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Enclosure, common-right and the property of the poor Blomley, Nicholas K. 2008

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 1 Enclosure, common-right and  the property of the poor.  Nicholas Blomley Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6, Canada (blomley@sfu.ca)    2 Enclosure, common-right and  the property of the poor1.   ‘Before we can reclaim the commons  we have to remember how to see it’ (Rowe, 2001, no page)  While considerable research has been conducted  into the dynamics of commons in rural settings, we still know very little about common property within cities. Given the hegemony of certain models of property, the urban commons has been overlooked and  ignored . Urban commons do not look like property to us. This can lead , I argue, to real injustice.   Based , in part, on empirical research in Vancouver, I attempt to map ou t the urban commons of the poor, particularly in relation to the dynamics of inner-city gentrification. Produced through intensive patterns of use and  collective habitation, this commons is fiercely moral, reliant upon political claims, and  the exclusion of interests that threaten enclosure.   For inner city activists contesting d isplacement, the commons is real. As such, gentrification, and  related  dynamics, can usefully be thought of as forms of enclosure, or what David  Harvey terms ‘d ispossession by accumulation’. I conclude by asking what urban policy, political praxis and property theory might look like, if it acknowledged the collective property interest of the poor in the inner city commons.                                                   1 This paper builds upon the argument in my recent book, Unsettling the city (Routledge, 2004) by taking the commons more seriously. Versions were presented  at the Living out the metropolis series at St John’s College, University of British Columbia, in November 2004, at the ‘Commons’ symposium at University College London, in July 2005, and  at a ‘work-share’ at the Law, Societies and  Justice Centre at the University of Washington in September 2005. I am grateful for the comments made in these intellectual commons. Thanks also to Janet Sturgeon, Sean Robertson and  two anonymous reviewers for helpful advice.  3    1. Woodward’s belongs to us.  In May 1995, a poster appeared  in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It called  upon residents to bring a bucket, a broom and a friend  to the site of the Woodward’s store, closed  since 1993. People gathered , and  began sweeping the streets and  cleaning windows. At a subsequent gathering, participants painted  the store, decorating the windows with images of flowers, mountains and  slogans. I was one of the painters.  Cleaning and  painting are both particularly domestic acts. They are the sort of thing one does to one’s own home. In part, I will suggest, this was the point. The protests were prompted  by a proposal from a private developer, Fama Holdings, whose CEO was Kassem Aghtai, to build  350 condominium units in the site. This was locally opposed , in part because of a fear that it would  lead  to an escalation of property values, intensified  redevelopment of the surrounding real estate and  the unchecked d isplacement of the poor. However, it was also opposed  on the grounds that Aghtai, to quote a protest leaflet, was ‘taking land  that had  been in the community for decades’.  Woodward’s is located  in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, a poor neighbourhood with a long history of activism and opposition around issues of land , redevelopment and  gentrification. This reflects the fact that a significant number of the residents are tenants of residential hotels with limited  security of tenure. Located  just to the east of Vancouver’s downtown core, on land  zoned for high density, rich with ‘heritage’ style build ings, the affordable housing stock of th e Downtown Eastside has come under increased  pressure.  Long characterized  as a marginal, anomic and  mobile zone, activists have long (and  often successfully) invoked a language of residency, community and  permanency.  Fierce and  politically and  ethically laden battles have ensued over particular sites. Woodward’s is one of the most important. Over a hundred   4 years old , the store is fondly remembered  by many Vancouverites. Residents of the Downtown Eastside, in particular, often used  the store, both as a social space and  for food shopping.   The early wave of protests over Woodward’s were successful, insofar as the Left -of-centre provincial government felt compelled  to intervene, provid ing funding for some non-market units in the site, and  establishing a partnership between state, developer and  local community representatives. This, however, fell apart in 1997, when the developer withdrew, returning to the market-only option. City Council, then dominated  by a pro-business party, granted  planning permission. In furiated , local activists staged  new protests at the site. What is interesting, for my purposes, is the way a particular property claim, noted  earlier, now became more explicit.  A poster (figure 1) from 1997 makes the point tellingly: ‘Woodward’s belongs to us … Not to Kassem Aghtai. It is true that Kassem Aghtai has money. But no one developer has the right to determine Woodward’s future. We have given Woodward’s its history. Now we are coming together to reclaim that history, not only for the Downtown Eastside, but for the entire city’.  In other words, it is not just the proposal for the site that is objectionable, or its effects on the neighbourhood. It is also that something that ‘belongs to us’ is being taken away, and  needs to be ‘reclaimed’. In interview, one activist noted  that if the development had  been proposed  for a parking lot, it would  have been less controversial. The fact that it occurred  in a site over which ‘we’ had  a particular claim.   