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Guerilla Gardening and Community Forests

What does self-governance look like? In this video, Professor Mark Pennington explores the case studies of guerilla gardening and community forests.
We saw in the last session that Elinor Ostrom highlights a range of governance institutions to address collective action dilemmas that lie ‘beyond markets and states’. These institutions work to change the incentives that agents face to overcome the free-rider problem but without relying on individual private property or government ownership. In this session we’ll work through two examples to illustrate Ostrom’s argument – and in the next session we’ll work through an example which shows the way self-governance institutions can complement the role of markets and states. In some communities in the UK and other parts of the world we have seen the growth of ‘urban gardening’ associations – sometimes known as ‘guerrilla gardeners’.
These groups involve people typically in urban centres who are dissatisfied with the generally uncared for or unkempt state of many public open spaces in urban centres. These include road-side verges, the edges of car parks, public buildings, railway stations, and other areas which are subject to littering and forms of public blight which discourage investment in the communities concerned.
What some people have done in these cases is to take their personal love for gardening – the enjoyment they derive from growing plants and vegetables which perhaps is limited by the small size of their own personal gardens – and also the personal health benefits they derive from getting active – to turn these spaces into community gardens where produce is available for the community in general to consume. This has meant that the ‘free-rider’ problem or collective action dilemma that is often involved in the management of public spaces has been overcome
in three ways: First, the gardeners have drawn on a personal interest in gardening that makes people want to use the space in productive and creative ways –benefits that would not be available to them if they didn’t participate in the gardening activity. Second, as more people have come to be involved in these gardening activities, so the urban spaces involved have come to look as though people are caring for them, and that people are responsible for them. This sense of ownership, of people being involved in the management of the space, has worked to discourage other people from engaging in activities such as littering.
Third, because more and more people are involved in using the space for the gardening activities, there are now eyes on the street which further discourage people from littering because those people no longer believe that the spaces are deserted and that they are likely to get away with behaving in an anti-social manner. The urban gardening phenomena I have just described has resulted in the rejuvenation of a number of previously neglected urban areas – and it’s done so without relying on some form privatisation or government- based regeneration schemes. It’s an excellent example of Ostrom’s self-governance principles in action. Urban gardening is an example drawn primarily from high-income countries, but we also find examples of successful self-governance in the developing world.
One such example is the success of community-based forests. Forests can be held in private ownership or in public ownership. But they can also be managed through a form of community-based ownership, or self-governance. In southern Mexico, for example, the Zapotetch indigenous peoples have successfully managed forest resources for centuries without relying on private individual ownership or on state ownership of the forest resource. Instead, what we have in this instance is a model of shared ownership where the members of the community manage the forest asset as part of a voluntary association or group, typically based around tribal or ethnic identity.
The Zapotech manage the forest asset through ownership rights, but these ownership rights do not reside with private individuals or with some kind of government body. They reside instead with tribal groupings within the community. So how do these institutions work to overcome the collective action dilemma? First of all they do so because there tend to be quite clear boundaries through the forest resources, which means that particular parts of the forest are managed and known to be managed by particular tribal groups. Second, the community members interact regularly.
This helps to create a sense of shared responsibility for managing the resource, and also makes it easier to spot people who may be tempted to free ride and take extra trees, and therefore enables the community to discourage such antisocial behaviour. Third, the common identification along cultural or ethnic lines enables the members of particular community groups to work with other groups on issues such as the management of roads across the boundaries of any particular parts of the forest. In this session we’ve looked at two examples of self-governance in action. In the next session, we’ll look at a further, and very topical example of self-governance that complements the role of markets and of states.

How do communities change their residents’ incentives to manage common pool resources without resorting to individual private property or government ownership?

In this video, we explore two case studies: 1) How urban gardening associations manage the problem of public littering in the UK, and 2) how communities manage forests in southern Mexico using mechanisms of self-governance.

What do these mechanisms look like? What makes them successful? Consider these questions in the discussion space below.

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The Ideal of Self-Governance: Public Policy Beyond Markets and States

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