Allotment gardens in the cities nowadays and in the future – challenges and functions - 23.06.2014

The paper was presented by president of Polish allotment gardens federation Eugeniusz Kondracki during seminar at Warsaw University of Life Science, dedicated to future of allotment gardens in cities. Audience had occasion to hear out lectures given by the best experts and to take part in discussion. President Kondracki described evolution of allotment gardening movement in Poland and presented perspectives of its further development.

A little bit of history

Polish allotment gardens have a long history. The precursor is the garden, which was predecessor of the “Powstańców Wielkopolskich” allotment garden in Koźmin Wielkopolski. It was founded in 1824. The oldest garden in Warsaw, which from the very beginning took form of the modern allotment garden, is “Obrońców Pokoju”. It exists continuingly since 1903. Those examples shows, that the allotment gardens are traditional elements of the cities’ landscape.

The most rapid development of the allotment gardening in Poland took place in the era of rapid urbanization in XX century. In 1918 there were 19 gardens with 2064 allotments on the area of 70,2 hectare. In 1939 there were 606 gardens. Almost 50 000 allotments with total area of 3000 hectares. Their basic function was production of vegetables and fruits, especially in gardens destined to unemployed.

In devastated by the war Poland there was a huge need for allotments. For people living in the cities, gardens were the only source of vegetables, fruits and sometimes even poultry. So it cannot be surprise, that number of gardens grew rapidly. In 1949 there were 1500 gardens, with almost 120 000 allotments on the 6500 hectares.

Undoubtedly, it was effect of the development of the allotment gardens law. It is worth to mention, that the outbreak of the war in 1939 interrupted parliament’s work on the new allotment gardens legislation. After the war this concepts were reactivated. The decree, issued by the government, revived the associations of allotment gardens, which functioned before the war. It also renewed nationwide Federation of Associations. In 1949 new allotment gardens bill was issued. Unfortunately, the bill liquidated independence of the allotment gardening movement, which from now on was complied with the labor union. Despite this fact allotmenteers knew how to organize themselves and created nationwide organization.

New laborers’ allotment gardens law. Creation of the Polish allotment gardens federation.

The independence of the movement has started since 1981. That year the laborers’ allotment gardens law was imposed. It created the Polish allotment gardens federation. It was the beginning of the greatest development of gardens. It took only 9 years to increase their area by half. In new gardens, with the area of 14 hectares, allotments were distributed to 365 000 families.

Eighties was the era of economic crisis. For millions of people the most important was productive function of the allotments. The most common were cultivations of vegetables and fruits. Some people even reared rabbits and poultry. According to the statistic office’s database, in 1987 allotment gardens holders produced 700 thousand tons of vegetables and fruits, 3,5 thousand of rabbit and chicken meat and few hundreds of tons of honey.  

Since 1990 allotment gardens’ function has changed. The inbreeding  of animals does not occur anymore. The amount of vegetables and fruits production was limited too. In 1995 500 thousand tons of food was produced by allotmenteers. Allotment became the place of recreation and relax. However, for many impecunious people, they are still the main source of products. The structure of the production changed too. There are more rare species and those, which are especially valuable because of their nutritional values.

Despite many attempts, aimed to liquidate allotment gardens in Poland, there are still 4929 gardens, on the area of 43 350 hectares, with almost one million allotments (965 328). It is estimated, that, including families of the allotmenteers, there are about 4 million users of the gardens. Within them, there are representatives of all social classes, occupation groups and different age groups.

The poll in 2011 showed, that within allotmenteers the most numerous groups are: people of the group of age 51 – 65 (37,66%), with secondary education (40,93%), professionally active (42,49%), physical laborers (43,59%).  

Allotments play productive role, as well as recreational one. They are Especially popular in counties śląski, łódzki, pomorski and małopolski. There are more people, who want to own the allotment, than allotments itself. There are more and more young allotmenteers. People aged 25 – 35 are 11 percent of them.

The biggest young group within the allotment gardens holders are couples with small children, who live in big cities. One might say, that there is kind of trend of having allotment gardens. In the future this group will supposedly balloon.

When it comes to localization of the gardens, 84% of them are in the cities. That is 4161 allotment gardens with the area of 36 000 hectares. They are in  every county. In the biggest Polish cities, with over 100 thousand citizens, there are 36% of all 360 000 allotments.

From the allotmenteers’ point of view, the most important issue is security of the allotment gardens. They have different law status. About 63% were granted with the perpetual usufruct of the ground, 37% normal usufruct and 0,16% are the ownerships of the property.

