‘This Land is Yours’: Ownership and Agency in the Sharing City

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/jols.12081
Publication Date01 Mar 2018
AuthorAmelia Thorpe
JOURNAL OF LAW AND SOCIETY
VOLUME 45, NUMBER 1, MARCH 2018
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 99±115
`This Land is Yours': Ownership and Agency in the
Sharing City
Amelia Thorpe*
As people try to remake cities in more collaborative ways, how do law
and legality shape their actions and aspirations? Focusing on Lande,
an organization that brings citizens together to transform vacant sites
into parks, playgrounds, and productive gardens, this article finds a
co-constitutive relationship between law and citizen engagement.
Established in Montreal, Canada, Lande drew inspiration and advice
from organizations in New York and other cities internationally. Law
was a key concern. Yet, more than the navigation of particular rules
and regulations, interactions with international groups were crucial in
facilitating engagement with legality more generally. Just as Lande
tells the citizens of Montreal in a very grounded way that `this land is
yours', the relational and material ways in which the group's inter-
national precursors engage and (re)develop understandings of law and
ownership provide powerful invitations to reshape the city and one's
place in it.
As people try to change the world around them, and particularly to reshape
cities in ways that are more socially and environmentally just, how do
understandings of law and legality shape their actions and aspirations? Once
people take action, how do these understandings continue to evolve?
This article approaches these questions through an examination of a
Montreal-based organization, Lande. Taking inspiration from international
groups such as 596 Acres (New York), Lande draws on interactive
99
*Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, UNSW Sydney, Sydney,
NSW 2052, Australia
A.Thorpe@unsw.edu.au
Thanks to Davina Cooper, Desmond Manderson, Mark Purcell, and the two Journal of
Law and Society reviewers for feedback on drafts of this article, and to the Faculty of Law
at McGill University where I was a visiting scholar while conducting this research. Most
importantly, thanks to the interview participants for so generously and openly
contributing to this project.
ß2018 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2018 Cardiff University Law School
technology to facilitate the appropriation and sharing of vacant land by
citizens. Like its international counterparts, Lande helps citizens to identify
unused spaces in the city and to transform them into temporary and more
lasting playgrounds, parks, and gardens.
The formation of Lande grew out of engagement with two other travelling
ideas: PARK(ing) Day (San Francisco) and Restaurant Day (Helsinki).Yet
the story of Lande is more than one of importation. Despite very different
legal bases, a key part of what makes both PARK(ing) Day and Restaurant
Day so inspirational is the way in which they invite participants to rethink
law and their interactions with it. Just as Lande tells the citizens of Montreal
in a very grounded way that `this land is yours', the relational and material
ways in which PARK(ing) Day and Restaurant Day engage and (re)develop
understandings of permissible behaviour provide powerful invitations to
reshape the city and our place in it.
Drawing on interviews with three of the four founders of Lande, as well as
interviews with over 30 others involved in participatory planning in
Montreal more broadly, I discuss the role of law and legality in the
establishment of Lande. Focusing particularly on property, I argue that
understandings of ownership play an important role in determining whether
and how people feel able to act to (re)shape the city. Once people do act,
understandings of ownership and legality can themselves be reshaped, in turn
facilitating greater engagement in the making and remaking of the city.
100
ß2018 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2018 Cardiff University Law School

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