Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Story of the Queen Anne Memorial Garden: Resisting a Dominant Cultural Narrative

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Story of the Queen Anne Memorial Garden: Resisting a Dominant Cultural Narrative

Article excerpt

Communities often struggle with narratives they dislike (Rappaport, 2000; Shogan, 2002). Tragically, damaging images imposed by outsiders are often powerful contributors to the ongoing development of a negative collective identity (Cohen, 1985; Suttles, 1972), as illustrated by communities affected by urban decline. As urban neighborhoods undergo a dramatic descent due to a variety of economic and social factors, residents face the often overwhelming challenge of resisting the ills, such as crime and urban decay, that accompany such events. Subsequently, as a neighborhood deteriorates, it is not uncommon for it to develop a negative reputation among nearby neighborhoods and within the broader locality in which it is situated. The onset of urban decline, in this sense, introduces a plot twist to the neighborhood's story that changes the very character of the neighborhood and embeds its residents collectively in a tragic narrative. The collective identity of residents is, thus, tied to misfortune, which is only reinforced by outsiders and serves to disempower community members, depleting their optimism to liberate themselves from their ill-fated situations. Fortunately, efforts at urban revitalization, "the process of enhancing the physical, commercial, and social components of neighborhoods and the future prospects of their residents" (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001, p. 6), if successful, can offer a compelling counter-narrative.

Crucial to any attempt at revitalization is grassroots involvement in urban renewal (Rearing & Smith, 1996; Purdue, 2001; Williams, 1985). Thus, successful revitalization often begins with a reinvestment in human and social capital (Purdue, 2001) wherein a group of residents, even a small one, acts collectively to change the story of its neighborhood (Meegan & Mitchell, 2001; Williams, 1985). Urban revitalization, therefore, is an effort to address neighborhood decline and its associated ills by mobilizing and empowering residents to improve the sense of community among neighbors. In short, urban renewal can potentially turn tragedy into triumph.

Because initiatives undertaken to improve neighborhoods often focus on the physical environment, it is perhaps unsurprising that a community garden, initiated expressly to upgrade the streetscape within a neighborhood, is a grassroots endeavor that has been used with relative success (Landman, 1993). While it clearly serves as a geographic expression of leisure, a community garden project presumably transcends the enjoyment residents derive from the activity of gardening by aiding in the social construction of community. But how does the development of a community garden assist in offsetting dominant cultural narratives that depict the neighborhood in a negative light?

My chief purpose, here, was to offer a counter-narrative of a group of residents from a mid-sized city located in the Midwestern United States that was dealing with a negative portrayal of its neighborhood by retelling the "success story" of the Queen Anne Memorial Garden, a community garden it built to combat urban decline. Accordingly, I sought to understand how the Queen Anne Memorial Garden offered residents a counter-narrative of themselves. Using an interpretive approach to narrative inquiry, I explored how fourteen garden participants collectively reconfigured the events that led to the completed garden and endowed those events with meaning and continuity. In so doing, I aimed to learn how the development of the community garden shaped the participants' perceptions about their neighborhood and collective identity. Before detailing my approach to narrative inquiry and sharing the story of the Queen Anne Memorial Garden, I shall endeavor, first, to provide readers with a brief review of the community garden literature.

Literature Review

Community gardens, by definition, are organized initiatives whereby sections of land are used to produce food or flowers in an urban environment for the personal use or collective benefit of their members who, by virtue of their participation, share certain resources, such as space, tools, and water (Glover, in press, a). …

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