Our connection to land

Monday 11th April, Land Rights Night, reflections by Kristina Nitsolova

Carving out spaces for collective learning and getting to grips with new to us ideas is a challenge in a culture of hectic urban living. Yet, in the midst of a very busy arts festival, quite a few of us chose to come along and hear the perspectives of the speakers contributing to this discussion on Land Rights.

Each speaker contributed a response to how our relationship to land is changing and has been changing as economic considerations seem to increasingly take priority over the social, cultural and environmental in a local and global scale. Having those different voices, spanning two continents, different generations and fields of interest, asking critical questions allowed us to learn not from facts but from the experiences of the speakers, and begin to look at our own connection to (our) land and response (or lack of) to how it is used and who makes the decisions.

Land as commons, a resources owned by no one and shared by everyone, was a key point of discussion and an ethical point from which issues of land use and land right were perceived by some of the speakers. Elinor Ostrom’s 8 principles for managing a commons were highlighted as guidance and inspiration-giving document. Looking back in history at how commons and land rights issues had been approached in different cultures was highlighted as another source of wisdom for the current movement (for example, the Highland Land League); other movements are also a source of knowledge (for example, the Food sovereignty movement). The feral commons of the Govan graving docks, now cleared and the the site of a new housing development, illustrates how land use issues are very much relevant to those of us living in cities, as well well as those living in rural areas, the possibilities of public use begin to diminish through the commercialisation of urban land.

 

Severine  von Tscharner Fleming (Greenhorns; Farm Hack) focussed on agency, that of young farmers in the US working to build ‘infrastructure for holding land in common’ in spite of the barriers created by large scale agricultural models which make it very difficult for young people to re-enter agriculture as a way of (making a) living. She spoke of their ambition to open up access to land for local economies for young farmers and people without enough, or any, capital in an increasingly speculative system. She said to look up Terre de Liens, a group from France, who are forging the way and inspiring the global movement!

Artist Alec Finlay, guided us through a journey of Scottish landscapes and their Gaelic names demonstrating how landscape and culture, nature and people are interconnected but how we may be witnessing the weakening or disappearance of these connections. Here are some notes from his contribution to the evening excluding the beautiful-sounding names and the stunning landscapes projected on the wall: First there was the place, then the name. The name of what a place once was…Place names are social signs…A field of biotic relations, necessary relations. A name could aid habitat restoration as it is all that remain from a past habitat…a sound designating reality. A name is a place and it’s absence

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REFLECTIONS ON LAND RIGHTS

IMG_7892Alec Finlay reflects on his involvement in the Land Rights Night which took place at South Block on Monday 11th April

I valued how the conversation revealed the unresolved tensions – unresolved in my own mind – between the healing effects of feral-play and the task of community growing-producing. I don’t know about the other speakers, but I felt the different examples opened that up as a discussion to move towards, without seeing it as an opposition. (Maybe at first I introduced it in that way, but I thought the examples of wild huts, shelters, and the creative potential of ruins made it clear that isn’t the case, and the conversations I had afterwards suggested that).

There is a lot to think about in terms of the alternatives of preserving feral places as ‘refugia’, where wild things grow and people heal their pasts, in a locality, and, on the other hand, taking over sites, to grow things, make innovative parks, or harvest (e.g. biomass). I was left reflecting on that tension between conserving industrial ruins, and translating them into productive green sites (ideally with the addition of renewable energy).

Part of that is an artist feeing a need to analyse and criticise my own tendency to be involved in a ‘play’ activity; part of it is the duty climate change brings; and part of it is about strategies of how you preserve spaces from unnecessary development. Without becoming “something”, whether a landscaped ruin, park, garden, etc, feral places are always vulnerable. My point about the teenage den was that it tends to be vulnerable to developers, unless, perhaps, we define that evolution towards “something”. (The something can be landscaping the ruin as a ruin, productive of a feral space and healing activities, or it can be the productivity of crofts or gardens. What we need are innovative solutions to what that “something” is?

I liked how the conversation introduced these issues, and possible solutions, without finding one answer. Translating crofting into the city, and composing a “ruin” – they kind of meet in Kevin Langan’s wild shelters, or bothies, or huts – where the den becomes a dwelling, and that makes a ‘steward’ to protect a place from development. So I valued the way the other speakers opened up that discussion, and possibly hinted at a menu of solutions? For me, I think dwelling became more important than commons – though its a useful word. Access is always an issue, but what seems to protect spaces is lived presence, and maybe not even a word like commons is powerful enough, at this time, to resist development?

One thing we didn’t touch on, but which the soil project will, is the toxic soil in Glasgow, and what can be done with it. Some of it is ‘ruined’, some of it can be redeemed.

Thanks to everyone.