Growing gardens in Shrinking cities: A solution to the soil lead problem?

Kirsten Schwarz, Bethany B. Cutts, Jonathan K. London, Mary L. Cadenasso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


As cities shrink, they often leave a patchwork of vacancy on the landscape. The maintenance of vacant lands and eventual transformation to sustainable land uses is a challenge all cities face, but one that is particularly pronounced in shrinking cities. Vacant lands can support sustainability initiatives, specifically the expansion of urban gardens and local food production. However, many shrinking cities are the same aging cities that have experienced the highest soil lead burdens from their industrial past as well as the historic use of lead-based paint and leaded gasoline. Elevated soil lead is often viewed as a barrier to urban agriculture and managing for multiple ecosystem services, including food production and reduced soil lead exposure, remains a challenge. In this paper, we argue that a shift in framing the soil lead and gardening issue from potential conflict to potential solution can advance both urban sustainability goals and support healthy gardening efforts. Urban gardening as a potential solution to the soil lead problem stems from investment in place and is realized through multiple activities, in particular (1) soil management, including soil testing and the addition of amendments, and (2) social network and community building that leverages resources and knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Agriculture
  • Gardening
  • Lead
  • Metals
  • Shrinking cities
  • Soil
  • Sustainability
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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