Cultivating the City: Urban Agriculture and the Promise of Property

In Cultivating the City, I tell a sociological story of efforts to relieve poverty by reforming property. The story unfolds in an unexpected setting: Chicago’s community gardens and urban farms. Today, places like these are hailed as sources of fresh, local produce. But they also signal the resurgence of a centuries-old strategy for helping the poor and unemployed use, but not own, vacant land. As during the Progressive Era and the Great Depression, property experiments springing up today in the fields of urban agriculture offer an alternative to redistribution via tax and transfer. The book follows reformers’ struggles to bring about these projects and root them as permanent features of the city’s landscape, revealing the relationships and tensions between property, land use, and social policy. It demonstrates how the ongoing history of urban agriculture highlights the promise—and the potential pitfalls—of addressing poverty and unemployment by reworking property rights. It also points toward new strategies for cultivating cities that are productive, resilient, and just.

The manuscript is currently under review at an academic press. A proposal and sample chapters are available on request.