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Social–ecological memory in urban gardens—Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystem services

Barthel Stephan, Folke Carl, Colding Johan Global Environmental Change 20 (2010) 255–265


Many ecosystem services are in decline. Local ecological knowledge and associated practice are essentialto sustain and enhance ecosystem services on the ground. Here, we focus on social or collective memory in relation to management practice that sustains ecosystem services, and investigate where and how ecological practices, knowledge and experience are retained and transmitted. We analyze such social–ecological memory of allotment gardens in the Stockholmurban area, Sweden. Allotment gardens support ecosystem services such as pollination, seed dispersal and pest regulation in the broader urban landscape. Surveys and interviews were preformed over a four-year period with several hundreds of gardeners. We found that the allotment gardens function as communities-of-practice, where participation and reification interact and social–ecological memory is a shared source of resilience of the community by being both emergent and persistent. Ecological practices and knowledge in allotment gardens are retained and transmitted by imitation of practices, oral communication and collective rituals and habits, as well as by the physical gardens, artifacts, metaphors and rules-in-use (institutions). Finally, a wider social context provides external support through various forms of media, markets, social networks, collaborative organizations, and legal structures. We exemplify the role of urban gardens in generating ecosystem services in times of crisis and change and conclude that stewards of urban green areas and the social memory that they carry may help counteract further decline of critical ecosystem services.

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Keywords: Ecosystem services, Social and ecological memory, Resilience, Ecosystem management, Urban gardens,Community of practice

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