More window painting occurred , further enacting a claim to the build ing. One activist noted  that some residents were a little uneasy doing this, as it could  have been construed  as a property crime. They countered  by arguing for community ownership of the build ing. Fama covered  the windows with plywood, and  hired  security patrols. Activists countered  with claims of ‘community property’, insisting that the developer ‘Give it back’ (figure 2). Warning signs noting that the premises were ‘protected  by  5 Vancouver security K-9 Patrol’ were opposed  by a graffito that read  ‘these premises are protected  by the community of the D.E.S’.  The outgoing provincial government again interceded , purchasing the site from Fama. A new neo-liberal government came to power in 2001, and  sought to offload  the site. Various rumours flew over possible buyers, including a Wal-Mart. Another private developer expressed  an interest. In September 2002, rad ical activists occupied  the build ing and  ‘Woodsquat’, as it was quickly dubbed began. Police evicted  the squatters, but allowed them to establish a protest on the surrounding sidewalks. A tent-city of homeless people quickly gathered  (figure 3). The language of the protestors became increasingly strident, with particular emphases on homelessness, welfare cutbacks and  the possible effects on the housing stock were the city’s bid  for the 2010 Winter Olympics successful. However, a continued  collective claim was also made to the site itself. ‘Our community, our build ing’, read  the graffiti; ‘This build ing is not for sale. It belongs to the community’. The squat itself materially enacted  a property claim through physical occupancy. ‘Home, sweet home’ read  the posters. As one walked  down Hasting Street, you walked  through people’s bedrooms and living rooms.   Controversy over Woodsquat, Woodward’s and the Downtown Eastside more generally played  a crucial role in bringing about a seismic shift in city governance in 2002. A new left of centre slate, with strong ties to the Downtown Eastside, and  Woodward’s in particular, acquired  the site from the province, and  ended the squat. A call for development proposals ensued . Interestingly, the winning proposal goes some way to recognizing a community interest in, and  claim to the site, using language such as an ‘architecture of community’, the involvement of residents, and  the provision of a significant amount of affordable housing2. To that extent, this marks a provisional                                                  2 The project is being marketed  as an ‘intellectual property’ (to signal both the involvement of Simon Fraser University, whose School for Contemporary Arts will occupy the new development, and  the id ea that the smart investment money is going into the eastside) (see woodwardsdistrict.com)  6 success for the Downtown Eastside (Grdadolnik, 2006). However, many still worry at the continued  threat of d isplacement, as gentrification begins to pick up again in the area3.   2. An urban commons?  In one sense, this is a very familiar story to any scholar of urban development. Issues of gentrification, homelessness and  political struggle are, of course, widespread . However, what is perhaps less familiar is the importance of property to these conflicts. Viewed from the perspective of the poor of the Downtown Eastside, property appears to work in largely negative ways. The private property rights of Kassem Aghtai to d ispose of his property as he sees fit threatens to indirectly d isplace many poorer tenants, as hotel owners exercise their right to expel, and  evict long term welfare tenants in order to make way for newer residents. We can find  many examples in cities across the world  where state or private actors use the power to exclude, central to private property, to d isplace, evict and  remove the poor. This is an important dynamic that demands careful attention4.   However, what I find  striking about Woodward’s and  many other urban conflicts and struggles is that it forces us to go beyond an exclusive focus on the workings of private property, and  to acknowledge the existence of counter -posed  property claims that are collective in scope. The developer’s right to exclude is countered  by the claim that the poor have a right to not be excluded. The unitary claim of the developer is challenged by the argument that the poor also have a legitimate property interest in, and  claim to, the site. This interest is a collective one – note the frequent invocation of                                                  3 The condo units sold  out in one day (May 2006).  Some local commentators saw this as a welcome sign of the willingness of purchasers to embrace Woodward’s as a social experiment. Others might see it as a smart purchase by savvy buyers in a rising market. Perhaps it is both. 4 The work of the Centre on Housing Rights and  Evictions (www.cohre.org) is worth noting here.  7 ‘us’ – and also a clearly localized  one (‘the community’). This property interest in Woodward’s, moreover, is not one of alienation or transfer. It cannot be monetarized , but is, rather, predicated  on use, occupation, domicile (cf. Radin, 1986) and  inherent need . As with many other commons, the stakes are high: the ‘enclosure’ of Woodward’s is seen to compromise the very survival of a poor community itself. The redevelopment of Woodward’s is bad , activists say, not simply because it d isplaces, but because it appropriates and  encloses. It turns a collective interest into an individualized  one. Property is the threat, in other words, and  that which is threatened . This is not an exclusive claim by the poor, but it is one, at minimum, that requires the active involvement of the poor in planning such developments. They claim, in other words, a property interest in Woodward’s. Such developments, moreover, cannot ‘enclose’ the neighbourhood: that is, they cannot exclude or expel the poor.   