Friday, August 28, 2015
Andrea McArdle (CUNY) has posted [Re]Integrating Community Space: The Legal and Social Meanings of Reclaiming Abandoned Space in New York's Lower East Side (Savannah Law Review) on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
The Article begins with a brief account of conditions in the late 1960s and early 1970s that contributed to public and private disinvestment in the storied Lower East Side, a site of intense immigrant settlement at the turn of the twentieth century, and, in the 1950s and 1960s, a space that attracted writers, artists, and political activists. The Article then addresses how these conditions also afforded an opportunity for reclaiming devalued land and distressed neighborhoods. Beginning in the mid-1970s, neighborhood-initiated cultivation of gardens in vacant, burnt- out lots and homesteading occupants’ refurbishing of buildings that had fallen into disrepair created a new source of investment in city-owned property, holding out the promise of community stabilization.
This Article examines the legal implications of these autonomous, self-help responses to disinvestment. Initially, the City supported and legitimized community gardeners’ and homesteaders’ efforts at reclamation. However, when land values rose in the 1980s and 1990s, the City reversed course and invoked laws limiting access to property as it sought to auction off community gardens and to evict homesteaders as trespassers. In response, local gardeners sought redress under legal theories alleging violations of environmental law and civil rights. Squatters and homesteaders asserted rights as adverse possessors. Although these legal claims proved unavailing, by 2002, agreements negotiated on behalf of these claimants permanently protected some community gardens from development and afforded occupants of eleven squatted buildings a new legal status as shareholders of limited-equity cooperative housing.
Drawing on these developments, this Article addresses how such community efforts to reengage with threatened urban landscapes generate legal meaning. It discusses how the recently opened Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MORUS), which is literally built into a formerly squatted building in New York’s Lower East Side, both portrays and adds to that meaning-making. By illuminating the particular ways in which the owners and users of these contested spaces invoked both property law and community norms, MORUS documents how the squatter and community garden movements helped reintegrate distressed city buildings and lots as community spaces. The Article concludes with reflection on how the impulse to reclaim space also inevitably transforms it.