Field Initiative 5. Chicago, Illinois

Cultivating Chicago: Gardens as Ecological Infrastructures.

Project Coordinator: Molly Doane, UIC, Associate Professor of Anthropology

This initiative focuses on how gardeners create meaningful social and natural spaces through growing and making.  Using the lens of political ecology, which holds that culture and nature are mutually constituted, we explore urban gardens in Chicago as vital ecological communities. The project focuses on how poor, urban populations contribute to their own wellbeing as well as to that of other humans, plants, and animals in the city. Gardening is believed to provide therapeutic benefits, connection to nature and place, and insights into natural and human life cycles. Many studies demonstrate the cultural importance of garden assemblages and plants not only for providing culturally important foods, but also in creating a sense of agency, orientation to place, and regulating human-natural relationships. Gardening is a source of wellbeing that derives from mutualistic human, plant, and animal interactions. This field initiative investigates the making of green spaces that are considered critical to urban ecosystems. Fieldwork in community gardens around the city will illuminate the ways that people interact with the environment through gardening. In light of the connection between social movements concerned with issues such as environmental health, pollution, and food sovereignty, this project explores community gardening as a form of ecological place-making, in which gardens and green spaces serve as alternative infrastructures and ecological undergrounds.

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