With antecedents dating back to the Middle Ages, the community garden is more popular than ever as a means of procuring the freshest food possible and instilling community cohesion. But as Micheline Nilsen shows, the small-garden movement, which gained impetus in the nineteenth century as rural workers crowded into industrial cities, was for a long time primarily a repository of ideas concerning social reform, hygienic improvement, and class mobility. Complementing efforts by worker cooperatives, unions, and social legislation, the provision of small garden plots offered some relief from bleak urban living conditions. Urban planners often thought of such gardens as a way to insert "lungs" into a city.
Standing at the intersection of a number of disciplines--including landscape studies, horticulture, and urban history-- The Working Man’s Green Space focuses on the development of allotment gardens in European countries in the nearly half-century between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, when the French Third Republic, the German Empire, and the late Victorian era in England saw the development of unprecedented measures to improve the lot of the "laboring classes." Nilsen shows how community gardening is inscribed within a social contract that differs from country to country, but how there is also an underlying aesthetic and social significance to these gardens that transcends national borders.
A much-needed addition to the literature on urban garden programs. This is a unique and substantial contribution and will undoubtedly become the go-to book on the history of allotments. It will prove invaluable to the fast-growing field of urban gardening and agriculture.
The Working Man's Green Space is outstanding in its comparison of allotment garden issues in England, France, and Germany between 1870 and 1919. Nilsen also looks at the utilitarian and aesthetic dimensions of allotment gardening and thus adds valuable facets to the complex history of allotment gardening in Europe.
Micheline Nilsen is Associate Professor of Art History at Indiana University South Bend. She is the author of Railways and Western European Capitals: Studies of Implantation in London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels.