Publication Date

Summer 2019


Urban land is one of the commons most in danger of enclosure in the present era. “Commons” emerge out of and are enacted through sustained patterns of local use, through collective actions that give life to and re-assign the roles of spaces, and through individual investments of time, love, and energy. Creating commons—or commoning—makes place out of space, while asserting the “right to not be excluded” from the use of that place.

Commoners have a right to be part of the decision-making for the distribution of shared assets. Management of commons should be voluntary, adaptive, inclusive, and available to all. As Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione explain, “what the commons can do, both legally and conceptually, is to stake out the claim that at least some socially produced common goods are as essential to communities as are water and air and thus should be similarly protected.” Sheila Foster & Christian Iaione, The City as a Commons, 34 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev 281, 310 (2016).

This paper considers efforts by Community Land Trusts (CLTs) to steward affordable housing and by conservancies to steward public parks over the long term as elements of the city as commons against the background of Elinor Ostrom’s “design principles” for the governance of common pool resources, focusing on New York City from the 1980s until today.

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