Dacha Sweet Dacha: Place Attachment in the Urban Allotment Gardens of Kaliningrad, Russia
Abstract: Official planning documents and strategies often look at cities from above neglecting people’s experiences and practices. Meanwhile cities as meaningful places are constructed though citizens’ practices, memories and ties with their surroundings. The purpose of this phenomenological study is to discover people’s bonds with their urban allotment gardens – dachas – in the Russian city of Kaliningrad and to explore the significance of these bonds for city development. The phenomenon of the dacha has a long history in Russia. Similar to urban allotment gardens in other countries, dachas are an essential part of the city landscape in many post-socialist countries but differ by their large scale. Recent decades have brought diversity into the urban dacha areas of Russia and express a shift away from their primary function of recreational horticulture towards a greater variety in usage, including housing. Due to multiple legal frameworks these areas have become special enclaves with haphazard development, inadequate levels of infrastructure and low quality of self-build houses. Urban dachas can be examined as an example of both post-socialist suburbanization and informal settlement. In this thesis the concept of place attachment, derived from the works of human geographers and environmental psychologists, is used as both the theoretical and methodological lens to look at people-place relations in urban dacha areas. The empirical evidence for this study was gathered through interviews and observations in Kaliningrad where urban dachas comprise 11% of the city’s territory. To capture the different aspects of place attachment in these areas the data was categorised according to common themes.The findings of this study show the complexity of the bonds between people and their urban allotment gardens. Despite all the hardships, these places provide their residents an opportunity for independence and self-realization. The respondents demonstrated an energy and aspiration to achieve increased well-being for themselves and their families, however the lack of resources and institutions hinders the development of place attachment in urban dacha areas. The identified features of people’s bonds with their dachas should not only be preconditions for urban planning but also an integral part of the planning and development process. This study also tests the application of the concept of place attachment for urban studies.
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