Since the intensification of the search for sustainable urban planning, the ideal of the compact and green city characterized by high density, mixed land use and attractive green infrastructure, has become a desirable urban form at global scale. Urban greening, including urban gardening, has experienced a resurgence of interest. Within the frame of the compact city, the meanings, forms and functions of urban gardening have been re-evaluated for their contribution to urban sustainability, turning those spaces into a contested subject of negotiation. This qualitative study, conducted in the Swiss cities of Basle, Berne, Geneva and Zurich, investigates how the meanings of urban gardening are discursively (re)produced in political negotiation processes and how different rationalities of space produce a hegemonic order, constructing urban gardening sites as contested spaces. The findings demonstrate that urban growth strategies within the frame of the compact city, aiming at an efficient and resource-saving (re)organization of urban space, are discursively rationalizing current transformation processes. While so-called traditional forms of urban gardening are closed down, displaced to locations with less significance for urban development plans, or transformed in spatial and functional terms, new forms of urban gardening commensurate with the current ideals of urban landscapes and are emerging in the inner-city areas.
Since the publication of the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report Our Common Future, local authorities in developed countries have increasingly embraced concepts enabling sustainable urban development. The compact city ideal has been widely advocated as key to creating livable and sustainable cities and, thus, has become a desirable urban form at global scale (Jim, 2004; Lang, 2014; Zimmermann, 2001). Green spaces in the compact city are recognized as valuable for maintaining or facilitating high quality densification of urban settlements, and the practice of greening cities, especially the upgrading of dense urban areas with greenery, has become a widespread approach within the urban sustainability agenda. Thus, urban green spaces are undergoing a re-evaluation of their contribution to urban sustainability in terms of their meaning and role within the urban tissue, re-conceptualizing their form and function in congruence with the principles of the compact city ideal. They are characterized by multifunctional land-use, providing a range of benefits, adaptive and flexible forms, and high accessibility for urbanites (Pincetl & Gearin, 2005). Within this frame, urban allotment gardens have experienced a resurgence of interest and are increasingly the object of urban sustainability policies. It is claimed that urban gardening creates social, ecological and economic benefits for the city and its residents, strongly contributing to the development and maintenance of quality of life in the city (Kingsley & Townsend, 2006; Lang, 2014; Lossau & Winter, 2011; Pothukuchi & Kaufman, 1999; Turner, 2011). However, urban green spaces, including urban allotment gardens, compete with other uses of urban space, such as housing or business, and are often perceived as a land reserve for housing constructions and other urban development projects (Eizenberg, Tappert, Thomas, & Zilans, 2016; Jim, 2004). Thus, densifying urban areas may also be related to a loss of green space or a declining per capita green space provision (Haaland & Konijnendijk van den Bosch, 2015). In order to be able to provide sufficient and high-quality green space to urban residents, local authorities are increasingly in search of new, adaptive and flexible forms of urban gardening, characterized by high accessibility and hybrid functions (Klöti, Tappert, & Drilling, 2016).