Collaboratively greening the city?

The practices of tree-pit gardening in Berlin

This doctoral thesis understands tree-pit gardens as interstitial spaces where different logics meet and conflict. Revealing gaps in established green space management routines and demonstrating alternatives for overcoming them, these publicly accessible green spaces created and cared for by residents develop a unique momentum (Eigendynamik). The examples of enacted environmental stewardship creating these in/formal gardens have great potential to transform urban streetscapes. However, their complexity, shaped by variable governance arrangements and practices of human and non-human actors, remains widely unexplored. Hence, this doctoral thesis investigates tree-pit gardens as sites and practices of urban future-making.

  • greening practices
  • green space governance
  • stewardship
  • urban transformation
  • tree-pit gardens


In order to address the complex and highly intertwined challenges that urban landscapes are facing, planning professionals and commu­nity-based initiatives both sketch visions of diverse green urban futures. Although these green futures are conceptualized differ­ently, as systems of urban nature or as collectively created and cared-for common spaces, a rise in the total share of public green space has to be anticipated. However, the resources for maintaining public green spaces are limited and in decline. Thus, altered modes and strategies are required to close the growing gap between the rising share of public green spaces and declining maintenance resources for them.

In Berlin, as in many other cities, tree-pit gardens are pop­ping up. Next to other forms of urban gardening, these gardens are an important example of prac­ticed stewardship. Challenging established modes of administrat­ing urban space, tree-pit garden­ing highlights the opportunities that stewardship offers for urban development: a bottom-up zone of informal city-making on public ground through citizens’ participa­tion, authorship, and care.


The ‘hands-on activities of mak­ing and maintaining urban public green spaces’¹ build on an inher­ent and advanced understanding of collective responsibility for our environment.² Therefore, the initia­tive-based socio-spatial processes should be considered when pub­lic (green) spaces are planned by professionals and seen as planning in their own right. However, the established planning and design phases do not match the processual nature of co-creative and reflective urban development due to their fragmented and product-oriented structure. As such, stewardship not only offers an alternative mainte­nance strategy for public green spaces but also presents itself as a phenomenon that supports a critical reflection on current plan­ning processes within urban (open space) development.

Following this, the aim of this research on green urban stew­ardship is to (1) examine its evolv­ing practices in terms of collective space production and analyse its socio-spatial intertwining, (2) pro­vide a case-based overview of present challenges and potentials, and (3) indicate ways in which dominant planning procedures need to adapt to the fluid character of place-keeping.

Research design

The phenomenon of stewardship can be hard to grasp, as it involves numerous stakeholders (profes­sionals and non-professionals alike), changing spatial settings, and var­ious practices. It is thus shaped by the motivational, morphologi­cal, administrative, and processual dimensions of space and its pro­duction. In order to draw conclu­sions on a hypothetical scaling of green urban stewardship and early-on incorporation into con­ventional planning and design phases, its situation as well as its components and their relational­ity must be assessed and critically reflected on. Hence, the research is divided into three main phases: (1) situational analysis, (2) case analysis, and (3) reflective analysis. Follow­ing a situational analysis approach,³ three different maps will be created focusing on stewardship within neighbourhood-level public green spaces in Berlin: the situational map collects information on everything and everyone that might be of interest for this research; the social worlds/arena map detects why, where, and how stakeholders are engaged; the position map visual­ises positions taken and not taken, as well as their relations. The latter map exposes power imbalances and absent stakeholders which can be considered in the selection of cases. The case analysis examines present challenges and potentials for stewards, for municipal adminis­tration and maintenance units, and for planners. Finally, the first two phases will be reflected on in order to critically review established plan­ning processes and to outline spa­tial patterns and requirements of green urban stewardship.

This qualitative research builds on a mixed-methods toolbox, which is yet to be developed, including mapping, participatory observa­tions, semi-structured and narrative interviews, reflexive photography, and photographic documentation.


Street view, urban green, bicycles, scooters and cars
Figure 1. The tree-pit gardens of Berlin: Where different logics meet, conflict, and flowers bloom. Image © Laura Schöngart.
Street view, urban green, bicycles, scooters and cars
Figure 1. The tree-pit gardens of Berlin: Where different logics meet, conflict, and flowers bloom. Image © Laura Schöngart.


  1. Lachmund, J. (2022) Stewardship practice and the performance of citizenship: Greening tree-pits in the streets of Berlin. Politics and Space 40.6, 1–17.
  2. Ruggeri, D. (2020) The agency of place attachment in contemporary co-production of community landscapes. In Manzo, L. C. and Devine-Wright, P. (eds.) Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications, 2nd ed. Routledge, London.
  3. Clarke, A., Friese, C., Washburn, R. S. (2017) Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory After the Interpretive Turn, 2nd ed. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.