Around the globe, many cities are experiencing declines in population. In the 50 years prior to 2007, the populations of over 370 cities dropped significantly, and this decrease is projected to continue [1
]. The declines of cities and declining populations are especially prominent in cities that developed during the industrial age, such as Detroit and Youngstown in the United States; and Leipzig, Germany [3
Various Korean cities have experienced such declines in population, which has further intensified other societal changes, such as economic recession and low birth rates [7
]. Consequently, the number of abandoned and aging properties has increased, which is the clearest physical sign of urban decline [8
]. Houses that are vacant for extended periods often become breeding grounds for crime [10
]. Trash and debris can mar their appearance, create odors and fire hazards, and increase the risk of collapse [12
]. Subsequently, property values fall [13
], and other physical, social, and economic problems arise.
Many studies and policies have addressed the issue of vacant and abandoned homes. For example, the city of Leipzig, Germany, has long demolished properties so that the resulting open spaces can be temporarily converted into public land [14
To date, related studies have focused on the causes of vacant houses [16
], utilization plans [16
], and the effects of vacant houses after demolition [15
]. While several case studies exist on this topic, there are specific areas that need further attention. An and Park’s [17
] study was limited to international cases and thus fell short of theorizing and empirically verifying declining Korean cities. Ha et al. [16
], moreover, did not go beyond explaining the process of establishing a community garden and fell short of exploring various shareholder positions that emerged along the way. Kim and Lee’s [18
] research was much needed since it was one of the few studies to focus on a community garden’s influence on non-participating members. In contrast to Rall and Haase [15
], who mostly focused on assessing the effects of public space, the present study addresses the dynamics between shareholders that emerged during the creation of a public space.
The space created by demolishing vacant residences can reduce the economic and security costs of vacant properties and prevent an area’s decline [19
]. Furthermore, an area’s potential can be discovered through such temporary small-scale developments, contributing to sustainable urban restoration in the future [20
]. However, from a different perspective, it is contradictory to consider programs such as vegetable gardens as a type of public good since they are only utilized by a select number of citizens. Moreover, areas procured through the demolition of vacant houses are developed and opened to the public on the condition that certain individuals (e.g., the owner(s) of the vacant residences) receive benefits. Therefore, interest surrounding public goods has become even more pronounced.
Conflicts in a region increase social costs by disrupting local communities and causing policy delays [21
]. Moreover, disputes involving conflicting values are not easy to mediate and resolve, and they can last for long periods [23
]. To successfully revive declining cities, building trust among stakeholders is critically important; to this end, it is necessary to understand the factors involved in the conflicts [24
Given these circumstances, what types of conflict arise in the use of public spaces after vacant residences have been demolished? For what reasons do those conflicts occur? To answer those questions, this study examined vegetable gardens developed through the Daegu Vacant Houses Management Program. Using this approach, the study aimed to identify the sources of conflict between stakeholders intervening in the city’s revitalization. Such research can serve to fill gaps in previous studies, such as the perceptions of various stakeholders and the process of dismissal and vacancy utilization. The case study examined here can also provide baseline data for creating sustainable policies and city spaces.
The city of Daegu, South Korea, has experienced steady decline since the mid-1990s [9
]. According to survey results, 105 (75.5%) out of a total of 139 districts have been experiencing decline [27
]. The city’s old districts, including the central, southern, and eastern sections, are plagued by numerous empty houses. Fires and incidents of sexual violence in vacant houses over the past few years have prompted countermeasures. To this end, to induce the demolition of such houses, property tax exemption and subsidized demolition costs have been provided to vacant residence owners since 2013. In return, the vacated areas must be temporarily opened to the public for at least three years after demolition. These areas are developed into facilities such as vegetable gardens, parking spaces, sports facilities, and small parks [28
]. According to the data provided by officials of Daegu city hall, 141 spaces had been created by 2015, including 47 vegetable gardens (33%), 67 parking spaces (47%), 11 sports facilities (8%), 12 small parks (9%), and four flower beds (3%).
This study specifically focuses on the paradox of a community garden as a public good, the benefits of which only reach a certain group of community members. Of the 47 vegetable gardens identified as having been created between 2013 and 2015, many are quite small and located in difficult-to-access areas, which results in low utilization rates. For this study, those in declining low-rise residential complexes were visited for usage surveys and preliminary interviews. In contrast, the selected sites (Figure 1
) were relatively large in size and conveniently located by the roadside, which contributed to their robust utilization by community members. Also, the sites were introduced to the media [29
] as success cases. However, the preliminary interviews revealed contention surrounding the use of gardens. The results further revealed contention between users and non-users in terms of the possession of public goods, as well as conflict between project executives in the creation process.
