Varieties of green: On aesthetic contestations over urban sustainability pathways in a Copenhagen community garden

Jakob Laage-Thomsen & Anders Blok (2021)

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 4(2), pp. 275-295.

Abstract. Alongside kindred civic-driven and place-based urban greening initiatives, studies document an upsurge over the last decade in urban gardening and alternative food initiatives across a range of Euro-American settings. Meanwhile, historical and cultural inquiries into urban design, planning and politics suggest that the place and role of ‘nature’ in the city is now undergoing significant shifts. In this article, we deploy a case study of a civic-driven permaculture garden in Copenhagen in order to suggest a novel analytical grid of the imaginative and material domain of public aesthetic norms shaping current-day tensions over interventions in and valuations of the fabric of multiform green-spaces in the city. Reading across existing literatures, we model this domain along two structuring axes – of ‘orderliness’ versus ‘wildness’ and ‘pastoral nature’ versus city-nature ‘imbrication’ – and illustrate the usefulness of the resulting grid for making sense of internal debates and external criticisms in the Copenhagen permaculture gardening case. By assisting us in explaining how and why this garden struggled to carve out a legitimate space in a city otherwise committed to urban nature, we argue that attention to variable urban-green aesthetic commitments helps recast questions of urban sustainability politics in important ways.

Extract: “Crucial for the claims we advance in the present article, and our ability to invest the proposed analytical grid (as presented in Figure 1) with empirical credibility, is the fact that our case study pertains to a wider digital mapping of what we call urban green communities in Danish cities. This includes in the range of 250 community gardens, biodiversity conservation grazing and kindred civic, practice- and place-based groups committed to urban greening and environmental improvement in cities, of which roughly one-third is located in Copenhagen. In a previous analysis (Laage-Thomsen and Blok, 2020), we deploy this material to locate recurrent patterns of group engagement styles, in the sense of variation in how groups position themselves vis-à-vis a broader urban politics of local and global sustainability. From this analysis, we know that Urban Garden X belongs to only a handful of larger and more publicly visible alternative gardening initiatives in Copenhagen, where members engage in both place-based forms of care and public criticism pertaining to wider issues of biodiversity and climate justice (Thévenot, 2014).”

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