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DIY Urbanism: Property and Process in Grassroots City Building

56 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2013 Last revised: 10 May 2014

Celeste B. Pagano

DePaul University - College of Law

Date Written: 2013


In recent years, a range of grassroots interventions have claimed and shaped the use of urban space. Community gardens, unsanctioned public art, temporary crosswalks, miniature lending libraries — these projects and more have been termed “guerilla urbanism,” “tactical urbanism,” or “insurgent uses of public space.” I choose the term “DIY” — short for Do-It-Yourself — urbanism to describe these phenomena in order to emphasize their bottom-up and often ad hoc nature. Accomplishing a variety of aims and existing on a curiously fluid spectrum of legality, DIY urbanist interventions share in common an orientation toward community engagement in changing the use of common urban space.

This article is the first to examine the trend from a legal perspective. Because many DIY urbanist interventions are initially illegal, they raise thorny issues of law and legitimacy. This article first situates DIY Urbanism in the context of other contemporary trends in urban development, then tackles the questions of legitimacy, legality, and ultimately democracy that these projects raise. DIY urbanist actions, even when illegal, strengthen civic values, enhance community, and serve to remedy deficits in existing democratic processes. Ultimately, their acceptance into the mainstream canon of urban development tools reflects the inherent flexibility in legal regimes, particularly in property law, which develop to protect enduring values of community in shifting circumstances.

Keywords: property, land use, public space, urban planning, urban development, gardens, parks, art, trespass

Suggested Citation

Pagano, Celeste B., DIY Urbanism: Property and Process in Grassroots City Building (2013). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 97, 2014, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Celeste B. Pagano (Contact Author)

DePaul University - College of Law ( email )

25 E. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL Cook County 60604-2287
United States

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