2. Materials and Methods
The purpose of this study was to understand the phenomenon of the private occupation of public resources and its conflict factors. Therefore, a case study method was adopted by selecting certain cases that could reveal such characteristics though surveys. Case studies are useful for answering “how” and “why” when researchers cannot control circumstances or when relevant phenomena unfold in the present [30
]. This approach offers detailed descriptions of truths, phenomena, or social units [31
] so that a clear understanding of the situation can be ascertained [32
Data were sourced from the Daegu city hall website, newspapers, and other publications from relevant agencies, as well as from interviews conducted between March and August 2016 during seven site visits. Since shareholders in the creation and use of the new public spaces were needed for interviews, the initial pool of interviewees was recruited via purposive sampling. Thus, the sampling target consisted of relevant public workers, non-profit members, and community members (garden users and non-users). For the administration, interviews were conducted with relevant employees, and for non-profit organizations, interviewees included people who led the project. For residents, interviews were divided into users and non-users, and when “theoretical saturation” [33
] was achieved in the data collection with no further new data to be collected, collection was stopped. By this means, a total of 18 individuals were selected for in-depth interviews (12 community members, four public workers, and two non-profit organization (NPO) members). Ultimately, excluding poor interviews, 12 of these individuals (seven community members, three public workers, and two NPO members), whose interviews were judged to provide qualitative abundance, were selected for the analysis.
Managers of city hall, the district hall, and the community service center associated with the project were recruited via e-mail or phone numbers found online. For members of private organizations, media reports and publications associated with the project were reviewed and relevant individuals recruited via social networking services. Since no entity oversaw community garden users, the researchers waited near the community gardens and recruited community members who were tending their plots. Non-users were recruited on the sites or via snowball sampling from among community members. To build rapport with the community, the researchers met with community members during every site visit. Interviews were typically held at community gardens or at the community pavilion for the convenience and comfort of interviewees, unless otherwise requested, in which case interviews were held at community members’ homes. Public workers were interviewed at their places of employment, and the members of non-profits were interviewed at their current offices.
Upon obtaining the participant’s consent, all data were recorded and transcribed. To keep sight of the study’s aim but avoid steering it in a certain direction, an open and semi-structured interview questionnaire was prepared, which allowed for clear insight into the participants’ opinions and emotions. The interviews were designed to grasp the overall process of the project, as well as the perceptions of stakeholders in public goods. To accomplish this, we asked questions about the process before, during, and after the project. In the case of residents, we inquired about the situation before the project’s creation, the composition process, and its use after creation. Meanwhile, in the case of administrative authorities and non-profit members, we asked about the occasion and purpose of the project, the creation process, and management after creation (see Appendix B
). The interviews, though based on a questionnaire, were conducted flexibly in a way that was responsive to the participants’ (Table 1
, Table 2
and Table 3
) answers. For the literature data, newsletters and other publications made available by relevant agencies and organizations were used.
For the reliability of the study, data were analyzed when two or more interviewees gave a consistent response. To increase the reliability of the interpretation, the contents of the literature and the interviews were verified against each other, and the two researchers analyzed the data and used data that reached the same conclusion.
The collected data were processed (see Appendix A
) using the open coding method of the grounded theory approach to analytic induction, which was introduced by Glaser and Strauss [33
] and frequently adopted by Werner and Schoepfle [34
]. All interview responses were transcribed and processed via segmenting, initial coding, and deep code generation. During the segmenting process, a researcher marked the parts that captured the essence of the interviewees’ main concerns. During the subsequent initial coding process, the data processed from the previous stage were thoroughly reviewed to further deduce important meanings. Recurring details, meanings, and themes were then assigned codes. Next, related codes were repeatedly compared with one another to discover their hierarchies, connections, and similarities, from which metaphorical themes could be extracted that could turn one-dimensional data into concepts. These processes revealed causal relationships between community members’ perceptions and the series of events that transpired over the course of repurposing vacant lots into community gardens. Based on this discovery, the dynamics between stakeholders were examined over two phases: while creating community gardens and after completing them.
According to the survey results, conflicts surrounding public goods existed among stakeholders, and as a result, public goods came to assume the characteristics of a competitive and exclusive space. This suggests the tragic ending of the commons as suggested by Hardin [37
], who argued that freedom in the commons brings devastation to everyone, and external force—the “Leviathan” [38
]—becomes inevitable. However, while identifying individualism as the major cause of the tragedy of the commons, Hardin does not pay attention to the cause that triggers individualism. Meanwhile, in response to Hardin, there have been studies on “the comedy of the commons” [39
] and the continuity of common resources through autonomous operation [40
]. Aside from such investigations of the factors that keep the commons healthy, further research is needed on conflicts related to the commons and their adverse effects. Such work can help to identify measures that will ultimately achieve the sustainable use of public goods.
