Urban Commons as Property Experiment: Mapping Chicago's Farms and Gardens
48 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2017
Date Written: October 7, 2016
Over the past decade, scholars of law and geography have been foraging in America’s cities, hunting for the commons. Along the way, a new common sense has cropped up, which takes urban farms and community gardens as prototypical examples of the urban commons. Farm fields and garden plots produce not only vegetables, the argument goes, but also opportunities for residents to access and use land as a shared, decommodified resource. As both social practice and emergent institutional reality, such urban commons challenge and are challenged by the logics of public and private property that dominate our cities’ legal landscapes.
This Article, rather than assuming that urban farms and gardens are examples of the urban commons, poses this as a question. Are they in fact cases of commons governance? And if so, how do people bring this about? I explore these questions from the ground up, through a socio-legal mapping of how people have gained access to and sought to govern land for a community garden and an urban farm in two neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side. This mapping suggests that we should conceive of urban farms and gardens as sites where people experiment with the rules, norms, and forms of property that govern urban land. Municipal policies can promote property experiments that seek to treat urban land as a shared community resource.
Keywords: property, commons, urban commons, urban agriculture, community gardens, Chicago
JEL Classification: Q15, R52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation