Assessing the social function of urban green spaces in Vantaa: Focus on urban allotment gardens

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Insinööritieteiden korkeakoulu | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering (SPT)
The City of Vantaa's strategy highlights inclusion, fostering trust, and cultivating a community spirit as integral components of its core values. Various types of urban green spaces in Vantaa range from large forest massifs to compact urban parks in densely built neighborhoods. In the Finnish context, urban green spaces are often perceived as meaningful, and collecting residents' experiences can provide important information about the role of green areas in nurturing social cohesion and community spirit. An especially interesting example of green spaces here are the allotment gardens, known for forming communities where social cohesion, social innovation, and social capital are often present. This thesis project was part of Connecting the Plots, a collaborative transdisciplinary research project between the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies (Urbaria) and the City of Vantaa. This project investigated the potential of urban allotment gardens to improve community vitality and social cohesion in Finnish suburbs. The initial research aim was to determine to what extent social connections generated in urban allotment gardens (UAGs) could be compared to other types of nearby urban green spaces (UGSs) in Vantaa. Later, it was complemented by determining the range of factors impacting the residents’ perception of Vantaa’s green spaces as places of social cohesion, as well as supporting socializing activities there. The perception and use of urban green spaces were studied with the help of a map-based participatory GIS (PPGIS) survey, where respondents could locate their favourite green areas and allotment gardens on the map and provide additional information. Both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered and analyzed. The pool of respondents was self-selected and recruited through social media, with the criteria of being a user of Vantaa’s urban green spaces. Pearson's chi-square test for independence was used to assess the relationship between various categorical variables. It was complemented by place-based data mappings and the thematic analysis of textual responses to open-ended questions. The differences in social aspects between the larger forested green spaces and smaller urban ones, as well as between the different districts of Vantaa, were specifically examined. The results of this thesis confirm the role of UGSs as primarily a place for restoration and being away, as highlighted by numerous previous pieces of research focused on the qualities of urban green spaces in the Finnish context. For the majority of respondents, the role of social features was reported to be relatively unimportant, and socializing was limited mostly to short interactions frequently related to dogs or children, as revealed by open-ended responses. Visitors who prefer smaller parks as their favourite UGSs tend to value the social aspects more, but their actual usage patterns and evidence of socializing activities don't significantly differ from those who prefer larger green areas. The relative appreciation of social features in allotment gardens appeared to be higher compared to similar results for other green spaces. However, socializing wasn't reported as an activity there and no evidence was found that allotment gardens serve as socially cohesive places for those not belonging to allotment communities.
Kyttä, Marketta
Thesis advisor
Candy, Seona
urban green spaces, PPGIS, urban allotment gardens, social cohesion, urban sociology, City of Vantaa
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