This extends beyond Woodward’s: elsewhere, I’ve argued for the existence of a property-like claim made in the name of the poor of the Downtown Eastside that encompasses the neighbourhood as a whole (Blomley, 2004b). Both state, private and  collective property, including streets, parks, residential hotels, community centres and  so on, are imagined  here as integral parts of a local land -claim over which the poor have legitimate interest, with rights that are both symbolic and  practical. This claim is extended to private space, as in the case of Woodward’s or hotels, as well as to state -owned space, such as parks (Blomley, 2004).  And when one looks more carefully, one can find  similar claims being made elsewhere. Property – both private and  collective – is a frequent basis for political claim -making in the city, and  a site of contestation. Proponents of pr ivate property rights have mobilized  across the United  States, for example, in opposition to urban zoning, arguing that it relies upon objectionable collectivist principles. Yet advocates for the homeless have also used  private property rights to argue that state actions, such as the confiscation of homeless people’s property in San Francisco, constitutes an illegitimate taking of property. Others pit collective use and  occupation rights against fungible  8 expressions of property. Dana Cuff (1998) argues, for example, that many planning d isputes in fact conceal conflicts between individual property rights and  localized  community ownership : ‘[C]ontemporary development contentions often pit the developer-owner’s private property against the community’s common property’ (135), she argues. In Britain, urban activists under the banner ‘This Land is  Ours’ have d irectly invoked a language of historic rural common right to contest contemporary urban redevelopment, appealing not only to social need , but also to collective entitlement: ‘The land  bequeathed  to all of us must be made to work for us once mo re. Today the dispossessed  of Britain are starting to reclaim their inheritance’5.  Such conflicts, including those around Woodward’s, use a language of property, possession and  land  rights. Many of them directly appeal to community and  collective property. Focusing more d irectly on Woodward’s, what I wish to explore here is whether Woodward’s can be thought of as a commons and , if so, what is gained  – analytically and  ethically - by so doing. I shall argue that Woodward’s is, indeed , a commons, although not in terms that much of the prevailing literature may accept. Yet Woodward’s, I shall argue, teaches us important lessons about the need  to extend  analyses of the commons. In so doing, I shall argue, we gain valuable political and  analytical insights.  To answer the first question, however, we must confront at least two analytical obstacles. The first, to which I return below, is the tendency in d iscourse on property to essentially ignore or trivialize the commons. Property comprises two categories, on this  account: private or state property. If commons appear at all, they are deemed anomalous and  dysfunctional. Rejecting this notion, the common property regime                                                  5 ‘Urban dereliction: analysis and  aims’ (n.d .) (ww2.phreak.co.uk/ tlio/ / pubs.urban-de.html – accessed  October 2 2002). See also the d iscussion of the Karthago project, a ‘point of struggle against the New Enclosures in Zurich’ (p.m., 1990, 83). A recent art project (May 2006) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, entitled  ‘Not Sheep’, traces the deep historical roots of enclosure, and  its contemporary manifestation in cities across the world .  9 (CPR) literature (Bromley, 1991; E. Ostrom, 1990; E. e. a. Ostrom, 2002) has documented  the stubborn persistence of communities of ind ividuals who have relied  on ‘institutions resembling neither the state nor the market to govern som e resource systems with reasonable degrees of success over long periods of time’ (Ostrom, 1990, 1). We can find  commons, as in the Downtown Eastside, ‘outside’ law, such as the case of squatter settlements in 3rd world  cities, ‘surfing’ commons, and  cyberspace (Wikipedia or open source software, for example). We can also find  these ‘inside’ law, as in the case of nuisance and  riparian law, all of which rely upon forms of common ownership and  collective regulation. We can find  them in our past, as in the classic rural commons, but commons may also be thoroughly modern, and  fully state-sanctioned , such as limited  equity co-operatives and  land  trusts (Singer, 1996). We can find  them in rural areas, and  in cities (McGinnis, 2001). They can serve the rich, as in the gated  community, but they can also be creatively used  by the poor. Such a focus has been valuable, insofar as it can be used  to refute the ‘tragedy of the commons thesis’. Common property regimes, numerous empirical studies have shown, can be sustainable, productive and  efficient. However (and  this is my second analytical challenge), in making sense of the conflict over Woodward’s, as well as related  struggles, this literature only takes us so far.   Firstly, the CPR scholarship has had  much less to say about the urban commons (though cf. Ingerson, 1997; Morgan, 1998; Roisin, 1998).  An online search (November 2005) of the Digital Library of the Commons, held  by the influential International Association for the Study of Common Property reveals that only 21 of the available papers on common property (1.2%) concerned  the ‘urban commons’. Yet there are many forms of urban common property including community gardens (Selznick, 2003), land  trusts (Davis, 2000), squatting (Neuwirth, 2005) and  common interest developments, such as gated  communities (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Hesse, 2001). By one estimate (Nelson 2000) half of all new housing in major US cities is part of a collective ownership regime, such as a homeowners association. Contemporary urban debates around privatization, the appropriate use of public space, the public good in an era of neo- 10 liberalism, and  planning as a form of state regulation of private interest (Booth, 2002; Krueckeberg, 1995) also implicate common property.   