Gardening in publicly owned parkways.

By now, most people with an interest in urban agriculture have seen this Ted Talk boasting over 1 million views, given by Los Angeles guerrilla gardener Ron Finley.

In 2011, according to this LA Times article, Mr. Finley received a citation from the city, ordering him to remove his vegetable garden on what the city calls the “parkway” (the strip of earth between the sidewalk and the curb). The City of Los Angeles owns these narrow strips of land; as landowner, the city has the legal right to decide who and what can go on the land.

Los Angeles has decided (see link to the city’s guide here) that its sole “accepted standard parkway planting material” is either grass or a drought-tolerant groundcover from a list of about twenty options. Vegetables and fruit do not qualify as standard planting material.

Gardeners may pay $400 to apply for a permit to establish nonstandard plants in the parkways adjacent to their homes. However, all plants (even with the $400 permit) must be drought tolerant, shorter than 36″, aesthetically appropriate, not noxious or invasive, and must not have spines or thorns. City officials are currently considering amending the city code to reduce the permit fee, in response to complaints from urban gardeners.

What do you think?

On the one hand, fruits and vegetables do require a great deal of water to thrive, and Los Angeles has an extremely dry climate. They also require a significant amount of time and care; when vegetable gardens go untended in the summer, they can look rather unsightly. And the city of Los Angeles does own these strips of land; legally speaking, the city has the exclusive rights to use and exclude.

However, on the other hand, fruit and vegetable gardening in public spaces encourages community building, can be beautiful, and is a healthy source of food and exercise.

If you were on the Los Angeles city council, what would you decide?

Posted on by Becky Witt

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