In the present study, conflicts between residents began with the process of distributing vegetable gardens. Meanwhile, the illegal acquisition of vegetable gardens by a small number of residents and the random distribution of land caused complaints among neighbors. Moreover, the vegetable gardens that were originally allocated were occupied for almost three years, and vegetable gardens no longer in use were left unattended without changing users. This process of community garden establishment and inadequate operation contributed to conflicts among residents.
Additionally, the spatial characteristics of vacated areas were shown to be a factor in conflict. Since such areas did not have access to a water supply, individuals had to procure the water required to manage the vegetable gardens. The excess water was then mismanaged and left in buckets, causing insects to gather. Moreover, the dense residential environments also make it easier for nearby residents to be exposed to insects. The community service center should invest more effort in consistent management based on an understanding of such special characteristics. Given the high density of the residential environment, unexpected parcels of land were discovered during the demolition of vacant houses, leading to complaints when people marked their territory using methods such as “planting trees”. However, the implicit silence that was adopted to protect relationships with longtime neighbors could not resolve the complaints. Since most residents had lived in the neighborhood for a long time, they were reluctant to directly express their complaints. As a result, spatial factors and social characteristics appeared as various factors causing conflict. Therefore, there needs to be a medium to invigorate communication among residents.
The Vacant Houses Management Program stipulates that vacated areas be opened to the public for at least three years. After three years, this term is subject to change according to the landowner’s intentions. As such, the uncertainty arising from the unspecified expiration date of this term became a source of dubious hope and caused non-users to stifle their discontent.
In the process of developing community gardens, the implementing body was changed due to conflicts between the private organization and the public institution. As the implementing body changed from private to public, it became a top-down policy centered on administrative authority. This also changed the nature of the project. As the private organization raised complaints about the authoritarian stance of the administrative authority, an asymmetrical relationship formed. This relationship damaged the connections between groups, even though the project was mutually beneficial, and developed into mutual suspicion and cynicism until the partnership was eventually dissolved [42
]. The project then progressed as a “residential environment improvement project”, with limited public aid for the demolition of vacant or deserted houses and the development of vacated areas. This led to a lack of supervision of the vacated areas and became the main factor instilling a sense of competition and exclusion among residents.
To restore the publicness and function of such areas as communal spaces, there is a need for continuous involvement and interest via the administration and management of programs. To this end, it is crucial that ongoing projects for aesthetic improvements be acknowledged as part of the town restoration project, and that the process for such projects is centered on local residents. It is also essential that the governance involves private and public parties as well as residents to ensure sustainable and effective administration. In addition, because gardening requires continuous work, the creation of community gardens alone does not guarantee the continued existence of such gardens [43
]. Thus, it is necessary to form governance consisting of a third party along with the community involved in the maintenance and management of the shared spaces [45
The simple approach of the program, which used the spaces only as vegetable gardens, resulted in limited access. People who do not tend vegetable gardens essentially have limited access since no other facilities aside from vegetable gardens are currently available. If there are resting facilities, such as benches and pagodas, or spaces and facilities that allow for different activities, the users of vacated spaces could be diversified to include those not involved in vegetable gardens. Although an area becomes an exclusive space when ownership exists, various people can use the area if it is versatile and freely available. Areas made available by demolishing vacant houses are a product of public funding. The landowner and user, as well as neighboring residents, possess a sense of psychological ownership of such areas [46
]. Such areas should not have the characteristic of being occupied by particular individuals. Thus, it is necessary to create a complex space that allows anyone to use it and stay, rather than one that is occupied by specific individuals.
This study examined sources of conflict between stakeholders involved in demolishing and reusing the vacant residences that emerge in shrinking cities and explored solutions for maintaining public interest. The results indicated that the competition that arises among residents during the use of vacated areas is related to the conflicts among implementers that appear during project development, as well as to the resulting changes in the nature of the project. Also contributing to conflict are the spatial characteristics of the vacated area, being located near elderly residences, and policy characteristics, such as the temporary transformation into public land.
This study showed that continuous management and administration are needed to maintain public interest. To this end, a change in perception, transitioning from an aesthetic improvement project to a city restoration project, is necessary, in addition to governance and cooperation efforts involving private and public parties as well as the community.
Many discussions have suggested that it is not plausible to have unconditional tragedy or comedy in the use and management of commons. Therefore, a careful approach is needed on a case-by-case basis; the present study can be considered one such case. This study has provided meaningful data on the process of dismissal and vacancy utilization, as well as the perceptions and attitudes of various stakeholders. Since multiple case studies are needed for the efficient implementation of projects, this study can serve to provide baseline data for creating sustainable projects and spaces. As abandoned houses become more abundant, similar policies will need to be discussed. In this sense, this study provides much needed suggestions. Future studies could perhaps examine vacant land use decision making on a larger scale (such as in an entire city) or in another country, which would reveal the effects of differing cultures.