Secondly, Woodward’s does not fit the template for the commons provided  by much of the CPR literature. As an ideal-type, a common property regime is operative when a resource is held  by an identifiable community of in terdependent users, who exclude outsiders while regulating internal use by community members. The tendency has been to think of these commons through an institutional or economic lens (E. Ostrom  et al., 1999), premised  on rational-choice. Common property regimes, argues Bromley (1992, 4), are ‘fundamentally instrumental in nature’. Scholars of the commons note the existence of intricate internal rules and  principles governing membership, access to and  control of resources, and  broader principles such as risk -pooling (Oakerson, 1992). Membership may be defined  formally or according to ex post criteria (such as residence or acceptance by existing members). The group’s practices and  goals, if definable at all, may shift and  change.  Resource rights are unlikely to be either exclusive or easily transferable. Traditional rules of ind ividual property may be modified  as a result.  A communal fishery may not allow members to alienate their shares for example, or may change the right to exclude (members may be expected  to share their gains). The rights of the group may be legally recognized  (such as in a condominium) or de facto (as in an inshore fishery) (Feeny et al., 1990, 4-5; Rose, 1998).   McCann (2004) is critical of the ‘methodological ind ividualism, self-interested  rationality, rule guid ing behaviour and  maximizing strategies’ (7) that dominate CPR research. One consequence of this economic logic is that it leads scholars to ignore other d imensions of the commons, in particular their crucial political and  ethical d imensions, particularly when threatened  by enclosure (Johnson, 2004). For Woodward’s (and  many other urban spaces, I suspect) seems to be a commons in a d ifferent but equally important sense. Woodward’s is not an instrumental commons, governed  by rules: rather, it is a moral and  political commons, justified  and  enacted  through a language of rights and  justice. Hotel conversions and  private developments are often characterized   11 as an illegitimate appropriation of the commons. For Marg Green, an area activist: ‘the central conflict [in the DES] is one of land  use and  land  ownership…. Does a low -income community have a right to occupy the land  its members have lived  on for decades? Or is it the unlimited  right of landowners and  developers to make the best profit on the land  that the free market can give? The situation of Downtown Eastside SRO hotel tenants facing eviction … is similar to that of tenant farmers whose land  is wanted  to expand the cash crops of a landowner’ (in Blomley, 2004, 92). More generally, the moral and  political logic of the commons needs to be acknowledged (Peluso, 2005; Sturgeon, 2005). Moreover, it is not so much the internal logic of the commons that is crucial in the case of Woodward’s, as that which threatens it. The commons depends upon, and  is produced  in relation to a constitutive outside. If Woodward’s can usefully be thought of in terms of the commons, then, it is also imperative that we consider the dynamics of enclosure. I return to this point below.  While private and  state property are justified  according to a variety of principles (Waldron, 1988, Vogt, 1999), there is also intriguing evidence that common property, as in the case of Woodward’s, is also sustained  by deeply entrenched values and  beliefs. Rose (1994), for example, argues that common property can sustain productive forms of public life and  sociability.  A subterranean and  often inchoate array of long -standing principles affirm and sustain collective and  common property. These can be more or less formalized . For example, Joseph Sax has pointed  to the enduring significance and  value of the public trust doctrine to Anglo-American property law, which vests ownership in the public, not the state (Sax, 1970). While the state may act as trustee, there is still a recognition of ‘the public at large, which despite its unorganized  state seems to have some property-like rights in the land  held  in trust for it – rights that may be asserted  against the state’s own representatives’ (Rose, 1994, 121-122, 2002). Canadian lawyers have also argued that Canadian law ‘embraces the notion of common user (jus publicum) rights to access and  use public resources for limited , specified  purposes’ (Maquire, 1988, 41; Vogt, 1999). Similar principles underwrite successful attempts to allow public access to private lands in the United  Kingdom, in defence of  12 the ‘right to roam’ (Parker, 2002). Some legal scholars have also claimed to identify a ‘reliance interest’ within law that acknowledges and  protects relations of mutual dependence between ‘private’ enterprises and  the communities in which they are located  such that ‘some kind  of community property right arises from the long -standing relation between a company and a community’ (Lynd, 1987, 927). Singer argues that the reliance interest  ‘constitutes a central aspect of our social and  economic life – so central that numerous rules in force protect reliance on those relationships’ (1988, 622).   However, less formalized  though no less powerful group property principles and  values may also be present outside judicial d iscourse. My own research, for example, has revealed  interesting and  often conflicting understandings of public ownership on the part of city officials (acting for an hypothesized  and  abstract ‘public’) and  community members (who may ground the ‘public’ in more localized  ways) (Blomley, 2004a). If private property is based  upon the right to exclude others from the benefits of a resource, common property can be understood as the right to not be excluded from the use of a thing (Angus, 2001; Macpherson, 1978). The degree to which these group -based  property principles inform urban practice and  deliberation (judicial or otherwise) is an important and  understudied  question. It is unlikely that commons will be predictable or orthogonal: private interests can use the language of the public good in relation to private land (for example, mall owners, justifying the exclusion of teenagers in the name of public well-being and  security); while governments can deploy privatized  principles in relation to public land; competing ‘publics’ can vie for rights to use municipal land , held  in trust for an abstract public; and  scholars can call for ‘collective private property rights’ in place of trad itional municipal zoning (Nelson, 2000).   