Done right, the allotment can be a rejection of consumerism and social isolation—and a powerful mechanism to resist unscrupulous developersby Chloe Tomlinson / December 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
Imagine the scene. A young family is being shown around one of the new flats that have popped up in an urban neighbourhood. They are standing in what will be the living room, and the estate agent is pointing at something. “You really don’t need a garden. Plenty of green space nearby,” he says, nodding sagely. “Just behind the old boozer over there, you see: allotments.” Ooh, allotments. Does anything scream bohemia more than organic, seasonal, locally-grown produce with appealingly working-class overtones?
So, allotments have become infused with a touch of the bourgeois; who cares? It is true that they are more socially diverse—no longer overwhelmingly dominated working class men of a certain age—but this need not imply some sort of trend towards hipster superficiality. Those who are only interested in getting a plot to take a photograph of themselves wielding a purple cauliflower for Instagram won’t last long (and have a name: ticklers.)
What is worrying about the above scene, however, is that allotments are being appropriated as some sort of promotional place marketing tool; they signify community, history, authenticity. Who wouldn’t want to live near allotments? The surrounding area becomes edgy, vibrant and sought after.
So sought after, in fact, that the allotments (and the boozer, and the nightclub, and everything else that endowed it with any character) after a while start to seem again like relics from a former, less polished age: a wasteful way to use land that now has such an astronomical value. And then there’s the housing crisis, of course. Couldn’t the area do with some more flats?
Prominent allotment historians Crouch and Ward have noted a shift away from ‘traditional’ allotment gardening towards “grassroots movements and social enterprise [which are] busily providing more [informal] growing spaces.” For them, this means that “the establishment and/or improvement of sites is probably more feasible now than at any time since WWII.” What need, one might ask, is there for the ‘formal’ allotment given the rise of the ‘new allotment’?
Put simply, the ‘new allotment’ is not permanent—indeed, its informality (its illegality?) can play a part in its subversive appeal. Yet many of the benefits of allotment gardening derive in large part from an attachment to, and knowledge of, a…