Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Many community gardens in the fast-changing neighbourhood of East Harlem, NYC are located on city-owned land and are threatened with eviction to build so-called affordable housing. During a year-long multi-sited ethnography, I examined the gardeners’ property relations to understand the contention between formal legal ownership rights with the embodied and moral sense of ownership.
Property relations in the gardens reveal how these urban spaces are contested and negotiated not only among gardeners, passers-by and neighbours, but also with developers, city officials, and city workers during the eviction process. In this paper, I focus on how the gardeners’ practices have allowed the gardens to persist for the last thirty years. And yet these practices are at times contradictory, producing collaboration as well as interracial tensions through demonstrations of solidarity and division. These different possessory acts of inclusion and exclusion are enacted through symbolic as well as physical barriers. While physical borders take the form of gates, locks or greenery enabling or disabling access, symbolic boundaries are enacted through work and aesthetic decisions, gossiping, and acts of sharing or stealing in gardens.
Consequently, I argue these possessory acts reveal a system of power relations rooted in family, seniority, and interracial relationships while concurrently creating a cultural safe place where a group can realize its vision.