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Article by Charlotte Glennie published on City and Community

How does culture influence the political and economic processes shaping cities? Socially rich but unprofitable land uses, such as community gardens, create a trade-off between maintaining local character and increasing exchange value. As part of the Sociology PhD program, I conducted independent research to better understand how less profitable land uses such as community gardens can prevail in development conflicts. I examined documents and interviewed advocates for Seattle’s P-Patch program, which has secured virtual permanence for its publicly owned garden sites. My historical analysis shows that the P-Patch advocates, endowed with significant cultural capital, appealed to notions of Seattle’s place character and leveraged the city’s legal-policy infrastructure to institutionalize community gardens within Seattle’s urban planning framework. The gardens serve a wide constituency, including many low-income and minority residents, but as neighborhood amenities signifying urban sustainability, they also contribute to gentrification. My findings suggest that residents can leverage culture and local character to protect use value, but equity is far from inherent to this process and therefore requires deliberate consideration.