Spatial and economic sovereignty in West Philadelphia: Reclaiming space and building community one vacant lot at a time

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Contrasting the neoliberal capitalist framework, that we are autonomous agents living strictly for self-sufficiency and self-gratification, achieved through private ownership, profit, and wealth, an alternative economic framework seeks ways of living differently with each other and the earth. Urban agriculture (UA) has been seen as one way of living differently with each other and the earth, and as an important solution to many problems facing urban communities. From addressing urban food insecurity (Metcalf and Widener 2011) and public health challenges (Brown and Jameton 2000), to greening a city (Kremer and DeLiberty 2011) or building social capital (Alaimo et al. 2008), UA is often championed by environmental and social organizers alike. However, what are the economic advantages of UA and how does a community experience any of the benefits? When talking about urban food markets, often spoken of are the existing urban farmers markets promoting agricultural products from the urban-rural fringe (Pothukuchi 2004; Morales 2008; Sharp et al. 2011), but little attention is given to the presence (or lack thereof) of urban-produced food at markets and the positive impact that might have on a community. Through the work of Urban Tree Connection (UTC), a community-based greening organization in West Philadelphia, the small neighborhood of Haddington is reshaping their space through community collaboration, community sovereignty, and fresh produce. Founded in 1989 and incorporated in 1997, UTC’s work in Haddington is about a community defining their space and their economy. Through a place-based approach, UTC helped Haddington residents reclaim blighted land through the creation of a scattered site food enterprise, numerous community gardens, church food programs, and regular participation in a variety of Philadelphia’s farmers markets. This chapter will outline the work of UTC in the theoretical context of civic agriculture and alternative economies, as well as community sovereignty, by highlighting the role of UA as a community empowerment tool owned and operated by residents in the neighborhood.


Originally published as:

Hoover, B. M. (2016). A case study: Spatial and economic sovereignty: reclaiming space and building community in philadelphia one vacant lot at a time. Sowing Seeds in the City, 199–212. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-7456-7_17

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