Some scholars have criticized  the abstracted  nature of much CPR scholarship. McCay and Jentoft (1998), for example, call for thicker, more ethnographic accounts of  13 the commons6. This seems critical in the case of the Downtown Eastside. At minimum , we need  to attend  carefully to the multiple geographies of the commons (Peluso, 2003, 2005). Neeson (1993) describes the intimate spatiality of the classic commons. Similarly, in the Downtown Eastside, the commons is both produced in and  productive of a particular place. In a crucial sense, the claim to the commons of the poor in the Downtown Eastside is based  upon and enacted  through sustained  patterns of local use and  collective habitation, through engrained  practices of appropriation and  ‘investment’. By virtue of being in place for a long time, and  using it, and  relying upon it, commoners both acquire and  sustain a legitimate property interest. Woodward’s, when it was open, was a well-used  space (‘We have given Woodward’s its history).  Similarly, the hotels are intensively used . The poor have ‘invested’ in that space. There are also many sites, such as CRAB Park, or the Carnegie Centre, that were actively created  by local residents, often in the face of external resistance. There are echoes here of the common law notion that sustained  use can lead  to a sharing of even transfer of title, as in the case of prescriptive easements, adverse possession, public rights of way and so on. The commons, in other words, is not so much found as produced. The presence of certain iconic sites – either produced through struggle, or lost to or successfully defended against enclosure – are frequently invoked by local organizers and  commentators as expressions of political agency and  community power. Dense local narratives – often told  and  retold  – of property are present. These tell the story of enclosure and  d ispossession, but they also invoke (and  help produce) the commons (Blomley, 1998). If is true to say that place helps make the commons, it is equally the case that the commons is a form of place-making.   3. The d ifference that the commons makes.                                                  6 Bill Maurer criticizes the tendency within the institutional literature on common property resources to reduce common property to ‘the relationship between d ifferent ind ividuals, w ith presumably conflicting interests, and  the land , rendered  as  an inert object or resource… In this framework, the social relationships that make up individuals, interests, and  the land  itself, are removed from view’ (quoted  in Mann, 2002 p. 147).  14  The claim to Woodward’s, then, does not fit comfortably within much of the prevailing literature on the commons. Yet, I hope I have demonstrated  the presence and  significance of a claim to the commons, linked  closely to anxieties over enclosure. Yet, residents and  observers do not often d irectly refer to the urban commons (despite, as noted , frequent use of property d iscourses). What then is gained  by using a common -property analysis7? To conclude, I will point toward  some implications for political praxis and  for scholarship.  i) Property theory.  The idea that the poor may have a legitimate common property interest in Woodward’s or a residential hotel is, accord ing to many, absurd  and  fanciful. Local commentators have been derogatory of such a claim. For one, ‘the Downtown Eastside is home to militant community activists, who view the d istrict as their own, despite the fact that few of them own property’ (Collins, 1997, 16). The only property worth noting, it seems, is private property, itself conceived  in limited  and  largely asocial ways. In particular, the assumption is, as Singer (2000) notes, that ownership is unitary and  stable. There is one, identifiable owner. The idea of overlapping and  mutable interests, as in Woodward’s, is hard  to comprehend.  The possibility of a coherent and  more general common property interest in the Downtown Eastside is even harder to deal with.                                                  7 There are analytical and  political dangers in using a language of the commons. These include the adoption of a narrow, binary logic (commons v. enclosure) that structures much debate (McCann, 2004); the reduction of d iverse, mutable and  locally specific phenomena to narrow categorical codes; and  the uncritical adoption of a pervasive ethical code (commons = good, enclosure = bad). Commons are not necessarily progressive and  inclusive places, and  enclosure may improve social possibilities (Harvey, 2003). Commons can also be invoked by the rich and  powerful (Kohn, 2004). Another important d imension to this concerns the crucial and  often complicated  logics of spatial inclusion and  exclusion that characterize the commons. Classical commons, of course, were often highly exclusionary, and  deeply concerned  at bou ndary-making. Such complexities require a more sustained  treatment than I can provide here.  15 If anything, the Downtown Eastside is seen as bereft of property, as a sort of terra nullius, even a zone of anti-property.  