Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Towards a Human Right to Food: Implications for Urban Growing in Baltimore City, Maryland

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Towards a Human Right to Food: Implications for Urban Growing in Baltimore City, Maryland

Article excerpt

Introduction  I. Human Rights, Property, and Food Access       A. Human Rights Theory       B. The History of the Right to Food       C. What is the Right to Food?          1. Duty to Respect          2. Duty to Protect          3. Duty to Fulfill (Facilitate and Provide)  II. The Right to Food, as Applied to Urban Growing in     Los Angeles and Baltimore City       A. Duty to Respect--Zoning       B. Duty to Protect--South Central Farm       C. Duty to Provide--Land  III. Right to the City  Conclusion 


For attorneys who represent community groups working on urban agriculture in Baltimore City, an issue that nearly always arises in cases involving urban gardens is access to, and use of, land. Baltimore City owns thousands of vacant lots within the city limits, as do private owners who may have long ago abandoned their properties, died, or dissolved as corporate entities. (1) These owners, both private and public, hold the ultimate authority to exclude their neighbors from using the vacant and abandoned land, since U.S. law characterizes the essence of property ownership primarily, and most importantly, as a "right to exclude" other people, under almost all circumstances. (2) Acres of land in Baltimore City lie fallow, and because of the right to exclude, neighbors are powerless to enter those properties to transform them into community assets. (3) Some see a moral wrong in this situation: that the right to exclude held by long-defunct LLCs could trump the rights of neighbors to use land for community benefit.

But property law, like any area of law, is not immutable. It is "not about the connections between people and things, but about the connections between and among people." (4) How might other potential rights, recognized or not by the federal or state governments, interact with our understanding of property? Does our conception of property ownership lead to a situation in which we neglect the human rights of some of our poorest citizens in order to accommodate and encourage the property rights of people and organizations that have long abandoned their responsibilities?

This Article argues that human rights, including an inherent right to adequate food, intersect with legal issues relating to urban greening. (5) It will examine how a universal right to food may give legal support to a "right" to urban farming and gardening. What are the boundaries of a right to food, and how might they interact with the other rights with which the American legal system is more familiar? For example, how might human rights interact with property rights, including both property ownership rights to exclusive possession and rights to be free from nuisance conditions on adjacent properties? When one set of rights interferes with another, which should society privilege?

This Article will sketch out the possibilities of considering a human right to food: first laying out the background and history of the right, then explaining each of the three prongs within the right. Then, the Article will apply the right to food to each prong, using examples of conflicts between human rights and other rights from Baltimore City, Maryland and Los Angeles, California. Finally, the Article will discuss a concept called "a right to the city" and imagine how it might interact with rights to land and food.


A. Human Rights Theory

Human rights theory lays out two categories of rights: positive and negative. (6) Negative human rights are those that the state must respect through its lack of intervention in its citizens' activities. (7) Most courts have interpreted the rights enumerated in the United States Bill of Rights to be negative rights, including the right to free speech and to the free exercise of religion. (8) Because of the rights enumerated in the First Amendment, the state may not, generally, interfere with an individual's right to express her opinion about any topic aloud or to practice her religion. …

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