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ESPINOSA SEGUÍ, Ana / MACKIEWICZ, Barbara / ROSOL, Marit (2017): From Leisure to Necessity: Urban Allotments in Alicante Province, Spain, in Times of Crisis. In: ACME 16(2): 276-304.

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Based on a comprehensive study of allotment gardens in the province of Alicante, this article enhances research on urban agriculture in two ways. Firstly, we explain the specific histories of urban allotments in Spain, that differ from the
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    Published with Creative Commons licence: Attribution  –   Noncommercial  –   No Derivatives From Leisure to Necessity: Urban Allotments in Alicante Province, Spain in Times of Crisis Ana Espinosa Seguí Department of Human Geography University of Alicante, Spain Ana.Espinosa@ua.es Barbara Maćkiewicz   Institute of Socio-Economic Geography and Spatial Management Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland   basic@amu.edu.pl Marit Rosol Department of Geography University of Calgary, Canada marit.rosol@ucalgary.ca   ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies , 2017, 16(2): 276-304 277 Abstract Based on a comprehensive study of allotment gardens in the province of Alicante, this article enhances research on urban agriculture in two ways. First, we explain the specific histories of urban allotments in Spain that differ from the well-rehearsed stories of North America and also Northern Europe. Second, we show that a focus on urban allotments can provide a better understanding of changes in the economy, in land-use and in urban-rural relations in times of crisis. After two decades of Spain’s “urbanization tsunami”, in the mid 2000s a new way of combining urban life with agricultural functions emerged: through allotments, municipalities intended to promote environmentally-oriented leisure activities, enhance urban green landscapes, and revive traditional vegetable gardens ( huertas) . At first, these projects catered mostly to pensioners, including foreigners coming from countries with long traditions of urban allotments. As the economic recession intensified in 2009, allotments had to re-define their goals in a social environment now defined by high unemployment and impoverishment. Today, most of the  projects target people at risk of poverty and social exclusion and their primary functions are productive, therapeutic and educational. We also show that the global economic crisis of 2008 in a way contributed to the revaluation of agricultural land use, although the spectre of land-speculation is still very present. Keywords Urban agriculture; Spain; allotment gardens; urbanization; deagrarianization; agriculture; housing bubble  From Leisure to Necessity 278 Introduction Spain has been drastically impacted by the current global economic recession. After fourteen years of continuous economic growth, the country fell into one of the deepest and most dramatic crises ever experienced. The specific conditions of the Spanish economic growth model, amongst others, the heavy reliance on the construction sector, mainly caused this collapse (Romero, 2010). Prior to the current crisis, Spain experienced an unprecedented real estate boom. Between 1996 and 2006, 6.5 million new housing units were erected (Romero, 2010), i.e. more “than in France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined ”  (Hernandez et al., 2014, 76), and housing prices per square meter increased on a national average nominally to 280% (García 2014,396). Due to the prominent  position of real estate in the Spanish economy, the collapse of the building sector in 2007 had a serious effect on the rest of the economy. The burst of the real estate  bubble combined with the rising rates of family indebtedness and the banking crisis  provoked an alarming rise in the unemployment rate, and halted consumption and investment and thus the whole economy. 1  A growing body of geographical research on the 2008 global economic crisis has looked on how it affects urban spaces (e.g. Vaiou and Kalandides, 2015; Schipper, 2014; Peck, 2012; Martin, 2011; Schindler, 2014; Koutrolikou, 2015; Oosterlynck and González, 2013). Creating urban allotments was often a response to crisis, emergency and impoverishment, not only historically  –   for example with the Victoria Gardens during WWII (e.g. Lawson, 2005)  –   but also currently in cities like Detroit (e.g. Walker, 2016; McClintock, 2010). However, we rarely see research on the effects of the current global crisis on urban agriculture projects, from either a social or a land-use perspective (see Pourias, 2015, however). In Spain, the burst of the housing bubble resulted not only in social hardships such as high unemployment and foreclosures, but also in a relief, albeit temporary, of vacant land from the reckless appetite of the real estate sector. For the first time in recent economic history, urban land became available as development projects were cancelled. These vacancies, which would have previously been viewed as speculative urban assets, now present opportunities for new, non-commercial uses. Urban allotments are one such use. Allotment gardens, and urban agriculture more generally, are praised in spatial planning literature for their many potential benefits including: subsistence,  providing healthy food and recreation for households on a tight budget, fostering a sense of community, making productive use of vacant land (e.g. Hodgson et al., 2011; Mendes et al., 2008; Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999, to cite just a few), and for their therapeutic and educational benefits (Wakefield et al., 2007). Some 1   In 2007, 9.3% of the national GDP was reliant on the construction sector (compared to just 4.7% in 1997) (Romero, 2010). According to García, 2.3 million jobs were lost in Spain directly or indirectly due to the collapse of the housing bubble (García, 2010, 968).   ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies , 2017, 16(2): 276-304 279 authors see them as even contributing to the decommodification of land, labour and food (Alkon and Agyeman, 2011; Rosol and Schweizer, 2012). Again, others are more critical and see a connection between neoliberalizing cities and the growing interest in urban agriculture, community gardening, and urban allotments 2  (e.g. McClintock, 2014; Tornaghi, 2014; Walker, 2016; Ghose and Pettygrove, 2014; Rosol, 2012) or point out that urban agriculture projects may reinforce social inequities that they attempt to overcome (Reynolds, 2014; Guthman, 2008). By now, most of the extensive literature on urban agriculture in the “Global North” focuses on North America. The specific histories of urban agriculture in other countries, and particularly of urban agriculture in Spain, are almost absent in these debates. Spain had a very different starting point for urban agriculture due to the traditional importance of agriculture. More recently, the difficulties for an ever greater share of the population to make a living, as well as the collapse of the construction sector and the weakened real estate market, have created opportunities and new functions for the emerging urban allotment garden movement. It was no coincidence that the expansion of urban gardening, especially community gardens, appeared when the economic crisis halted the construction boom. Not only did vacant lots become available, the emerging urban gardening movement regarded and presented their use for urban agriculture as critique of the effects of the aggressive urban development that had taken place in the previous decade (Fernández and Morán, 2012, 269). In this context of major social, economic and political change, two main types of urban gardens emerged in Spain: movement-related  community gardens  and individually-assigned  allotments . Both types of gardens are mainly found in larger cities where strong social movements are present. Here, urban agriculture activists seek to create social spaces and improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods (Anguelovski, 2013). The majority of community gardeners share different degrees of green activism and a commitment to environmental and social issues, and many use urban agriculture as a way to protest against  –   and provide an alternative to  –   rapid urban development. Community gardens have been set up as a result of bottom-up initiatives by ecologists, neighbourhood associations, and students or other representatives of educational institutions. The newly emerging urban agriculture movement has also been closely related to the Spanish anti-  2   The literature is not precise in differentiating between the terms. Urban agriculture and urban gardening are umbrella terms that may also include commercial farming or refer to smaller projects that do not produce for sale and may also include ornamental plants. In this article, we use the term community gardens when a community manages them, and allotments when we speak about individually assigned plots (see below).    From Leisure to Necessity 280 austerity (urban) social movement 15-M (Villacé, 2012; Fernández Casadevante Kois and Morán, 2015). 3  The second, more extensive, but less studied model of urban agriculture in Spain is the individually-assigned urban allotment garden, founded and managed  by local authorities. They prevail in medium-sized and small towns. This second type of gardens has thus far been neglected in the literature on Spanish urban gardens, which tends to focus on movement-based gardens and larger cities (e.g. Sanyé-Mengual et al., 2015). Those allotment gardens are in the centre of our study, in which we show that since the onset of the crisis their task and meaning changed from offering healthy, green leisure activities towards addressing social needs. We do so based on a study of 38 urban allotment gardens in various municipalities of the province of Alicante, located in South-Eastern Spain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The province of Alicante was chosen as a case study for two main reasons. First, the Spanish real estate boom was strongly tied to the tourism industry and thus particularly affected coastal localities like Alicante; 48% of the housing stock  built between 2000 and 2011 was located in the Mediterranean provinces (Hernandez et al., 2014, 76). A province highly dependent on tourism, Alicante experienced a 344% increase in housing prices between 1996 and 2006, greatly exceeding the national average (280%) and attaining third place among all  provinces (García, 2014, 396). Due to its mild weather, tourist facilities, and coastal territory, the area was also very attractive for housing investment geared towards “retirement migration” (Morote and Hernández, 2016). According to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics, 27% of the 304,765 foreign pensioners living in Spain  –   coming mainly from central and northern Europe  –   resided in the  province of Alicante in 2015. Second, before tourism dominated the coastal line of the province, agriculture formed the heart of the economy in Alicante. The Mediterranean climate is favourable to fruit trees, horticultural crops, vineyards, almonds and olive trees, many of them established in traditional huertas . 4  The construction  boom converted farmland into more profitable uses such as mostly medium and low density urbanized areas and provoked the abandonment of agriculture. The  province has been mostly urbanized by now, with 86% of the provincial population 3   15-M arose on the 15 th  of May 2011 in Madrid to protest the management of the economic crisis, and quickly spread over the entire country (Flesher Fominaya, 2015; Taibo, 2013). 4    Huerta  refers to traditional, usually irrigated, peri-urban farmland, where mostly leafy green vegetables are grown. The word huerta  has a powerful meaning in South-Eastern Spain  ,  especially in the Region of Valencia and Murcia.  
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