Fencing a field: Imagined others in the unfolding of a neighborhood park conflict

Trouille, D.

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Trouille, D. (2014). Fencing a field: Imagined others in the unfolding of a neighborhood park conflict. City & Community, 13(1), 69–87.

This article offers a detailed analysis of a neighborhood dispute over fencing a public park. Unlike the archetypal turf battles between longstanding and new neighborhood residents described in previous research, here the daily visits of Latino “outsiders” coming into a local public space produce conflict over park usage and control. The usually cited conditions for conflict, such as reactionary residents resisting ethnic transition and protecting their backyards, do not apply in this case, as the park sits amidst a relatively stable, affluent, white “liberal” neighborhood. This case study shows how sources of tension and trouble extend beyond the property interests and actions of the park users to include the more symbolic and indirect concerns about identity as reflected in park use. Together with longstanding concerns over neighborhood reputation and property values, changing demographics and greater sensitivity to the perception of racism distinctively shaped the unfolding of conflict in this case. The bumpy course of conflict and shifting opinions about the fence shed light on the new complexities and contradictions of contemporary social diversity and exclusion in city parks and other public spaces.

Main finding
The author's research finds that residents' initial concern for the direct impacts of a new soccer field took on symbolic meaning as the issue became more popular. Advocates for fencing the soccer field, used mainly by non-local Latinos, first complained about litter and noise. The issue accelerated when residents began worrying about safety, decreased property values, and neighborhood identity. Advocates for a fence garnered local criticism and eventually a much larger opposition movement when opponents of a fence criticized them for appealing to racist and classist prejudices. Debates over what should be done became marred by concerns of the imagined opinions of outsiders and whether or not fencing the field would be seen as exclusionary. Public debates were eventually mitigated by the city's support for a fence, after which the community came to focus on the implementation of the new plan.

Description of method used in the article
The data comes from over four years of ethnographic fieldwork, including observations, interviews, and documentary analysis. The author observed 42 community meetings that discussed the field, other parks, and neighborhood issues. He conducted 32 taped, semi-structured interviews as well, which included park activists, residents, city administrators, and politicians. Informal conversations with neighbors, park users, and city employees also helped inform the article. The author used primary sources to create a local history that included the recent activities surrounding the soccer field.

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