The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 4 Public open space POS

Common owned land

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Commons and common land ownership

There always have been public rights in land and there always should be. When Northern Europe was resettled after the last Ice Age, land belonged to tribes, not individuals. It was also owned by tribes in America , Africa and Australia before the European settlements. When arable farming became established, it was important for families to till and occupy their own fields. But large areas of land r ema ined. Generally, they belonged to a king, lord or tribal chief, with the people having rights to use the land for defined purposes. 'Common rights were not something specifically granted by a generous landlord, but were the residue of rights that were once much more extensive, rights that are in all probability older than the modern conception of private property' (Hoskins & Stamp 1963: 6). From a planner's viewpoint, the fascinating aspect of commons is that the public owned rights without owning the land itself. Typically, they had rights to gather firewood, catch fish and graze animals, in addition to rights of access. In the surviving commons, there is a right of access but many of the other rights have lapsed or been stolen. In some cases, all the ancient rights should be restored. In other cases, the ancient rights no longer have value, either because society has changed or because the people have moved away. They should be replaced with new rights. Commons continue to be of great social importance and modern societies have just as much need for rights over privately owned land as did their predecessors. These rights could be subject to compulsory purchase, if need be. America has a great need to revive the notion of common rights. They would benefit modern societies on the urban fringe, in scenic areas, in woods and forests, beside water and in areas which are important for the health of the ecosystem. Greenways, as discussed below (page..), can be established by creating common rights over private land.