Re-Commoning Valley Gardens

In recent months the exigencies of being a researcher have taken me away from my ‘normal’ interests in architecture / archaeology intersections. The confluence of being involved in a ‘common land’ research funding bid and working at the University of  Brighton have found a happy locus in Valley Gardens and an outlet in a small symposium I am organising for June through the School of Architecture and Design and with the Centre for Research in Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics. It will be called Tangible and Intangible Commons. Details to follow.

Valley Gardens Figure Ground_small

Fig. 1 Valley Gardens and associated open spaces.

Running approximately north-south through the centre of Brighton (Fig.1), Valley Gardens may be one of the last remaining stretches of what was once the common land over which the city was built (see title image, courtesy of the East Sussex Record Office, The Keep). Yet no ‘registered’ commons now exist here.

Its current use and future development contested, some of the fragments of land which constitute Valley Gardens are, nevertheless, currently occupied in ways which are indistinguishable from modes in which other ‘urban’ commons are used (Fig.2) – other parts resemble municipal gardens, others still are simply neglected.

The Annual Fair, held On The Level by William Alfred Delamotte. 1853

Fig. 2 The Annual Fair, held On The Level by William Alfred Delamotte. 1853.

Meanwhile academic discourse about commons has shifted in recent years from these notions of physical, common, spaces to encompass much broader ideas of common and co-operative ownership, common rights, and hierarchies of power.

Tangible and Intangible Commons will attempt to bridge and interlace what has become a separation between these theoretical and practical commons, and to situate this potential ‘common ground’ at Valley Gardens. The symposium will both embrace and challenge the traditional, spatially-orientated, view of ‘commons’ with ideas of “expanded commons: intangible, more-than-human and temporal commons.”[1]

Through the use of conference papers as well other participatory techniques and commoning practices, we will aim to situate these concerns in the wider debate about what the ‘commons’ means; to ask what a re-commoning of Valley Gardens, and other spaces like it, might look like and signify.

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[1] Dawney, Leila, Samuel Kirwan, and Julian Brigstocke. Space, Power and the Commons: The Struggle for Alternative Futures.  London: Routledge, 2016.

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