Urban gardens and neoliberal policies of Berlin and Warsaw

Within the research on the status of urban gardens in European cities, spatial development plans and local policies receive close attention, with attempts to compare the effects of demand and the pressure exerted on the areas occupied by gardens. Declared goal of the House of Representatives and the Senate of Berlin was to secure allotments permanently in the urban area and therefore decided on an allotment garden development plan (Kleingartenentwicklungsplan – KEP) in 2004. This was updated with regard to the protection periods in 2014 and with fundamental revision in 2016 accompanied by steering groups Berlin Garden Friends Association, the district offices of Neukölln and Pankow, the Senate Administrations for Environment, Transport and Climate Protection as well as Urban Development and Housing. First draft of KEP has been published in April 2019 and provides for the permanent preservation of about 83% of the allotment area and about 60,000 plots in Berlin. However, in many gardens there is still the threat of liquidation due to previous development plans, which included the construction of houses, schools and other public buildings. The allotment gardens remain to be a reserve for future city development. This is the case of Am Stadtpark I in Wilmersdorf and Bornholm II in Pankow which, although have gained status of being included in KEP with ‘Allotment gardens with a long-term perspective of use’ (‘Kleingärten mit langfristiger Nutzungsperspektive’), in fact are under constant threat of building up and gardeners are trying to find the solutions:

In 2016 it turned out that a sports hall will be built on the part of ours. We decided to establish a so-called Rescue group that will closely monitor the course of the investment. The case has recently gained momentum when the architects’ office presented the project of the sport hall to the public. During the meeting in municipality office, instead of saying we are against, we wanted to find the solution and we proposed to adjust project to the environmental changes and build gardens on the rooftop, walls etc. We are trying to think creatively how we can adjust to the problem that the city has. That is our problems as well’ (Gardener in Bornholm II).

‘Yes, our garden is under the thread by infrastructure projects. I am now trying to fight with one that is planning to build up part of the colony. We are constantly under thread of the building up. We have a school nearby and there is still a thread to extend it and build school Sportplatz. We would like to become Dauerkleingarten but it is difficult because city has already plans’ (board member in Am Stadpark I).

In Warsaw, due the unregulated issue of ownership of land, often with pre-war landowners, ways of managing and the role of the Polish Association of Allotments (PZD) make difficult to regulate the status of gardens in city planning, often including them the category of the so-called ‘arranged greenery’, which in practice might involve replacing them with any function assigned to urban greenery or eventual liquidation. The case of Poland is also interesting in the context of liberalizing the economy, that have made the subject of market games also sectors in which the duties of public authorities, for many reasons, are not subject to discussion – spatial planning, housing policy and the real estate market. Supporters of liberalism almost abolished the central institutions responsible for the state of spatial economy. Government administration in the field of spatial planning is in Poland, compared to other EU countries, fragmentary and destabilized by frequent changes. Lack of complex spatial city planning is particularly affected on green spaces all over the country. However, in Warsaw work is currently underway on a new spatial development plan, which has been subject to public consultation over the last 2 years. In one of the proposals (published in September 2018), the oldest Warsaw allotment garden “Obrońców Pokoju” (eng. Peace Defenders[1]) in Mokotów district, established in 1902, was proposed to be converted into a public park, with space for cafés, mass events and underground parking lot. The community realized that a greater opening of the colony is their only chance to keep it. This was demonstrated by the garden’s board and volunteers organizing open events and workshops that tried to involve neighbours.

People are aware that to achieve something they must unite and compete with local politics. Creating a ‘community of interest’, with strong social capital and high level of trust (Sztompka, 1999) is noticeable according to both groups of urban gardeners in Berlin and Warsaw. Their commitment and involvement in protection of space provides the platform for unifying and community efficacy that is an essential basis for undertaking actions (Putnam, 1995). And possible integration between members or other forms of urban gardening.

In both cities there is a constant risk of building up areas previously occupied by a large number of allotment gardens, while existing community gardens have to take into account the necessity of relocation. Such a tendency has a negative impact on the process of social integration and sustainable city development. Space understood today as a common and limited good, whose use and redistribution should be regulated due to the inherent features of the defect of land and real estate markets. The new spatial management system should also be open to future challenges and postulates appearing on a European and worldwide scale.

Exploring social capital and complexity of integration processes of allotment and community gardens can be sustainable and long-term contribution to a change of perception of urban gardens within the wider society. This is an important aspect for a greater sense of togetherness and understanding in issues such as neoliberal policies manifesting in aggressive and profit focused city development in Warsaw and Berlin.


Kleingarten in Berlin. Kleingartenentwicklungsplan Berlin 2030, Entwurf (2019) https://www.berlin.de/senuvk/umwelt/stadtgruen/kleingaerten/downloads/kep/Broschuere_KEP.pdf (access 20.04.2020)
Pobłocki K., Mergler L., Wudarski M. Anty-bezradnik przestrzenny: prawo do miasta w działaniu, Fundacja Res Publica, 2013,
Polski Związek Działkowców / Polish Allotment Gardens Association, 2018
Putnam, R.D (1995), Bowling alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Journal Democracy,
Sztompka, P. (1999), Trust: A sociological Theory. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

[1] Name of the garden commemorate The World Congress of Intellectuals in Defense of Peace – an international conference held in August 1948 in Wrocław (Breslau) organized by the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic and the Soviet Union against American Imperialism. At the congress were present or spoke: Irene Joliot-Curie, Aldous Huxley, Maria Dąbrowska, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Picasso. In 2019 the management of the garden proposed a change of name to Maria Kaczyńska, in connection with the decommunization process supported by the right-wing government in Poland.  

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