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Is guerilla gardening necessary for our cities?

Wiktor Bochenek
31 of January '23

It's hard to look for a correlation between the money spent by local governments on greenery and residents' opinions on parks and green spaces. This conflict is not surprising - local governments wonder why the govt. does not appreciate the sums, and residents, why no one continues to listen to them.

Why do people plant greenery themselves?

Opposed to cooperation on the line of residents-institutions is often not at all the walls built by piling up legislation, but the line of misunderstanding of mutual needs. Large projects very often do not coincide with local needs. Squares and "revitalizations" in which holistic changes are relied upon instead of small interventions can be an equally big misunderstanding. What if, the way to improve greenery in the city is quite different?

I enter a group of local "urban partisans" in the neighborhood where I live. People who are completely unfamiliar with each other periodically arrange to plant flowers, perennials and even trees. Usually these activities are accompanied by integration - joint workshops and getting to know each other. This is one example of guerilla gardening, or guerilla gardening . Why do we look for such groups?

Działania miejskiej partyzantki mogą być niewielkie, ograniczone do małego poletka przy osiedlu

The activities of urban guerilla gardening can be small, limited to a small plot next to a housing estate

photo by Ordercrazy | © Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

the idea of urban guerilla gardening

The idea of guerilla gardening dates back to the 1960s, with the development of a wasteland at the University of Berkeley considered its first example. Social self-organization resulted in the creation of an illegal park, which led to clashes with the police. The battle over the years proved to be a losing one.

Guerrilla gardening is a form of grassroots activity, which often involves planting greenery not entirely legally. Its most famous proponent is Richard Reynolds, author of On Guerilla Gardening, a handbook for urban activists. Garden guerilla gardening activities can be limited to even the smallest actions - dropping small "flower bombs," planting a tree or caring for specific wastelands. It can also serve to combine with community gardens, as Kacper Kepinski writes about. However, it carries with it two important changes. First of all, it rejects the aestheticization of space in favor of its naturalness, which is supposed to be more wild, untamed and planted without lines. The second is the primacy of the grassroots over planning and taking the initiative, which is often the result of a profession over urban institutions.

Czasem lepsze od słupkozy mogłoby być sadzenie drzew

sometimes better than a pole could be planting trees

photo by Witold Szwedkowski| © Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0


"Partisans" appear where usually no one has been before. They plant in places that are neglected, unvisited or simply forgotten. They also fight against excess concrete, pulling down excess concrete slabs in places where plants could grow peacefully, without disturbing anyone.

The problem, as usual, is the question of cooperation. Guerillas , after all, can benefit from the authority, and vice versa. Urban green self-organization could appear wherever the green board cannot appear. Within a legal framework, of course. Can these activities be institutionalized? This is discussed by Marcin Kedzierski, who addresses the issues of guerilla gardening in his doctoral dissertation.

Guerilla gardening cannot be institutionalized. I put more emphasis on spontaneous and grassroots actions, which, however, should not violate the law. If guerrillas take spontaneous but legal actions, it will be much easier to cooperate with the authorities. The idea must not be a deterrent. Something illegal and, in addition, sometimes associated with the devastation of public or private property does not encourage officials to cooperate with guerrillas. However, cooperation between these forces will come out for good for any urban space.

Przykład z krakowskiej Krowodrzy, gdzie mieszkańcy zaopiekowali się przestrzenią przy zabytkowej kapliczce

An example from Krakow's Krowodrza, where residents have taken care of the space next to a historic chapel

© Green Block

direction of cooperation

This all boils down to the question of how cooperation between "partisans" and officials should take place? How to create such ties and create a kind of networking. These are possibilities, but such cooperation is already taking place in Torun, Lodz, Poznan, but also in small towns like Choroszcz.

Local governments should attract activists to each other. Observe social profiles, as partisans are eager to share their actions online. These activists need to be encouraged. Remember that they are often in opposition to any authorities. Therefore, they must receive something. Support in the form of buying seeds, gardening tools, or even designating neglected sites by officials could get guerrillas to cooperate. It won't be easy. I think the most important thing is for officials to get out from behind their desks and break out of the schematic approach to urban aesthetics. A new flowerbed or a new tree planned for placement in the city budget is not the same as cooperation with partisans," adds Kedzierski.

Urban guerrillas could be a silent support for officials, like a superhero, appearing where the office doesn't need to.

Wiktor Bochenek

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