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Decommodifying Housing and Green Spaces

After moving to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, my research trajectory took an unexpected but enriching turn. Joining the local community garden across the street, I was welcomed by a vibrant group of dedicated members, some of whom have nurtured the garden since its inception. This garden, now owned by the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, has evolved significantly over the past two decades. The interaction with members and learning about the garden’s evolution have sparked my interest in the legal protections of community gardens, particularly as nature-based solutions (NBS) to climate change.

Central Bainbridge Street Community Garden, established in 1978 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Photograph by Joseph Heathcott.

Community gardens provide critical ecosystem services, such as stormwater runoff retention, and have become essential urban green spaces in New York City. However, they face constant threats from land speculation and development pressures, often justified by the city's need for affordable housing. The pressure on community gardens will continue as land scarcity grows in New York City and the monetary value of these spaces increases. This led me to explore the dynamics between community gardens, land use conversion, and the role of Community Land Trusts (CLTs) in promoting community ownership of both housing and open spaces.

The legal framework underpinning these issues is complex. According to Katharina Pistor's concept of law functioning as the "code of capital," the influence of capital in urban development is deeply embedded in legal structures that favor the interests of property owners and developers​. This legal perspective suggests that understanding how laws are constructed and enforced can reveal critical leverage points within the urban system. These points can help address the challenges of urban development and environmental justice​.

Celebration at Serenity Garden, Flatlands. Photography by Joseph Heathcott.

CLTs offer an intriguing model to combat green gentrification and displacement, focusing on community ownership and ensuring that the benefits of urban green spaces are retained within the community. By treating housing as a social good and advocating for the decommodification of land and housing, CLTs aim to provide long-term solutions to the paradox of greening and displacement. This model emphasizes the need to balance urban greening initiatives with the preservation of affordable housing and community spaces.

My research now aims to unravel the legal mechanisms that challenge the expansion of CLTs and CLT-owned community gardens. Furthermore, I am investigating additional legal strategies to grow and protect these community gardens amidst the pressures of urban development. By understanding the legal and social dynamics that support or hinder community owned spaces, I hope to contribute to more resilient and equitable urban planning practices that genuinely benefit local communities while addressing environmental challenges.

Westbrook Memorial Garden, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.


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