Community Gardens and the Digital Space

Rethinking the role of the digital space in supporting the community garden’s legacy

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KEYWORDS

Critical Thinking, Design, Prototyping, Systems Thinking, User Experience

Kirsten Geiger

SUMMARY

At the height of the crack epidemic in the 70s, community members began turning abandoned lots around the neighbourhood into beautiful green spaces. In the 90s, members fought for the gardens' protection until they were placed under NYC Parks department. As a public space, they couldn’t be sold for private or commercial use. That’s about the extent of what the government does. Community gardens continue to rely almost entirely on volunteer work for maintenance and project funding.

However, most garden members are from an older generation with young people making up only a ¼ of volunteers. When these members are no longer with us, who will keep their legacy alive? This project aims to rethink how we might use the digital space (specifically through Instagram and an accompanying website) to attract the next generation of community garden members.

challenge 

Over the course of three months, I visited each of the community gardens within the East Village and conducted observations, interviews, and volunteered at Dias Y Flores garden. I identified three main insights. First, opportunities for community building are placed on garden members. Second, volunteers are responsible for unlocking the gate and opening the garden to the public. And lastly, there is currently no easily accessible and reliable system in place to inform the public of when these gardens are open.

Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens or LUNGS was formed in 2011 to unite the gardens of the Lower East Side and East Village. They are currently running the Instagram and website. Both platforms lack an overall aesthetic, are difficult to navigate, and information is hard to understand.

Outcome

"Using these pain points as reference, I created social media mockups that utilise my strategy. The Instagram feed encourages community interaction, showcases members' involvement, and posts shareable posters with clear information on upcoming events. The highlights contain important information such as a map of the gardens, its history, and featured gardens. The “Gardens Open Today” map posted every weekend morning with lots coloured green to inform people which gardens are open that day.

The website would hold similar but more in depth information and calls to action. There would be a roster of all community gardens with an option to learn more about ongoing projects they may need support with. The volunteer form makes it easy to submit one’s member application. And finally, information on how to donate since donations are their main source of funding.

Through rethinking their use of the digital space, I hope to effectively encourage community participation in order to keep the legacy of the community gardens alive.