This reflects the prevalence of a particularly tenacious model of property that skews our analytical and  political imagination (Blomley, 2005; Nedelsky, 1990). For our purposes, the consequences of what Singer (2000) terms the ownership model is a view of ownership as essentially binary, such that ‘either ownership is vested  in private parties or it resides with organized  governments’ (Rose, 1994, p  110). As a consequence, there may be many owners of land , ‘but, for practical purposes, … only two classes of ownership’ (Geisler, 2000, 65). This is combined  with a tendency to privilege (analytically and  morally) private ownership, treating collective ownership (understood as state ownership) as secondary or exceptional.  This conception echoes a ‘liberal-economistic model’ of the public-private d ivide, preoccupied  ‘with demarcating the sphere of the “public” authority of the state from the sphere of formally voluntary relations between “private” individuals’ (Weintraub, 1997, p8). This d istinction is said  to frame ‘issues of social and  political analysis, of moral and  political debate, and  of the ordering of everyday social life’ (Weintraub 1997, 1; cf Ehlshtain 1999).   The very definition of property is carefully policed  (Blomley, 2004b). Only certain relations are named ‘property’, and  particular social actors recognized  as viable owners. Private, ind ividual ownership is at the core of this account, with provisional acceptance of state ownership. As a result, other property claims ‘do not look like property to us, and  we have tended to ignore them’ (Rose, 1998, 142). This is consequential, and  can lead  to obvious forms of injustice. Common property, in particular, is rendered  marginal, dysfunctional, and  vestigial. Tom Bethell (1998, 45), for example, d ismisses the very possibility of common property, arguing that its internal contradictions lead  inevitably to systemic collapse, and  claiming that it promotes ‘greed , selfishness, id leness, suspicion and  a brooding sense of injustice’ . More commonly, the commons simply d isappear: common property, claims one legal scholar (Harris, 1995, 438), ‘means no property’.  16  The absence of the commons from orthodox treatments of property may be more than accidental. It may reflect an organized  logic of purification. In a d iscussion of neoliberal globalization, Santos (2004) notes the way the prevailing economic order is ‘presided  over by technico-scientific knowledge, and  owes it hegemony to the credible way in which it d iscredits all rival knowledge… [through] d iscrediting, concealing and  trivializing knowledges that inform counter -hegemonic practices and  agents. Faced  with rival knowledges, hegemonic scientific knowledge either turns them into raw material … or rejects them on the basis of their falsity or inefficency’ (237). Similarly, in relation to property, the tendency is to gloss over ‘the plurality of “legitimate” claims to, and interests in, land; and  the plurality of ordering mechanisms that are capable of ordering rules and  inducing compliance’ (Razzaz, 1993, 342)  The tragedy of the commons, from this perspective is less its supposed  internal failures than its external invisibility. This is consequential. Its analytical absence on our mental maps constitutes an analytical failure, for we miss important d imensions of urban politics. However, it may also be an ethical failure, for we can easily commit injustice. It becomes crucial, then, to learn from organizations such as the World  Social Forum that, Santos (2004) suggests, recognize that ‘there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice’ (238). Consequently , the WSF works to counter dominant logics of non-existence that work to d isqualify, render invisible, unintelligible and  d iscardable. What is needed, Santos argues, is a sociology of emergences that can ‘d isclose, and  give credit to, the d iversity and  multiplicity of social practices in opposition to the exclusive credibility of hegemonic practices’ (240). Recognizing the commons in our midst thus becomes a crucial political task through which noncapitalist possibilities can be d iscerned  and  revalorized  (cf. Gibson-Graham, 1996, 2005). A space of hope and  potentiality is prised  open: For Santos (2004), the project ‘consists in undertaking a symbolic enlargement of knowledge, practices and  agents in order to identify therein the tendencies of the future (the Not Yet) upon which it is possible to  17 intervene so as to maximize the probability of hope vis-à-vis the probability of frustration’ (241).  That we do not see the commons reflects our failure to look, I believe, rather than an intrinsic absence. For Geisler (2000, 80), they are everywhere: ‘Though they rarely appear on maps, they occupy measurable space, have physical reference poin ts, grow out of social relations, and  represent formal value systems’. For Carol Rose, ‘we need  to be looking for property in unconventional places’ (162). The Downtown Eastside, for all sorts of reasons, is one such highly unconventional, but equally prod uctive place. To do so, I have suggested , may require d ifferent models of the commons.    ii)  Political praxis:   A number of scholars have pointed  to the contemporary importance of the commons to political movements. Naomi Klein (2001) suggests that world -wide oppositional networks are inspired  by ‘a rad ical reclaiming of the commons. As our communal spaces – town squares, streets, schools, farms, plants – are d isplaced  by the ballooning market-place, a spirit of resistance is taking hold  around the world’ (82). James McCarthy (2005) documents proliferating calls to roll back privatization and  create or reclaim commons of many kinds, at every scale, from the atmosphere to woodlots, to pharmaceuticals, water, culture, broadcast spectrum and cultural knowledge (cf. Boyle, 2003; Watts, 2004)8.  