Planning urban community gardens strategically through multicriteria decision analysis

Jordan P. Smith, Sara Meerow, B. L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Urban agriculture is widely promoted as a strategy to advance sustainability goals. Urban community gardens serve as multifunctional green infrastructure, providing an array of social and environmental co-benefits. While these services, such as increased access to nutritious food, have been studied extensively, research on siting community gardens remains sparse, especially in their multifunctional roles. This paucity is significant because the spatial distribution of gardens determines which residents benefit from them, the long-term garden success, and the multiple co-benefits for neighborhoods and metropolitan areas. To overcome potential biases related to decisions made ad hoc or by community requests, this study presents a systematic stakeholder-driven approach for strategic urban community garden siting through Multicriteria Decision Analysis (MCDA), reducing thousands of potential parcels to a small number for subsequent in-depth site analysis. We apply this methodology in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Utilizing local stakeholder-weighted criteria, we develop siting indices that incorporate physical and sociodemographic factors that either contribute to site potential or represent priority locations for gardens. The resulting indices–a Social Characteristics Index, Physical Setting Index, and Comprehensive Index–are applied to an expansive inventory of vacant candidate parcels across the metro. The three indices identify moderate to high-scoring parcels within the urban core, but siting scores diverge towards the urban fringe. When tasked with assessing the siting criteria comprehensively, stakeholders prioritize social criteria. Thus, the Social Characteristics and Comprehensive indices prioritize disadvantaged communities in the urban core, potentially excluding aspiring gardeners who live in suburbs. This highlights a potential tradeoff between planning urban community gardens to maximize desired co-benefits and other siting criteria that may influence long-term success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126897
JournalUrban Forestry and Urban Greening
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Green infrastructure
  • Sustainability
  • Urban agriculture
  • Urban food system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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