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The socio-environmental impacts of public urban fruit trees: A Montreal case-study

Colinas, Juliette, Bush, Paula, Manaugh, Kevin
Urban forestry & urban greening 2018
business enterprises, community gardens, cost effectiveness, ecosystem services, environmental knowledge, fruit trees, interviews, orchards, social capital, urban agriculture, urban planning, Quebec
In the past two decades, worldwide interest in urban agriculture has rapidly increased amongst residents, city administrations, businesses and researchers, and a diversity of social and environmental benefits were found or argued for the practice. However, most studies have been conducted on commercial activities or on community-gardens, which are either private or of restricted access, and to our knowledge no study is available yet on the impacts of public produce, that is, food grown in public spaces and freely accessible to passersby. Yet, because its access is unrestricted, public produce might impact the community in a different and perhaps more widespread fashion than community gardens. To begin to address this gap, we studied potential socio-environmental impacts of public urban fruit trees, focusing on social capital, place attachment, food and environmental knowledge, using a public urban orchard located in Montreal, Quebec as a case-study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with users of the site and analyzed using a mixed inductive and deductive qualitative approach. Evidence of positive impacts was found for social capital (including the relationship with the city administration), place attachment, and food knowledge, while no evidence was found for environmental knowledge. The results also strongly suggest that implementing participatory activities and providing more information about the orchard, the food system, and the environment on the site could increase the impacts on the four social phenomena studied. This study suggests that public, unrestricted-access urban agriculture could have diverse and direct socio-environmental impacts. The findings should be of interest to city administrations seeking cost-efficient means of positively contributing to socio-environmental sustainability and to the well-being of their residents, as well as to researchers interested in the relationship between urban planning and socio-environmental sustainability.