Garden Deserts: Community Garden Plots per Person in Vancouver

Do you want to sign up for a community garden plot in Vancouver? If so, you are not alone - demand for garden space has surged in recent years as the local food movement has become mainstream. According to data published on the City's Open Data Site, there are approximately 3,965 garden plots of various types in the City and there are about 600,000 people in Vancouver. Therefore, there is approximately 1 garden plot per 150 people living in the city today.

After I created an interactive map showing all Community Gardens and Food Trees last year, I was asked by the Evergreen BC 'Seeding Healthy Communities' program coordinator if I could explore the distribution of garden plots within the city, with an eye towards understanding the spatial accessibility of existing gardens to citizens. I volunteered to conduct this analysis because I wanted to know if there were 'garden deserts' within the City where population-based demand for plots was much greater than supply?

I began by visualizing the number of plots per garden location as shown on the map below:

I also mapped the total population per census block based on the Statistics Canada's 2011 Census of Population.

To evaluate the relative supply and demand for garden plots within Vancouver, I transformed the point data from the two maps above into kernel density surfaces, based on the number of garden plots and people within 1 km from every point in the City. This process yeilded two surfaces, the number of plots per square kilometer and the number of people per square kilometer - I then divided these to derive a measure of 'Garden Plots per 1,000 People' as shown in on the map below. The dark green areas are relatively well served while lighter yellow and grey areas have very few or no plots per person:

I am a big fan of the City of Vancouver's Greenest City initiative that among  other goals has supported creation of many new community gardens in the past few years, but I believe more gardens are still needed. What is the right number? That I cannot say. But I would suggest this map could be used to help plan where additional gardens may be needed from a spatial equity perspective. Although policy makers and advocates should also weigh other variables such as income level of communities. Additionally, there may be relatively less need for gardens in currently 'underserved' areas of the city where single family homes may have back yard gardens that may seem to negate the demand for community gardens.

That said, as a proud member of the Cypress Community Garden in Kitsilano, community gardens have a much greater impact beyond increasing local food security. In my experience gardens have an important role in increasing community social connectedness, which has in turn been linked in a recent Vancouver Coastal Health survey to improved sense of health and well-being. So with each new garden that is planted, we may in fact be growing a healthier community for generations to come.