Displacement and personal investment in temporary spaces
One of the initiatives led by the local government following the displacement and rehousing of thousands of families was the creation of community gardens linked to temporary housing sites. During our visit to Minamisanriku, we were told about a few different gardens, which had met with different levels of uptake by local residents.
The intention behind the gardens was quite simple. The local government wanted to create a space where residents could come together in a social setting built around shared tasks, using community gardening as a means of both producing a place of beauty and of tranquility, and of working together to grow food, and to produce. The gardens would provide a space for socialisation, particularly for the older residents, many of whom lived alone and suffered from a sense of isolation that for many was aggravated by no longer living near their neighbours, as pre-tsunami communities were dispersed across various temporary housing sites.
While some of these gardens were greeted with enthusiasm and generated local interaction and activity, others did not. Where investment by the local government, and the provision of new infrastructure, was matched by the community investing their time and energy, a valued space emerged that was used and enjoyed by local people. This tended to be more successful when the gardens were linked to smaller clusters of housing.
It is not clear why any garden in particular did not take off. However, it raised some interesting quesions around what motivates people to engage in community spaces and how linked this engagement is with people having a sense of connection with both the place in which they live and other local residents. It also raised some interesting design questions. The vegetable garden was approximately one kilometre away from the housing, which was an issue for many of the older people for whom the garden was targeted. There was also a logistical issue that many of the people had lost their gardening tools in the tsunami, along with their homes.
The financial investment by government in these gardens provided much needed community spaces and helped people reconnect. Further investment of time and energy by local people made these spaces come to life.