A New Top-Down Governance Approach to Community Gardens: A Case Study of the “We Garden” Community Experiment in Shenzhen, China

Xunyu Zhang, Dongxu Pan, Ka Po Wong, Yuanzhi Zhang (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Over the past few decades, development in China (including Shenzhen) has been led by the State, meaning that the government has been responsible for major decisions in urban construction and management. However, the current enormous contradiction between people’s demand for livability and Shenzhen’s unequal and inadequate urban development means that leaving all the administrative work to the government alone has become unsustainable. Since 2020, Shenzhen has introduced a new urban management approach called “We Garden”, in which the government supports public participation aimed to transform idle public lands into green spaces in the form of community gardens. Because this ongoing but novel community garden experiment is a recent development in China, literature investigating the phenomenon context, especially the associated motivations and governance structure, remains scarce. This paper aims to clarify the governance structure and operation mechanism of the Shenzhen community garden program through all stages: from planning and design through construction or implementation to management. Fieldwork with active participation, direct observation, and semi-structured, qualitative interviews as participant in a nonprofit organization revealed that the Shenzhen experiment was driven by urban environmental public governance rather than individual needs. The community garden development approach is a new top-down governance structure that expands on existing governance types in the literature, while emphasizing the key role that nonprofit organizations play in the process. Therefore, this new governance approach expands beyond the environmental improvement of urban communities, serving as a new mechanism for sustainable public participation in urban environmental protection.
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalUrban Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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