GEOGRAPHY 366: Potential Garden Space on Your (or a) Block


Objective: The objective in this exercise is to give you experience in field data collection for urban studies. Your task is to get a handle on whether a block in the city has much or any potential to feed itself. You will count the number of people living on the block and estimate the area of land on the block that might be pressed into service for vegetable and fruit gardens.

Some background: Oahu used to produce it's own food. Not so long ago we produced more of it than we do now. For some context consider the World War II Victory Gardens, documented photographically in the Hawaii War Records Depository. See Photos #366, #786 and #787 here and Photos #779 through #785 here . If they could do it, why don't we grow more of our food now? Do we need to buy food? To export money in trade for food?

Practical Concerns: For fun and safety, you should work together in teams of 2 or 3 classmates or friends on this project. (Even though you work together to collect the data each person has to hand in their own report and finished map.) Be sure that your team can all meet for a few hours outside of class to survey a block together. Do the field survey together, during daylight hours. Don't trespass and don't go places that seem unsafe. Watch out for traffic.


Pick a block in Honolulu that is new to you. (If you have no preference, choose one in McCully, Mō‘ili‘ili, or around Liliha.)

Make a basemap on which to collect data. Your basemap should indicate at least the streets that bound the block and, if possible, the apparent lots and buildings making up the block. The block should just about fill an 8.5 by 11 inch page (to be convenient to handle on a clip-board in the field). There are several ways to make this basemap:

In the Field...

Map the lots, buildings and paved areas on the block. On your field map, sketch-in the following:

  1. the locations, footprints and heights (number of stories) of buildings (and walls!),
  2. paved areas,
  3. existing gardens and flower beds,
  4. any open areas and lawns that could be converted to gardens.
You can estimate the sizes of these things by counting steps as you walk past them. You can calibrate your steps to meters or feet by walking a known distance a few times and noting how many steps you take, or more roughly by taking a normal step by a yard-stick laid on the ground.

Note: You should plan to walk around the block several times to do this assignment. The first time, scout it out and maybe rough sketch the building footprints. The second time, measure the sizes of things (count steps). It may take another trip around to fill-in gaps. The way you organize this will depend on your team too.

Back from the field...

Clean-up your map. Field compilation maps are usually messy with corrections, annotatons, and the like. Clean-up your map for submission (redraft with straight lines where lines should be straight, features to scale, and careful lettering) so that someone else can read it. The final map should indicate the surrounding street names, building footprints, building heights (number of floors), potential shadow areas (maybe figure the area to the north of any building or wall as far out as the building or wall is tall --- maybe 3 or 4 steps per story of height on the north side of the building), and any other annotations that you want to include. Work out the scale of your map (1 unit of map distance : X units of ground distance).

Summarize your garden area data. Sum-up the ground area available for gardens on the block. Indicate how much of that gets full sun exposure and how much is likely in significant shadow.

Calculate the number of calories that could be produce on this garden area. The Biosphere II project in Arizon estimated that 1 person's diet could be raised on 3,403 square feet. This may be optimistic, see the links below.

Look up the block's population on the US Census Bureau's website (here). (From the main page, look on the lower left for the "Address Search" and enter the street address for a building on your block. In the resulting list of 'geographies containing the address' highlight "Block" and click "OK". At the bottom of the resulting page, look at the two links under the Population and Housing Detailed Tables. You will see the block's population. Added 15 Oct 2008.)


  1. Your map of the block (one 8.5 x 11 inch page)
  2. A very brief (~1 page) report including:

Other Sources:

Ecology Action

Wikipedia - Biointensive

article on John Jeavons w/ 4,000 sq foot garden area per person number

article with a 3,403 sq feet per person number