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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Politics of Landing: Urban Agriculture, Socio-Ecological Imaginaries and the Production of Space in the San Francisco Bay Region

  • Author(s): Glowa, Katheryn Michelle
  • Advisor(s): FitzSimmons, Margaret
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

This dissertation illustrates how alternative food initiatives are entangled in the broader political economy of the production of space. Through a regional analysis of the land politics articulations of organized urban gardening projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, I ask what are the landscapes of possibility or closure resulting from these entanglements. Historically urban gardening has been used as a temporary land use to ameliorate various social problems until the land owner, either public or private, chose to put the land to different use, most frequently the use that gained the highest market value. In the Bay Area, where land markets are highly competitive, land access is a central concern for gardeners. Urban agriculture has been theorized and embraced by social movement activists as a means to resist the allocation of land based on market valuation and the realization of the authority of property ownership. Yet, through research based on semi-structured interviews with gardeners and city officials, documents analysis, and participant observation, this dissertation describes a more complex terrain of activist engagements in the practices of land access and enactments of property. Two dominant imaginaries of land politics emerge from these engagements. One emphasizes the need for flexible, even portable gardens, in order to cultivate more resilient cities and movements. This imaginary is ultimately facilitative of development priorities, supporting neoliberal urban regimes, and reaffirming of contemporary property relations. The second imaginary identifies the importance of long-term tenure, community-management of land resources, and developing movement coalitions concerned with land access. This imaginary connects with the international work of food sovereignty, a framework that gardeners and US food movement activists are increasingly adopting, and which works to resist neoliberal capitalism, colonial legacies, and top-down governance. I suggest that the everyday utopian projects of gardeners is a key site to understanding the US left questioning if reforming contemporary social democratic institutions, like the provision of public space, are sufficient strategies. This analysis contributes to the developing field of urban political ecology by describing socio-ecological space in the Bay Region as socially produced through a history of practices, representations, and experiences of gardeners.

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