Open Space Land Trusts


NeighborSpace is a land trust that holds land for community gardens and, increasingly, urban farms in Chicago. It was founded in 1996 in response to a recommendation in a city planning report that found Chicago ranked 18th among 20 major cities in terms of open space per capita. NeighborSpace was created by an intergovernmental agreement approved by the Chicago City Council, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and the board of the Chicago Park District. It operates as a nonprofit, but with significant support and oversight from government. Each of the governmental founders provides $100,000 per year in funding, and has three seats on the NeighborSpace board.

NeighborSpace currently holds just over 100 properties in the city of Chicago. Most are community gardens, but around 2010, the land trust began to hold larger properties for urban farms. This followed a decision by the NeighborSpace board of directors that urban farming fit within its mission so long as farms are nonprofit, do not have permanent structures on NeighborSpace sites, and are not too large for their neighborhood context. Honore Street farm in Englewood, a nearly one-acre site operated by Growing Home, became the first piece of farmland held by NeighborSpace. The land trust later took ownership of 2.5 acres of land in East Garfield Park, which are being farmed by Chicago FarmWorks, a nonprofit which distributes the produce via the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository.

In 2015, NeighborSpace began facilitating a planning process to determine a land tenure model for for-profit farms in Chicago. Currently, for-profit farms tend to lease land from private landowners. The ongoing process envisions that either NeighborSpace or a new entity would hold land in trust for a nonprofit farming cooperative, the members of which could themselves be nonprofits or for-profits.

New York Community Garden Land Trusts

In 1999, the administration of Mayor Giuliani announced a plan to auction off over one hundred pieces of city-owned land that were home to community gardens. Gardeners and their allies mobilized in resistance to the plan, organizing demonstrations and filing lawsuits.  In 2002, these lawsuits resulted in a negotiated settlement with Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, in which 69 gardens were purchased and held in trust by the Trust for Public Lands (TPL). The New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a nonprofit founded and funded by the actress Bette Midler, took ownership of dozens more gardens.

In the years since, TPL established three local land trusts to hold and manage the gardens: the Manhattan Land Trust, the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust, and the Bronx Land Trust. The board of each of these land trusts is composed of a mix of community garden leaders and staff from New York City nonprofit organizations. NYRP has taken on a broader mission, to provide green space to underserved areas of the city, and is led not by gardeners but rather a range of New York philanthropists, businesspeople, and civic leaders. Some of its sites have been renovated with support from corporations such as Target, and have reduced the space available for community-managed gardens, in favor of tidy pocket parks.