Unfortunately, because of lack of cities’ development plans or because of undermined rights to the gardens’ territory, only 48% of them have stabile legal status.

Status of almost half of them is unstable. This problem occurs especially in cities. Usually, the bigger city is, the more worrisome problem is. For example, in the cities with 100 – 250 thousand citizens, about 45% of allotment gardens were included in the developments plan, in cities with 250 – 500 thousand only 27% and in cities with over 500 thousand citizens, such as: Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Lodz and Warsaw less than 10%.

It is worth to discuss situation in Warsaw separately. First of all, despite some statements, there are not that many allotment gardens in the capital of Poland. There are 168 gardens on the area of 1200 hectares with 30 000 alotmenteers (not counting their families). That is 1,7% of all citizens living in Warsaw. For example in Berlin allotment gardens holders are 1,9% of all people living there and their area is twice as big as in Warsaw.

The situation of legal status of allotment gardens in the capital is dramatic. Over 98% is not included in city’s development plans. The biggest problem for the allotmenteers are judicial processes. The city hall tries to make them resign from their allotment. Some of those trials ended up well for the allotment garden holders, but most of them continued.

Allotment garden holders have new, good law

As it was mentioned before, stable legal status of the allotment gardens is fundamental for the gardeners. That is why, it was one of the main field of Polish allotment gardens federation’s activities. It was especially important in 2013. This situation was caused by the Constitutional Court judgment in July 2012. It gave Polish parliament 18 months to enact new allotment gardens law. Without it, gardens and the allotmenteers would find themselves in the legal vacuum, because the old allotment gardens law would expire.

In the parliament conflicts of different groups’ interest occured. Not only alotmenteers found allotment gardens’ case important. It was also, or perhaps in greatest extend, interesting for entrepreneurs. For years they undertook many endeavours, aimed to change the law, so that it would be possible to make gardens’ grounds available for commercial investments.

That is why ideas for the new bill differed drastically. Some of them would mean subduing gardens to the local authorities, some wanted privatization of them, in fact it would provoke uncontrolled commercialization. There were also concepts to maintain status quo and impose only small novelizations of the old law.

After all, the neutral idea promoted by allotmenteers themselves in the citizens project won. The bill, enacted in 13th December 2013, in most extend included the citizens project, which was signed by 1 000 000 people. It is worth to underline, that this number was the record of support for the citizens initiative. The amount of society’s interest in this case shows, that the allotment gardens in Poland are not vanishing and that they are still significant for many Polish people. Politicians came to understand that fact. The bill was supported by 421 deputies. Of course, one must note, that it was possible to have this great support because allotmenteers are organized in nationwide Federation. Undoubtedly, it makes it easier to unify in order to protect their rights and to get satisfying law.  

The most important elements of the new law are:

  • Maintaining mechanisms, which hold down risk of liquidating gardens
  • Maintain the rule, that liquidated garden must be renewed
  • Maintain gardens’ roles: social functions and the green area function
  • Respecting rights to the grounds, obtained by the allotmenteers
  • The allotmenteers kept their right to make decisions about functioning of the garden
  • New mechanisms of supporting by local authorities
  • Maintaining the right to create new gardens on the public grounds

So as one may see, the new law not only made it possible for gardens to still exist, by also develop. Parliament maintained and strengthen old functions of the gardens.

Frankly speaking, the law suggests, that the allotment gardens are not just an advantage for the allotmeteers. It has also important social and environmental role to play.

Important aspects of the allotment gardening

Many of these aspects are usually forgotten, or even not perceived. One must note, that allotment gardens are:

