One of the ongoing research activities of the TESS project (part of Work Package 4) aims to explore the relations between public policies and community-based initiatives which experiment with grassroots approaches for the promotion of a sustainability transition. The ultimate goal is to identify and to investigate policy environments, at multiple scales, which are particularly conducive to and supportive for community-based initiatives to diffuse and to persist or, on the contrary, to impede and create barriers for community activism and grassroots innovation.
One of the case studies currently under investigation is related to policies on Urban Gardening promoted by the Municipality of Rome, specifically the first Regulation for Allotments and Community Gardens (“Regolamento orti urbani e giardini condivisi” in Italian) which was recently approved (July 2015). The regulation represents the response of the local public administration to the growing relevance of urban gardening and agriculture in Rome. Community urban gardens and allotments have been diffusing in Rome since the second half of the 2000s. The dimension of the phenomenon can be estimated by looking at the map available at the website of the network Zappata Romana (www.zappataromana.org). Created in 2010, the map originally included around fifty community urban gardens and allotments; this number has more than tripled since then. Parallel to the diffusion of this phenomenon, urban gardeners and farmers started networking and organizing. As a result, they began requesting official recognition of urban gardens and allotments from the public administration and, more specifically, for the formal assignment of urban land.
The establishment of an urban garden office in the municipality of Rome dates back to 2002. However, at the time it was merely a technical office in charge of the identification and regulation of individual gardens (diffused in many areas in the periphery of the city). The first public act of the Municipality of Rome in the field of community urban gardening was in 2010 with the opening of the public urban allotment in Via della Consolata (in the Ostiense neighborhood in the southern district of the city), outsourced lo a local association and, with the creation of a Mayor’s Garden in the Campidoglio (the public building in the heart of Rome that hosts the Mayor), clearly inspired by the vegetable garden created by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House in 2009. Neither of these initiatives are aimed at directly promoting CBIs and bottom-up processes; however, they both represent relevant steps for the Municipality as it is within the frame of growing public awareness around (collective) allotments that the urban gardens office gradually changed its mission and started working with CBIs and associations rather than individuals.
Starting from 2012, the Municipality of Rome – as well as some of the sub-municipal districts that complement the municipal administration in the different areas of the city – offered public land to CBIs and associations for urban gardens and allotments; however, these were informal allocations due to a lack of formal rules regulating the land concessions and urban gardening activities. In the absence of formal regulation, Roman urban gardeners produced their own set of guidelines for urban gardening in the city which were presented to and discussed with the Town Council in 2014.
The approval of the abovementioned Regulation for Allotments and Community Gardens in 2015 should be read as the outcome of this complex and long-lasting process. The Regulation was drafted by the Urban Gardens office, in accordance with CBIs and local associations (and taking into account their suggested guidelines). Furthermore, it is important to note that the Regulation was also influenced by other similar regulations already existing in Italy and in other European cities – in particular Marseille, which worked with the Municipality of Rome in an EU-funded project. The regulation is perceived by both CBIs and the Municipality as a starting point. All stakeholders are ready to take further steps towards a new season of urban gardens and allotments in the city of Rome.