Scholars d iffer in their interpretation of the politics of the commons. Hardt and  Negri (2004) argue that what they term ‘the common’ provides a crucial basis and  medium through which the ‘multitude’ - d isparate global interests, opposed  to neoliberal globalization - connect. The common, they argue, has become increasingly central to social production and  reproduction: real wealth resides in the common. The                                                  8 See The Commoner, at www.commoner.org.uk  18 informational economy is premised  on shared  social resources, such as language, knowledge, communication and  collaboration which, in turn, helps produce the common: ‘Our common knowledge is the foundation of all new production of knowledge; linguistic community is the basis of all linguistic innovation; our existing affective relationships ground all production of affects; and  our common social image bank makes the creation of new images’ (148). Social life, they argue, depends upon the common to the extent that social interaction, communication, affective relationships, science, information are all produced in common. Class exploitation, they argue, has shifted . No longer is it premised  on  the expropriation of value measured  by labour time, but rather the capture of value produced by cooperative labour: capital manages to appropriate some of the wealth produced in common, the appropriation of indigenous knowledge, for example, or that produ ced in scientific communities being obvious examples. The defence of the common against this appropriation, for Hardt and  Negri, provides a basis for the political project of the multitude. The common itself – shared  practices and  languages – is also produced through this mobilization.  Hardt and  Negri (2004) are insistent that this is a new phenomenon. They deliberately reject the commons as an analytical term, given that the term refers to ‘pre -capitalist-shared  spaces that were destroyed  by the advent of private property’ (xv). Others d isagree. David Harvey (2003) suggests that the features of so-called  primitive accumulation identified  by Marx remain powerfully present in contemporary capitalism (cf. Anon., 1990). The continued  d isplacement of peasant populations, the privatization of collective assets, and  the conversion of collective (state and  common) right into exclusive private property all attest to the presence of what Harvey terms ‘accumulation by d ispossession’. Indeed , he argues, the ascendancy of neo -liberalism has seen an intensification and  shift in this process. Biopiracy, the commodification of cultural forms, the privatization of public assets and  the intensified  depletion of the global environmental commons indicate, as he puts it ’ a new wave of “enclosing the commons”’ (148). The effect has been to release assets held  by the state or in common into the market, and  to open up new terrains for capitalist investment. As the early  19 enclosures prompted  the emergence of often rad ical movements, so contemporary accumulation by d ispossession has provoked global resistance. Movements such as protests against dam construction projects in India, ind igenous resistance to lumber companies seeking access to trad itional territories, political organizing against the privatization of social housing or health care, and  campaigns against biopiracy must be understood, for Harvey, as contemporary manifestations of a long-standing set of struggles against enclosure.  I find  Harvey’s argument more compelling. Either way, these literatures alert us that the struggle over Woodward’s is one manifestation of a broader set of linked  struggles (Donahue, 1999). The commons provides a language that can be used  to both explain and  connect these d isparate conflicts (Angelis, 2003; Marcellus, 2003). ‘To talk about the commons’ argues David  Bollier, ’helps us see how all sorts of important social movements – for the environment and  conservation, for human values in commerce and  trade, for limits on commercialization in public spaces, and  so on – are thematically related .  They are all about defending the integrity of the commons and  its various gift economies against the forces of market enclosure (Bollier, 1988, 10 in McCarthy, 2005).   Situating Woodward’s within a global commoner’s movement is also ethically useful. As Harvey (2003) notes, the defence of the commons can easily become reactionary and  particularized . A politics of nostalgia can lead  to localized  and  regressive politics. Not all commons are worth defending. Klein (2001) suggests that the commons provides the suture that can link local and  global activism. What is needed, she suggests, is for the anti-globalization movement to ‘turn into thousands of local movements’ (89) and  for local movements, such as that in the Downtown Eastside, to link their campaigns into global movements, and  trace the ways local issues fit into the neoliberal global agenda. To the extent that gentrification has become generalized , appearing in d iverse urban settings across the globe (Smith, 2002; Smith & Derksen, 2002), and  at all levels of the urban hierarchy, this becomes an easier task. The remaking  20 of urban spaces – such as the Downtown Eastside – are crucial sites in which the globalized  logics of urban place-marketing become explicit.     iii) Political language.    If a focus on the commons allows us to connect otherwise d isparate social movements, so a language of common property allows us to reframe the terms upon which conflicts, such as those around Woodward’s, are fought. At present, the controversy over Woodward’s is coded as a planning conflict. The primary calculus is one of ‘land  use’, focused  on the u tilitarian question: ‘Where do things belong?’ For Krueckeberg (1995, 301), this has the effect of sanitizing a more pressing question: ‘To whom do things belong?’ ‘Where things belong’, he argues, ‘cannot be answered  justly until we know whose things we are talking about’.  Asking such a question, in the context of Woodward’s, could  be revolutionary, particularly if we d id  so in ways that acknowledged the possibility of a collective property interest of the poor. As suggested  above, there may be some sensible grounds for doing so. One important set of consequences relate to the ways in which languages of claim-making would  change. For example, the tendency now, in these neo-liberal times, is to think of the interests of the poor through a Dickensian frame of welfare and  charity. Preventing d isplacement and  homelessness is a ‘good’ thing to do. Evictions from hotel are lamentable, but little more. Viewed through the frame of the commons, however, we are forced  to use a language of rights, entitlement and justice. Capital is not simply investing in terra nullius, or ‘developing’ an empty shell. Title to the site has not been quieted , with property rights fully vested  in a single, identifiable owner. Rather, the property rights of others are endangered . The land  is d istinctly ‘unquiet’,  21 burdened by the claims of others9. Title is not unitary, but has effectively become unbund led  and  d istributed .  Joseph Singer’s (1988, 1996) argument for the reliance interest turns in part on the ways in which property rights are unbundled  and  d istributed  between parties under particular conditions of mutual reliance and  interest. Thus, for example, doctrines such as public accommodation often d ictate that when owners grant rights of access to their property, they are not unconditionally free to revoke such access in the future. Similarly, Woodward’s, a space open to the public, was threatened  w ith becoming private and  exclusive. Moreover, Singer argues, when people create relations of mutual dependence involving joint effort, and  their relationship ends, property rights are often unbund led  and  shared  so as to protect the interests of the more vu lnerable (as in the case of marriage, or employment, for example). He explores landlord -tenant law, just-cause eviction statutes, and  condo-conversion ord inances as structured , in part, by the recognition that tenants can acquire a legitimate property interest through residency, the effect of which, in practice, is to constrain the rights of the recognized  owner. Property rights are viewed as subject to potential social obligations to others that ‘often materialize not during the clearly defined  starting point, but rather at a later stage, consequent on the actual dynamics of the relationship over time’ (Lehavi, 2004 p 73). Similarly, in the case of Woodward’s, or the hotel facing  conversion, analogous interests may also be present. Long-standing relations between residents and  private owners, who have historically granted  access to others to their property, have had  the effect of red istributing property rights. The d iscontinuation  of that relation, through the                                                  9 One crucial set of common property claims are those of aboriginal First Nations, several of whom lay claim to the land  upon which Vancouver now sits. To the extent that many aboriginal people live in the Downtown Eastside, this may complement the claim made on behalf or the urban poor. To the extent that it has been largely overlooked in political activism in the Downtown Eastside, as well as civic d iscourse more generally, it may complicate it. I consider this question more carefully elsewhere (Blomley, 2002, 2004b).  22 privatization of Woodward’s, or the conversion of a hotel, threatens the more vulnerable party and  should  be checked, in some degree (cf. Lehavi, 2004).  While there are many potential problems with using a language of property, particularly given the imaginative workings of the ownership model, noted  above, it can provide a powerful, extant, political register for naming, blaming, and  claiming. In particular, a language of rights allows relations of subordination to be reframed as relations of oppression (Laclau & Mouffe, 1985). Property rights, for too long, have been the exclusive domain of the Right, configured  in restrictive and  antisocial ways. Reclaiming the commons, then, requires a reclamation of language.  More practically, what of policy? Planners in a place like the Downtown Eastside, seeking to p revent d isplacement, are constrained  (or feel constrained) in large part by prevailing property arrangements. Planning inevitably runs up against property. Although there have some useful forms of intervention, such as anti-conversion bylaws, these are lim ited . The state cannot be too ‘interventionist’. But this ignores the ways in which the state routinely ‘intervenes’ so as to sustain private property. The idea of ‘private’ property, as a bulwark of individual liberty and  autonomy, removed from the predations of the state is a pernicious myth. The state sustains, makes possible, and  enforces private property relations through continuous forms of intervention and  rule. This myth does powerful work. Limitations placed  upon private property rights, such as that of the hotel owner, can easily be framed as a form of expropriation. Viewed through a commons frame, however, we are forced  to recognize the ways in which the hotel owner may be expropriating the property of others. Consequently, other forms of interven tion begin to become possible, ranging through anti-speculation taxes, Henry George-like tax schemes, conversion bans, ‘d isplacement-free zones’, and  transfer to community ownership (Groc, 1997; Medoff & Sklar, 1994). Pre-existent forms of organized  commons, such as land  trusts and  co-ops (DeFilippis, 2004) acquire greater legitimacy. While these may sound like significant departures, we can find  many other examples of the remaking of property to serve both  23 social and  private ends, whether enclosure, zoning or the civil rights movement. Also, it is clear that property regulation can be immensely inventive – consider, for example, air rights and  limited -equity housing.  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The theory and  politics of the public/ private distinction. In W. J & K. Kumar (Eds.), Public and private in thought and practice (pp. 1-42). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.    28  Figure 1: Woodward’s belongs to us    29 Figure 2:  The right to not be excluded         QuickTime™ and aTIFF (Uncompressed) decompressorare needed to see this picture. 30 Figure 3 Woodsquat     


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