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It’s urban, it’s garden… It’s an Italian Science Shop

Social/community garden in Prato (Italy). Photo by UNIFI researchers

By Giovanna Pacini and Franco Bagnoli

The term “urban garden” combines two words that, in the common language, have opposite values: the idea of the vegetable garden is linked to the countryside, whereas with urban we normally refer to the cities and in general to the industrialized areas.

The theme of urban gardening is the core of the first project of the Florence Science Shop. It was planned according to the new methodology, trying to enhance the participative and collaborative approach during all the process, from the initial idea to the dissemination of results.

We received a manifestation of interest from the non-profit association Orti Dipinti in 2018, who runs a public “open” garden where citizens can learn how to deal with plants and gather aromatic herbs. The garden is used also as a didactic experience for children and therapeutic tool for mentally impaired people. They asked us to help them in promoting this idea, enlarging the participants to their and other experiences in this field.

Our first step was to organize a science café to illustrate the request and the spirit of the science shop and to collect questions on this specific topic, in order to set up a research project. The experts of our science café were Ugo Bardi, a physical chemist at the University of Florence and the University delegate for sustainability, Marina Clauser, from the Botanic Garden of Florence, and Giacomo Salizzoni, president of Orti Dipinti. Franco Bagnoli, who moderated the event, introduced the subject and the idea of Science shop to the public. Ugo Bardi, during his activity as the delegate for sustainability, introduced the idea of urban gardens run by students in the university and Marina is hosting school classes in the Botanic Garden in Florence.

Both citizens and experts proposed research issues and expressed their needs, like for example: to create a network for the exchange of information, the necessity to have a dialogue with the institutions, the requirement of financial support to urban gardens for social/recreational purposes, and the desire to have answers to questions about the new methods and techniques in horticulture.

After the event, other researchers from the Department of Agri-food Production of and Environmental Sciences of the University of Florence (DISPAA) joined the project.

Social/community garden in Prato (Italy). Photo by Giovanna Pacini

Photo by UNIFI researchers

 

We performed a first analysis (Bagnoli et all, Urban Gardening in Florence and Prato: How a Science Shop Project Proposed by Citizens Has Grown into a Multi-Disciplinary Research Subject, Journal of Sustainable Development, vol 11 p. 111-119, 2018) about the wide varieties of realizations of the idea of publicly accessible urban gardens open. Among them, those that are assigned by municipalities to retired or unemployed citizens are the most common and those that globally involve most citizens. So, we decided to further investigate this aspect.

From the stakeholders’ point of view: the Municipality of Prato expressed its interest in monitoring its assigned public gardens, and a thesis project on this subject started with the title “Impact of urban horticulture on water resources: the case of the social gardens of the Municipality of Prato”.

An agriculture student, 24 years old, following the guidelines of the researchers, developed a questionnaire to evaluate both the agronomic aspects and the social/psychological impacts. This first project is arriving at its end. Some preliminary results about the general details are:

  • the average age is 73 years. They are all retired except for a 55-year-old who is unemployed
  • almost all of them have a healthy, economic and social motivation to cultivate.
  • all, although having a scale from 1 (minimum) to 5 (maximum) to indicate their social and economic satisfaction, voted 5 (80%) and 4 (20%)

The science shop during all the phases constantly monitored the progress of the project organizing meetings with the tenants of the urban gardens, with the Municipality of Prato and with the research group, often also together with more than one of them.

We are now near the last event, planned for the end of March 2019: a science café organized in close collaboration with the municipality of Prato in a public place (a municipal library), to return the results of the project to the population.

Following the new idea that has permeated the whole process, we have invited as speakers not only the student and the researchers but also the Councillor for the Environment of the municipality of Prato and one of the elderlies who runs one of the analysed urban gardens.

Moreover, other science shop projects are sprouting, some of them in collaboration with the municipality of Prato, which has greatly appreciated this way of working… Stay tuned!