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In March 2010, Elise Campbell and Stefania Strouza, joined by writer-activist Jamie Kalven held the public talk “Dig for Victory: Three Garden Discussions” at Experimental Station, a non-profit cultural and community center based in Chicago, Illinois. The event was hosted by artist and academic Dan Petermann, founder of Experimental Station and oneof the main supporters of the 61st Street Community Gardens.

 

During its ten years of life, the Community Gardens of 61st street, located on the boundary between middle-class Hyde Park and Woodlawn, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, provided a fertile ground for fostering community relationships and a safe urban space. Its 140 plots, occupied by white and African-American residents, hosted a successful model of biological and human diversity as well as a concrete example of sustainable community engagement within the dense urban fabric. However in 2010 the garden and its occupants were threatened with eviction. The site, once an empty lot owned by the University of Chicago, is being claimed back by the institution in order to be used as a staging area for the construction of a new Chicago Theological Seminary building on the 60th street. At the time of the talk, Kalven and Petermann along with a large number of artists, academics and residents, were engaged in a long struggle to protect the gardens from the forthcoming institutional development and systemic abuse.

 

“Dig for Victory: Three Garden Discussions” was a public talk instigated by these events. During the talk three gardens were examined : 61st Street Community Gardens in Chicago, Saughton Park in Edinburgh and Navarinou Park in Athens. Despite their differences in their geographical and cultural context, these three spaces share some intrinsic commonalities while facing similar threats due to gentrification as well as institutional violence. During the talk several questions were raised concerning the notion of land value, the function of autonomous civic spaces, the difference between management and control. Can a garden serve as a political act against systemic abuse? Could the lack of structure function as an instigator for a set of socio-political relationships to emerge? Are self-managed civic spaces potential sites for a new model of the Commons?


 

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Images by Elise Campbell, 2010

 

 

Navarinou Park: The garden as an agonistic space
My research theme for the “Dig for Victory” public talk was the Navarinou Park in Athens, Greece. The park is located is the neighborhood of Exarcheia, the focal point of the riots that occurred in 2008, after the police murdered a 15 year old student. These events were followed by an intensification of police violence and a widespread feeling of frustration from the citizens’ side due to corruption and severe economic problems. The park of Navarinou emerged from the above conditions. It was a means of overcoming the trauma and articulating a politics of dissensus. On March 7th 2009, the local community occupied the site, a former parking lot, and transformed it into a communal, self-organized park. Based on the principles of micropolitics, the space has managed to survive and flourish despite the threats related to the official legal framework and governmental violence. The park of Navarinou offers therefore a key example of a mental, social and environmental ecology materialized by means of radical democratic ideals.

 

 

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