City of Paris in this charter relate to the participatory approach, the creation of social ties and respect for the environment.

Thus, the City of Paris wishes to encourage the development of collective gardens by relying on a process of consultation and strong involvement of the inhabitants. It supports collective gardens in all their diversity, whether collective gardens for residents, educational gardens, integration, allotment gardens or others, insofar as the garden is the result of a collective and concerted. Paris recognizes and defines the shared garden as a place of life open to the neighborhood, friendly, which promotes encounters between generations and between cultures, which promotes local resources by forging relationships with other structures. It is a testing ground for environmentally friendly practices,

By signing the La Main Verte charter, the City undertakes to support project promoters who wish to comply with the framework defined by this charter. It also offers the partner association the Main Verte label as well as integration into a network to benefit from exchanges, documentation and training on gardening. If it so wishes, the association may be associated with events organized by the City, and benefit from technical expertise, as well as advice on environmentally friendly practices adapted to Paris. The City also offers methodological support, if necessary, provided by an association with expertise in the field. Similarly, the City is developing an occupancy and usage agreement which will specify, for each garden, all the terms and conditions of application of this charter. The latter provides for the provision of the land free of charge, the installation of a water supply and the supply of topsoil.

In return, the association to which a plot is entrusted undertakes to open it to the public. Concretely, the door to the garden must be open when a member of the association is present, and the association must organize at least one public event per gardening season. This compensation also involves affixing the Main Verte logo and the terms of access to the garden in a visible manner, maintaining the site in good condition, adopting farming methods that respect the environment, paying the water and take out liability insurance.

This clear political recognition of the City of Paris greatly facilitates the task of citizens, by sparing them the administrative pitfalls and allowing them to fully invest in their project, rather than constantly having to justify the legitimacy of their approach. And as proof, the number of shared gardens has continued to grow, and at the end of the 2009 season, the City of Paris listed and mapped more than 50 shared gardens on its territory.

The shared garden; a tool for applying the principles of sustainable development

The growing number of openings of new shared gardens clearly demonstrates the success of the City of Paris project. In addition to this increase, the facts also prove that this project fully meets the principles of sustainable development. Its benefits can be observed at the level of the three specific spheres of this concept, namely: the economic, environmental and social spheres. Moreover, the analysis of the positive aspects of the shared gardens allows us to add another dimension to this project. This dimension, often presented as complementary to sustainable development, is participatory democracy.

Residents more involved in neighborhood life

Shared gardens have a positive impact on the participation of residents in their neighborhood life and promote social and cultural diversity. Claire Deffontaines, is president of the Quartier St-Bernard association, in the 11th arrondissement where the Jardin Nomade is located, which is the first garden to have signed an agreement with the City of Paris and to have adhered to the La Main Verte charter. . She makes a positive observation of the link between the shared garden and the involvement of residents in neighborhood life. It reveals that shared gardens are, par excellence, a place of appropriation of the neighborhood by its residents. To support her remarks, she cites the example of neighborhood meals and monthly soups that take place in the garden and which, according to her, generate social ties. These collective kitchen activities have also led to a cookbook project illustrated by neighborhood artists. At the Jardin Nomade, the dimension of solidarity is reflected in the reception of school groups and neighborhood parties, the garden thus reflecting the image of the social and cultural diversity of the neighborhood.

Protection of biodiversity

One of the issues to which the shared garden project of the City of Paris attempts to respond is the phenomenon of urban density affecting the quality and quantity of biodiversity in the city. Faced with this problem, there are many positive effects of shared gardens. First of all, the phenomenon of density imposes an urban development that should encourage good circulation of plant and animal species. The shared gardens then contribute to the consolidation of a network of biological corridors necessary for the preservation of the biodiversity of the urban ecosystem. According to Karim Lapp, project manager for the environment, sustainable development and eco-region at the Île-de-France Regional Council, this is done in two different ways. In the first place, although shared gardens raise the land issue at the level of urban planning, and although their inclusion in the local urban plan of Paris has been the subject of lively discussions, they have demonstrated their proper functioning. This then encouraged the municipality to develop a strategy providing, in the planning programs for municipal green spaces, that part of each park be devoted to a shared garden.

Secondly, shared gardens promote the protection of biodiversity while offering people whose grandparents no longer have rural origins to discover the experience of life. This relationship to the living world then makes it easier to give meaning to the protection of biodiversity. Along the same lines, Sonia Braham, ethnoecologist, describes shared gardens as places for raising awareness and learning ecological practices, for both adults and children. It specifies that these environmentally friendly behaviors, learned in the garden, are exported and modify the habits of daily life.

Awareness of our dependence on Mother Earth

The economic dimension of Parisian shared gardens is, at first glance, not very obvious. Nevertheless, it is part of the awareness of the dependence on the nourishing earth and on forms of sustainable agriculture. In addition, this economic aspect is also present through the tourist attraction constituted by Parisian shared gardens.

Still in this order of idea, the concept of urban agriculture for food security purposes is not widespread in Parisian shared gardens. The size of these could be the cause. In addition, the issue of contaminated soils also features in the food safety debate. For the moment, the City of Paris is wondering about this point without necessarily being too concerned about it, because, as the coordinator of the Main Verte cell mentions, the consumption of vegetables from shared gardens is rather anecdotal.

A change in institutional practices

Certainly, initially, the idea of ​​developing shared gardens through a participatory partnership of citizens met with opposition from leaders. The latter did not conceive of the idea of ​​developing projects outside the established institutional framework. However, the report is rather positive and the repercussions transcend the physical space of the garden. Claude Frison, coordinator of the Main Verte cell, points out that shared gardens have led to an evolution of institutional practices, geared more towards consultation and the involvement of city dwellers in their living environment. A Parisian journalist also noted that the partnership forged between associations and town halls in shared garden projects has led to a repositioning of the associative world in relation to institutions.

Les autres formes de jardins et la mixité des initiatives

If this portrait of urban gardening in Paris emphasizes shared gardens, it is because this type of garden is by far the most popular. However, the fashion is for the diversification and diversity of initiatives. Around Paris, there are several family gardens from the former allotments. They are made up of larger plots whose main purpose is to feed a family. There are also gardens with a purely educational vocation, as illustrated by the gardens in schoolyards, often made up of one to three small squares gardened by children and their teachers. Also, the territory of Paris includes gardens with a vocation for social integration for people in precarious situations, demonstration gardens, often included in parks and green spaces,

Even if each of these initiatives retains its specificity, the current trend is towards interbreeding. Thus, family gardens are transformed into shared gardens and vice versa. Similarly, there are educational plots in the shared gardens, as well as specific facilities to accommodate people with disabilities. Finally, ideas and concepts circulate rapidly, gardens emerging everywhere and in all forms, in an attempt to meet the demand which, on the other side of the ocean as at home, continues to grow.

To know more

Baudelet L, Frédérique Basset and Alice Le Roy. 2008. “Shared Gardens, Utopia, ecology, practical advice”. Living Earth Editions. Mens. France. 158 pages.

Contassot Y. 2005. “Incorporate shared gardens into public policies”. In 4 days for shared gardens. Proceedings of the Forum. Paris. June 2005.

The portal for shared gardens and integration in Iles de France: