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Urban public spaces are sites of struggles over gentrification. In increasingly diverse cities, these public spaces also host interactions among people of different class, race, ethnicity, and immigration status. How do people share public spaces in contexts of diversity and gentrification? I analyze the conflicting ways of imagining shared spaces by drawing on an ethnographic study of a community garden in a diverse and gentrifying neighborhood in New York City, conducted between 2011 and 2013. I examine how conflicts among gardeners about the aesthetics of the garden and norms of conduct reproduce larger gentrification struggles over culture and resources. Those who wanted the garden to be a lush and orderly space drew on their privilege and resources to leverage support from institutional actors and push through a vision that resonated with aesthetic preferences of affluent residents and developers. At the same time, I found that the diversity, combined with several other characteristics, created openings for cultural disruption. Utilizing relationships built across dramatic lines of class, race, and immigration difference, less privileged gardeners were able to destabilize hierarchies and defend their visions of this public space. Conflict and messy deliberation – rather than harmonious community – facilitated engagement with difference.


This is the author's manuscript of a work originally published in Sociological Forum, available at doi: 10.1111/socf.12152.



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