  • Places of active recreation – working in the garden is undoubtedly healthy physic activity. It is worth to mention, that hortitherapy has already become the field of studies. The gardens are cultivated by almost one million people. In this group there are many elders, for whom it is often the only form of physic activity. Gardens allow to save billions of zlotych, saved on healthcare.
  • Ecology education – in the cities going to allotment gardens one of only few occasions to have a contact with the nature. It is especially important for children. The new law says, that the allotment gardens should boost their cooperation with schools, which was limited after 1990.
  • Social integrity – the allotment gardens allow to maintain close relations with neighbors and create integrated local societies. We live in the era when this kind of ties disappear, especially in big cities, what causes many other negative effects. Allotment gardens is a good pattern of families’ integration.
  • Social activation – from the very beginning, the allotment gardens were instrument of activating people, who are socially excluded, especially unemployed. It is not only working in the garden, that matters. The allotment gardens functioning is in a great extend based on the voluntary, which engage those, who are professionally inactive, because their age. Allotment gardens are important form of strengthening the civil society.
  • Social activity – gardens work on the non – commercial pattern. It is the form of public benefit, which can be used by people who are not wealthy.  Gardens’ characteristic makes them ready to undertake other social initiatives. In recent years, initiatives such as elders’, or children from orphanages vacations are becoming more and more popular. It is also worth to mention, that when the Parliament worked on a new bill, there were signals, that this kind of activity might be supported by the authorities.
  • Green lungs – it is not a coincidence, that the allotment gardens kept their status of a green area. In cities, gardens have become kind of parks, which are used not only by allotmenteers, but also citizens living in the neighborhood. It is worth to note, that local authorities do not spend any money on these “parks”. Yearly, the cost of maintaining 1 hectare of traditional park costs 20 000 zl. In Warsaw, where there are 1200 hectares of parks, their yearly cost is over 25 000 000 zl.
  • Garden – area of biodiversity – great advantage of the allotment gardens is a diversity of species of plants, which live on a small territory. It is also good habitat for animals and insects. Lately, the Federation joined Greenpeace in their initiative of creating “bees hotels” in urban allotment gardens. Allotment gardens are also places, where one might find rare species of fruit trees.
  • Allotment gardens absorb rain water and reduce the temperature – this function is very often underlined in publications describing them. Big amount of plants and the structure of the soil in gardens make it possible to absorb surplus water. They cause 2-3 Celsius degrees declination of the temperature of the air too. 
  • Recultivation of the devastated area – there are a lot of areas, which are undeveloped. Creating allotment garden is one of the cheapest way of restoring them.

Allotment gardens fundamental for development of urban gardening

I have mentioned only the most important and popular aspects of allotment gardens’ functioning in cities. But it is worth to refer to their traditional role: productive function. It seems, that right now we face the end of a tendency. About twenty years ago we witnessed limitation of productive function of the allotments. When fruits and vegetables became more available, cultivation in the garden is not profitable anymore. Some people even used arguments, referring to allegedly harmfulness of the vegetables cultivated in urban area. 

Recently, these tendencies have drastically changed. Ecologically cultivations became popular and now their perception has changed too. In many countries, including Western Europe, the concept of urban gardening becomes more popular. In this situation, existence of many allotment gardens in Poland is a great advantage for us. In EU only Germany and Austria have comparable amount of them. We have great conditions to renew urban gardening.

This situation is not a surprise or coincidence. It is the effect of legal regulation, which thanks to allotment gardens holders, protected and will still protect allotment gardens in Poland.  

If we come to conclusion, that urban allotment gardening should be renewed, authorities must create condition for it. Stable legal status in indispensible.  

Many people claim, that allotment gardens appearance and development is not satisfying. No to mention, that those allegations are based on prejudges and are very harmful, it is worth to describe pattern of this situation. For the last 20 years allotment gardens holders heard, that their presence in cities is not permanent, that gardens block development of cities and that they should be liquidated.

There were ideas of limitation their right of getting their garden renewed, if their old one is liquidated. Unsurprisingly, some allotment gardens holders refrained from investing in their allotment in this situation. Many gardens lost they value. One may hope, that recent changes will solve the problem, especially, that ironically, popularity of problems of the gardens in media, caused the growth of interest in this kind of recreation. Discussion about them popularized knowledge about allotment gardening movement and clarified many prejudges. Polls shows, that 88% of Polish people are in favor of allotment gardens’ existence, against are only 8%. 4% do not have any opinion. 

Future of the allotment gardens in cities

To sum up, I would like to say, that there is a future for the allotment gardens in cities. Of course, not all of them will have their previous localization. Some will surely be transferred. This kind of situation has been occurring for many years. Cities evolve all the time, they develop, so in some cases this is unavoidable. Especially when it comes to public investments, which are necessary to meet citizens expectations. The Polish allotment gardens federation has never blocked this kind of decisions. However, we have never accepted depicting gardens as a reserve of a grounds for investment. This kind of ideas are presented by groups, which are interested in commercialization of these areas. Cities need balanced development, which will satisfy all the citizens’ needs. One of them is having garden.

The needs of citizens are what change authorities’ attitude. Nowadays many big metropolis have to face problem of depopulation and migration to suburbs. It is obvious, that this situation is caused by lack of green field in cities. Allotment gardens give citizens contact with the nature. If the cities want to halt migration, they must give them access to modern and functional allotment gardens is one of the best way to achieve this goal.

That is why, in my opinion, allotment gardens in Poland are not endangered. What is more, they will keep on developing. 


President of the Polish Federation of allotment gardens

Eugeniusz Kondracki


Copyright © 2020 Polski Związek Działkowców All rights reserved.

made by Esencja Studio